Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs DebatePage of 6
further calls on the Irish Government to resist any erosion of the treaty by opposing and not supporting or facilitating such proposals as may be made at forthcoming meetings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group — of which Ireland is a member — as would, on any basis, exceptional or general, enable the proposed US-India agreement in relation to nuclear supply to come into effect, thus enabling a non-signatory to the treaty to operate nuclear facilities for, among other purposes, military uses, without submitting to the treaty or other international disciplines;
Deputy M. Higgins: I am happy to accept the additional lines to the motion. They are useful in so far as the next meeting when the issue will be discussed will be held in Cape Town in April. The advisory note from the Department of Foreign Affairs suggests the issues may not be at such an advanced stage to enable a substantiative final decision to be taken.
I regard this issue as one of the most important to come before the joint committee. After the next general election, no doubt the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will be re-established. It will have to decide on how it will function. In some parliaments treaties are discussed in advance at committee level and then in plenary session. In others committees are in place for the implementation of treaties. In our Parliament the committee supplies information and engages with the public.
The fundamental principle at stake is nuclear proliferation. The non-nuclear proliferation treaty is perhaps one of the instruments for which Ireland is best known internationally. It came at a significant time both in the United Nations’ history and in the development of the capacity for the planet’s destruction. It was always about the elimination of nuclear weapons, not only proliferation to other countries. The failure of those states which possessed nuclear weapons to eliminate them was a serious erosion of the treaty. Of the five yearly reviews, the last was a particular failure. However, there were other moments in the treaty’s history when an attempt was made to universalise it. Certainly, Ireland’s participation in the New Agenda group took the treaty as the main building block to eliminate the nuclear threat to our planet. In 2000, when people considered the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, they found that what had been produced and stockpiled had 1.5 million times the destructive capacity of the Hiroshima bomb.
Issues raised regarding the nuclear threat include security and the bogus concept of deterrence. It is suggested that one can secure one’s existence on the planet only by having the same destructive capacity as those whom one regards as one’s enemies. One could use deterrence in various ways: the notion was that one might have it in a limited form or, as is argued in Israel, leverage power through simple possession of the capacity.
However, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs should never forget that the concept of deterrence through possession of nuclear weapons has been the biggest brake on the development of global security through diplomacy. Those who benefit from nuclear deterrents are the international armaments industry, and in the US-India nuclear agreement one senses the subtext of the €100 billion in United States exports to India.
I say this as a friend of India, and the nuclear issue should in no way compromise friendly relations, including on issues of trade. However, if we gave way regarding the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, we would do so as part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which has 45 members and takes decisions by consensus. Ireland, by yielding, would facilitate a breach of the guidelines that the club of London has had regarding the supply of materials relevant to nuclear capacity.
I do not suggest that we should ask India to accept something that other countries have rejected regarding the use of nuclear materials. There are to be 22 installations, 14 of which will be civilian, while eight will be used for military purposes. We should consider the regional impact of nuclear testing and what it almost meant to global history. Three years after attempts to ban it, further tests were reported in India and Pakistan.
In that regard, to the Government’s credit, last October it finally ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It cannot come into existence as an effective instrument unless those who possess nuclear weapons agree, but that does not mean that we must surrender to the international armaments industry. We need not surrender the capacity or rights of diplomacy and foreign policy to those with the capacity for global and planetary destruction.
When Hans Blix attended the committee, he gave a presentation including a discussion on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. He made several practical suggestions, for example, regarding the widely held notion that the International Atomic Energy Agency is somehow working to implement the treaty. It is not the secretariat to the treaty, and regarding international instruments to control weapons of mass destruction, it has no secretariat. That is what I mean when I refer to the universalising of the treaty. It is difficult to accept.
