Issue #1570 24 October 2012
The grubby saga of uranium sales to India
Prime Minister Gillard’s visit to India last week was pure pantomime. She met her counterpart, Mr Manmohan Singh, and took part in all manner of events and photo opportunities in an effort to repair Australia’s damaged reputation on the sub-continent – damaged by reports of the very negative experience of many Indian students in Australia – and to seal a deal that has made many observers nervous. Lobbying for Australia to sell uranium to India has been going on for years and the vote at last December’s ALP National Conference foreshadowed the federal government’s final capitulation.
Anxiety about uranium sales to India arises from the poor safety reputation of that country’s nuclear power industry and its development of nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Gillard tried to smooth the nerves back home about leaky power-plants and waste storage facilities by “demanding” independent oversight of India’s nuclear program from the International Atomic Energy Agency. At least, that’s how it was reported in the decidedly pro-nuclear Murdoch press.
A peculiar aspect of the PM’s visit was that while the corporate media were emphasising the safeguards and assurances being sought by the Australian government, the visit looked for all the world like a sales pitch. The awarding of an Order of Australia to Indian batsman Sachin Tandulkar was clearly intended to butter up customers for a big purchase.
India’s development of nuclear weapons has been another public relations obstacle to the uranium deal. Tensions with nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan persist. “Assurances” that Australian uranium will not find its way into Indian nuclear weapons are a joke – the exports will simply free up uranium from other sources and allow them to be committed to the nuclear weapons program. The truth is that Australia, taking its cue from the US, is not worried about India having nuclear arms. In fact, it fits in nicely with long-term planning in the Pentagon.
The US now has no problem with India’s blatant disregard of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Compare Washington’s attitude to India’s ambitious nuclear plans with the modest ones of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The difference at the core of the double standard is that the Indian government’s will can be bent to that of US military strategists while the DPRK’s can’t.
India is being welcomed into the club of countries informally “allowed” to possess these terrifying weapons. Russia (when it was part of the USSR) and China developed their own weapons to lessen the likelihood of US nuclear attack. Real plans for the annihilation of the Soviet Union like Operation Dropshot had been drawn up. In 1970 it was agreed that only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, the Soviet Union, the UK, France and China – would hold nuclear weapons.
For many years India has been wooed away from its more independent stance in foreign affairs and drawn into the US imperialist camp. This has coincided with the enforcing of the neo-liberal agenda at home leading to widening social inequality and unrest. The inclusion of India in US-led alliances and agreements helps tighten the cordon around China and advances plans for an attack on the emerging socialist superpower.
Australia is expected to play its part in this strategy and that is where the uranium sales come in. No doubt the exports will increase the profits of local and overseas-based mining corporations but their greatest value is strategic.
“Currently our defence relationship [with India] is underdeveloped. Indeed we have stronger defence ties with China than we do with India. So naval exercising is an obvious way of taking the relationship forward, given our shared interest in the Indian Ocean,” Gillard noted last week.
US strategists want to roll back China’s influence and halt the growth of its prestige. It makes more sense from the imperialist point of view for Australia to cultivate economic and aggressive military ties with India at the expense of China. And that’s what the ever-dutiful Gillard has been doing. At the same time it has been helping the US to expand its network of bases in the region including the new one for US Marines in Darwin. The peace movement is stirring in Australia once more as a result of the growing threat of war revealed in all these developments. The building of this movement is an urgent task.
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