Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
No Consensus on Nuclear Supply Rules

Wade Boese

Broad agreement exists among the world’s nuclear suppliers that additional measures are needed to guard against their nuclear exports being diverted illicitly to build nuclear weapons, but they failed to reach consensus on appropriate changes at two key recent meetings.

Instead, at a July 6-8 summit, the Group of Eight (G-8) countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—extended for another year a one-year moratorium on any new exports of uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies, which can be used in producing both nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons. The leaders also pledged to continue work toward ways to guarantee that countries forgoing such capabilities have access to nuclear fuel and related services to operate their reactors.

The G-8 meeting followed an annual conclave of the voluntary Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The group, which met June 23-24 in Oslo, Norway, aims to coordinate nuclear export policies to prevent countries from exploiting peaceful nuclear cooperation as a pathway to nuclear weapons.

The NSG once again rebuffed two U.S. proposals that President George W. Bush first laid out in February 2004 to further constrain the global nuclear trade. (See ACT, March 2004.) Because NSG meetings are supposed to be confidential, government sources from participating states spoke with Arms Control Today on the condition of anonymity.

One Bush proposal calls on NSG members to prohibit the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to countries that do not already possess operating facilities for these activities.

The other would tie a country’s eligibility to receive nuclear trade to having finalized an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with verifying that countries do not use their civilian nuclear programs to pursue nuclear arms covertly. The IAEA conducts this mission, in part, through mechanisms known as safeguards, such as remote monitoring and routine inspections of a country’s declared nuclear facilities. Current NSG policy authorizes nuclear trade only with states that have IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear materials and facilities. An additional protocol is an agreement by a government granting the IAEA greater investigative powers.

Argentina, Brazil, France, and Russia maintained their opposition to the U.S. additional protocol position. Argentina and Brazil do not support establishing an additional protocol as a criterion for nuclear trade because neither country has concluded an additional protocol. Both, however, are reportedly moving closer to doing so.

France and Russia objected to the proposal because of their interest in pursuing nuclear trade with India, which had refused to negotiate such an agreement. A month after the NSG meeting, however, India announced its intention to conclude an additional protocol to govern its civilian nuclear facilities as a step toward securing greater civilian nuclear cooperation with the United States (see "Between Noble Goals and Sobering Reality: An Interview with EU Nonproliferation Chief Annalisa Giannella").

Bush’s proposal on uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing exports is essentially dead. An alternative series of multilateral approaches put forward this February by an IAEA experts group has also made little headway. (See ACT, March 2005.) Instead, NSG members focused on trying to establish common criteria for determining whether a country should be eligible to acquire such technologies.

This proposal, initially conceived by Canada, would distinguish between objective criteria that suppliers should vet when weighing an export of enrichment or reprocessing technologies and subjective criteria that they might also choose to employ. Potential recipients would need to fulfill all the objective criteria, such as not being in violation of their IAEA safeguards, in order to be eligible for the proposed transfer. In contrast, failure to meet the subjective criteria, such as whether the importer’s nuclear program is economically sensible, would not obligate the exporter to forgo the possible transaction.

Washington sought to ensure that it would be impossible for Iran to meet the objective criteria. It proposed that one objective criterion be that any country that had been denied dual-use exports by multiple NSG members be ineligible for enrichment or reprocessing imports. Prior to the Oslo meeting, a dozen different suppliers had issued 45 export denials on Iranian requests for dual-use goods, which are items that have both civilian and military uses.

Moscow contended that the U.S.-proposed criterion should be classified as subjective rather than objective. The Kremlin maintained that a country should have a right to make its own trade decisions and not be prevented from doing so if other countries blocked particular exports.

The meeting ended without agreement on specific criteria. Still, members vowed to continue work on this approach.

The suppliers also endorsed other steps to guide their nuclear trade. They agreed that importers must have “effective export controls” to receive nuclear materials, equipment, and technology. Although the suppliers did not define what would constitute “effective,” it was understood that this standard included a recipient’s agreement not to retransfer imported items without the original exporter’s permission.

Suppliers further supported the principle that exports designed specifically for nuclear use should be suspended for countries found in noncompliance with their IAEA safeguards. At Russia’s insistence, the suspension would not be automatic but would rest with each state or the UN Security Council.

The NSG expanded to 45 countries with the July 15 addition of Croatia.