A distinguished microbiologist who works for the United Nations on preventing AIDS, made a presentation to the committee. This person is a scientist working on a humanitarian endeavour dealing with the consequences for continents affected by AIDS. When one considers the considerable resources and scientific intelligence diverted from addressing the main problems affecting the planet into this area, it is little less than a great failure. I refer not solely to the monetary resources needed to produce a destructive capacity 1.5 million times the effect of Hiroshima. Mr. El Baradei encourages us to think outside the box in an article that has been circulated to members of the committee. He argues that the non-signatories to the non-proliferation treaty — India, Pakistan and Israel — cannot be accused of being in breach of the treaty because they have not signed it. This is an exercise in casuistry. The meeting in Delhi referred to the importance of a new strategic ally and the dynamics of the sub-continent. Either one stands by the capacity to build global security driven by non-military means or one does not. We cannot afford to let go of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
In 1996 the International Court of Justice offered an advisory opinion that deterrence is illegal and immoral and that it is difficult to recommend possession of the capacity to implement destruction over which one has no control in terms of civilian death, future life on the planet and intergenerational destruction.
It is wrong to follow this road. The US-India agreement does not offer inspections of the Indian installations. Some eight installations are uninspected, eight remain out of international disciplines and eight become available as a destabilising contribution to unresolved disputes with neighbours. Does anyone believe that following this path will assist in identifying so-called rogue states? In 1945 two installations threatened planetary destruction but last year there were 35,700. We must move back from the trigger of these weapons and the spaces from where new threats, beyond all of us, will emerge.
I wish the people of India economic success and success in solving their problems. If they wish to use nuclear power as a means to produce energy that is their choice, though it would not be mine. It is wrong to facilitate a further departure from the non-nuclear proliferation treaty, through assent or otherwise, at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting. It is time we went beyond deterrence and reconstituted the social basis of security. We can do so when we have eliminated these threats. We must remember that in the end the choice is between our belief in the capacity of human beings to discuss with each other or further surrender to an armaments industry which deflects the resources of the world at times when we need resources released to deal with more humane issues.
Deputy Mulcahy: I am in the happy position of agreeing with every word stated by Deputy Higgins. I have raised this issue consistently during the past two years. I have no problem publicly stating my opposition to the proposed US-India agreement. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as all that. Even if the agreement does not go ahead, it will not mean India will disarm its nuclear arsenal. It simply means the arsenal may grow and remain untested and unchecked by the international community. Deputy Higgins will agree a key objective of the international community should be to bring all those states outside the NPT into an inspection regime and accept a moratorium on testing.
Not much difference exists between our positions. I must send Deputy Higgins a little gift for stating exactly what I was about to say. However, a problem exists with this motion in that it is too strong. It overly ties the hand of the Minister attending the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting. For all we know a decision may have been taken already by the United States to boycott the regime of the Nuclear Suppliers Group if it does not achieve the consensus required.
When the High Representative of the Indian Government came before the committee, he disappointed us in two major ways. India would not agree to IAEA inspections of its nuclear military facilities and gave no firm commitments on a moratorium on testing. These are two key issues. If, in the context of discussions on the US-India agreement, concessions were made by India on a moratorium on testing and inspections of all facilities by the international community, an argument could be made that something can be done under it. This is true particularly because the nuclear powers themselves are in clear breach of their obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by failing to disarm as they are required to do. We are in a terrible situation.
The wording of the motion states, “by opposing and not supporting or facilitating such proposals as may be made”. That is incredibly wide and allows the Minister absolutely no discretion. Theoretically, I do not have a problem with such a position. However, in the context of what is happening in the world I would prefer an Indian nuclear programme under inspection to one that was not. Such a compromise might weaken the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. However, I have my doubts that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is still a living treaty. A strong argument can be made that the NPT is dead and that we must move on to a new form of treaty. I do not know whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs has stated words to that effect.
