Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Power, Peace and Pakistan

Last week's assassination of Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has once again focused global concerns on Pakistan's increasing political instability. Wedged between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan holds the balance of power - and peace - in the region.

Pakistan is considered a gateway to Afghanistan and has long been suspected of providing weapons to the Taliban as well as a safe haven to terrorists of various allegiances. Pakistan's relationship with its other neighbor, India, is tenuous at best. For now the two rivals are managing to keep their hostilities at bay. It can be argued that this is due, in part, to the fact that they are both members of a very elite club of nations that possess nuclear weapons.

Having lived through the years of the Cold War, it seems almost impossible that we are once again dealing with a growing nuclear threat. This time, instead of two superpowers pointing their nuclear arsenals at each other, there are nine nuclear states, some stable, some definitely not (depending on your political perspective) that have the potential to start a nuclear war.

Canadians like to comfort ourselves with the false belief that we have never pursued a nuclear weapons program. And while it may just be wheat in those prairie silos, Canada has been complicit in the nuclear arms race since the very beginning. From our early role in the Manhattan Project during World War II, to our current efforts to position nuclear power as a safe global alternative to coal and oil generation, we have played a dangerous game of balancing national self-interest against global peace and security. That game revolves around the Canadian nuclear industry's desire to promote the "peaceful atom" at all costs.

Pakistan is only one of nine states that have confirmed they have nuclear weapons. Despite our international image as the world's peacekeeper, Canada has played a direct role in the development of nuclear weapons technology in Pakistan as well as India and the U.S., and also played a supporting role in North Korea's nuclear weapons program. (The remaining five countries are France, England, Russia, Israel and China.)

The connection between nuclear power and nuclear bombs is very direct. Specifically, you cannot have a nuclear weapons program without plutonium, the production of which is an inevitable by-product of nuclear reactors. And of all the commercial nuclear reactors for sale on the international market, Canada's exclusive CANDU design produces the most plutonium. Canada supposedly safeguards against the plutonium produced in CANDU fuel bundles being used for nuclear weapons, by ensuring that the countries that purchase Canadian reactors are signatories of international non-proliferation agreements.

Both India and Pakistan were such signatories, but this didn't stop them from successfully developing nuclear weapons with plutonium produced in CANDU reactors. Following the explosion of India's first atomic bomb in 1974, Canada purportedly discontinued nuclear cooperation with both countries. However, by 1989 Canada had re-established its nuclear link with India and Pakistan in the form of technical information exchange and nuclear aid through the CANDU Owners Group.

"Even after both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, Canada continued to provide technical aid, ostensibly in the name of reactor safety," according to the Campaign for Nuclear Phase-out (CNP).

Most of Canada's other international CANDU customers, including Taiwan, Romania, Argentina and South Korea, have at one time or another pursued some form of nuclear weapons program. China was already an established nuclear power when Canada sold it two nuclear reactors in November 1996.

Which brings us to the current crisis. Selling nuclear power plants is a lot like letting the genie out of the bottle. We have no idea who is going to uncork its power or what they are going to do with it.

Watching the political turmoil in Pakistan is bad enough. Knowing that in the middle of all of this madness they have nuclear weapons is even more upsetting. But knowing that Canadians provided them with the technology that made the country's nuclear status possible is nothing short of a national disgrace.


For more information on Canada's nuclear exports, visit the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout's website at www.cnp.ca and follow the resources link to CANDU export.

For more information about the connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear power, visit the U.S. Center for Defense Information.


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