The reality is that the emperor has no clothes. China, the US, Russia, France and Britain re-arm as opposed to disarm. I ask Deputy Michael D. Higgins to consider carefully whether this motion could be adjourned to a subsequent meeting so as to allow more discussion and, perhaps, consultation before agreeing on a similar motion which would not tie our hands so completely.
I support the motion as proposed by Deputy Michael D. Higgins and while I note the argument made by Deputy Mulcahy that its language may be too strong, we have to start somewhere by setting down a marker. The effectiveness with which we set that marker will determine the extent to which our comments are recognised by others, both those who are well-disposed to our thinking and those who may be less receptive. Is it not possible that the disregard for the treaty which has become so common will become even more widespread if countries such as Ireland do not point out that the world is going in the wrong direction?
Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to the danger of rogue states. The greater the use and availability of nuclear weapons, the greater the possibility that somebody will use them in a way that frightens us all. We may wake up some morning and realise we should have acted on the issue when we had the chance.
Deputy Durkan: The motion is adequate and the Government would be supported and strengthened if it proceeded along the lines proposed. Doing anything else would represent a failure to fulfil our duty. As Deputy Michael D. Higgins has noted, several countries rely on nuclear power for energy purposes and vested interests have promoted nuclear energy in this country. However, I do not agree with that concept because I wonder where it would end.
The theory was that if everyone is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, nobody will make a move. Unfortunately, that no longer applies because the wider the availability of these weapons, the greater the chance that somebody will break through the cordon to make irresponsible decisions which have lasting negative impacts on the universe.
My remarks are not intended as criticism of the policies of any particular government. I simply believe that Deputy Michael D. Higgins is correct in his assessment that, if the present situation continues without challenge, the grave danger will arise that the non-proliferation treaty is disregarded by the powerful and not so powerful alike. We can be sure of serious consequences when the law is held in contempt.
The Deputy referred to the contribution made by Dr. Piot. An analogy could be made with Dr. Piot’s work in that one of the insidious aspects of the use of nuclear energy for military purposes is the radiation sickness that results and the fact that it is not visible. The Deputy correctly analysed the dreadful dangers involved not just during the use of nuclear weapons but in the unpredictable consequences for many generations to come, which are invisible. We all remember Chernobyl and the fact that even in County Wicklow sheep were affected. We did not see anything, we were unaware of any change, it was a day like any other, and yet livestock were affected by it.
In this country we have an important historical claim on this treaty. Mr. Frank Aiken promoted it at the United Nations and this is something of which all of us from all parties can be proud. Deputy Mulcahy has played an important role in this and has consistently pushed the matter. We must be grateful to both representatives here and pay tribute to the part Fianna Fáil played. Deputy Mulcahy said it is not quite as simple as that, and while that is true, there is danger in taking too sophisticated an approach. India is an enormous, rich and varied community and is a powerful player on the world stage, and one we must recognise and value. It will not get into a fit because of what we pass here. On the other hand, an important message may be passed back because I note the presence of the Indian ambassador in the Gallery. I hope he will transmit to Delhi the sentiments expressed here, in a calm way, because of our long-standing friendship with India and our great concern about the situation.
My colleagues, including Deputy Durkan, indicated that this arms race has not made that region safer but has destabilised it. In the earlier debate I spoke of my horror at the attitude of certain religious groups, my own church included, and their negligence on AIDS. It is an abuse of religion, for example, for the Pakistani regime to gloat over what it calls an “Islamic bomb”. I find that horrifying and I am sure most leaders of Islam who think carefully would find this reprehensible. Their leading scientist was out like a supermarket flogging this stuff all over the world to whoever was around. That is shocking and places us all in danger.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins was right to point to the moral catastrophe of the fact that so much money is “deflected”, he used this precise word, from doing good for humanity into the pockets of people who control the arms industry. That must be challenged all the time on an all-party basis. When Deputy Ó Cuív, a conservative member of Fianna Fáil, was a Member of the Senate this was one of his constant hobby horses. He was strident against the international arms industry and we need this stance now more than ever.
If we do not limit nuclear proliferation it does not stay static. If we do not maintain the pressure to reduce these weapons and the number of countries that have them, we encourage the attitude that “If they have one, why cannot we?” That argument is sometimes difficult to answer. In the Middle East people say “If Israel has the bomb, why should Iran not?” If one country has it, why should another not? There are ways of working these treaties and inspections that will assist in this regard.
I appeal to Deputy Mulcahy, having aired his reservations, not to cause a divisive vote but to follow the tradition of his party and support this motion, which the majority of speakers have endorsed. He said he agreed with everything Deputy Higgins had said, which suggests he is not strongly opposed to the motion which I will be happy to support.
Senator Mooney: The conviction and passion he brought to the argument move one to roll over and agree with everything he said. In addition, I am always in awe of the masterly command of statistics exhibited by my friend and colleague, Deputy Higgins, in bringing forward an argument. I am not as experienced as either member and have no clue as to what the Government position would be at a future international forum at which the issue would be debated, proposed or the subject of a motion. I do not know what form a motion would take and, as a result, cannot support the motion.
What is the Government’s position? It is traditional for there to be a Government response to motions before the House, either in the form of an amendment or support for the motion. There is, however, a vacuum in this debate. We have been presented with a motion but, as Deputy Mulcahy said, it would lock the Government into a particular position in advance of a debate and without knowledge of how the matter will be presented to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
I share Deputy Mulcahy’s view on the wider issue, which is not in any way contradictory. I agree with the sentiments expressed and in an ideal world would fully support everything that has been said. Not to do so would be like voting against Christmas. There should be disarmament and moves by the international community to ensure nuclear facilities are available only for peaceful, non-military uses. However, we live in the real world. America, for example, which is a signatory to the treaty is regularly in breach of it.
Senator Mooney: I am stating the facts. President Chavez has decided Venezuela should go nuclear because he wants to take on the big kid on the block. Brazil is also considering going nuclear. The origins of India’s nuclear programme lie in the regional conflict with Pakistan. As Pakistan went nuclear, India felt it should follow suit. I feel comfortable with countries such as India, the world’s largest democracy, and the United States of America having nuclear facilities because I do not think they will bomb me. However, I have a problem with North Korea and an even bigger one with Iran, despite its assertion that it will use the facility for peaceful purposes.
I do not wish to bore committee members but I have no idea of the official Irish position on the motion. As a result, I cannot support it. It is not in any way a criticism of the sentiments expressed in the motion or the arguments put forward in support of it. If I were in Opposition, I would probably be quite happy to support it.
Senator Mooney: Until I receive a response from the Department of Foreign Affairs, I propose an amendment that the committee defer making a decision on the motion. I am not saying I will vote against it but suggest we defer making a decision until we learn of the position of the Government.
Senator Norris: I am very saddened by what has happened here. I remind Senator Mooney that I am the one person on this committee since its foundation without a single break. The strength of this committee is and always has been that it is non-partisan. To refer to the Opposition on this committee is completely inappropriate. There is no Government or Opposition side on this committee as far as I am concerned, but people with consistent commitment to the area.
The people around this table have sophistication and a wide range of knowledge, and the committee will be seriously weakened if seen as comprising Government and Opposition sides. It should not be seen as such, and I feel strongly on the point. It would be a real pity if two Fianna Fáil members wanted to defer, not make a decision and place the issue on the long finger on the basis of a commitment to Government.
The glory of this committee is that on many occasions honourable people from Fianna Fáil or other Government parties have acted in conscience on the type of principles both of these gentlemen have enunciated today. These people were not afraid to do so and did not wait in anticipation of being told what to do by Government.
Deputy M. Higgins: I would like to reply to some of the points made. It should not catch anybody by surprise that we are discussing the issue, which has been discussed in both Chambers. A comprehensive reply to a question tabled by myself was received from the Minister for Foreign Affairs last May. For this meeting we have had four briefing papers presented to us that indicate the view of the Department and which can be of assistance to us.
One of these papers relates to US-India civil nuclear co-operation and another deals with the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. These are mostly factual. Another document is on the Nuclear Suppliers Group. I should emphasise that the Government’s position has been clearly indicated. It has also been indicated that the next meeting is likely to be in April, with Cape Town as the suggested venue. The Government’s current position, stated in the documentation received for this meeting, is that there may be issues which may not be resolved in time to enable a decision at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting. I have stated all of this to be fair to the Government’s position, which I am not interested in distorting.
I remind the committee that this motion expresses the opinion of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. We are not imagining that we are the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the President of the European Commission. I am asking this committee to express its opinion on the importance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, no more and no less.
If there was a suggestion that the non-signatory countries would join, sign up to protocols and change their attitude to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, any member of the committee could come back before us. In so far as this item has been discussed for most of last year and we have had documentation on the issues circulated to us, I have set out the case for the role of the non-proliferation treaty with regard to the adequacy or inadequacy of deterrence theory. I have also spoken about the alternatives to deterrence theory, which I believe are so necessary.
I take into account what people have in mind. I wish to be factual, but I do not go along with the idea of saying the non-proliferation treaty is dead or dying and needs to be replaced by something else. This is not my opinion but fact relating to what is on offer. These are bilateral agreements with the most powerful nuclear-capable country exporting at the level of which I spoke. The choice is between the hope of rescuing something from a melange of bilateral treaties and retaining the building block that exists.
There is another great advantage, before the expertise around nuclear capacity is allowed to leak into potential military usage. The agreement passed Congress on 9 December and there is no reason for anyone to be in any doubt as to any aspect of this. The Irish Government felt it might not have had to take a position on this issue and that was certainly the case regarding the meeting in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately for the Government, the two foreign affairs committees in the United States passed the agreement and, in the wake of the decision on 9 December, a decision is now looming. Why should the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs not offer its opinion strongly on the choice of the avenues of diplomacy building security in the dangerous world in which we live? We would simply be telling the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, that we support the non-proliferation treaty, regard it as a powerful instrument and wish for him to enter the talks unwilling to give way on the guidelines for the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Senator Mooney: On a point of information, in light of what Deputy Michael D. Higgins has said, could I ask for a comment from him. The next Nuclear Suppliers Group plenary meeting at which decisions can be made is scheduled for mid-April. I will not read the entire piece as members can read it themselves. It says two elements are unlikely to have progressed to the extent necessary when the plenary in Cape Town will be expected to make a decision. There is nothing in any of the briefing documents that indicates the Government’s position to me, other than a reference to the fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs met a special envoy of the Prime Minister of India to discuss the proposed nuclear co-operation agreement and that, during a previous meeting, Ireland and other states raised a number of concerns over proposed arrangements. There is no indication as to what these concerns were.
This is not my area of expertise but I have serious reservations regarding the wording of the motion, which seems to be locking the Government in a cul-de-sac. If it accepts this motion it will be obliged to act on what will be perceived as the will of this consensus based committee. We will all be seen as sharing the view expressed in this motion and I have genuine reservations about it.
Deputy M. Higgins: I respect that people are entitled to have reservations but we did discuss this before. Regarding the answers given to Dáil questions by the Minister, he suggested Ireland is raising the strongest questions at meetings. We are now faced with a choice. We can decide to wait until all of the Minister’s questions are known, have been put with a conclusion reached and ratify those conclusions at the next committee meeting. Alternatively, we can prepare for the next meeting. I accept the Senator’s entitlement to have reservations but I must insist on the authority of this committee and its right to have an opinion.
Deputy M. Higgins: The Minister will be stronger going into the talks knowing the view of the committee. This motion was not sprung on the committee. Deputy Mulcahy has correctly drawn attention to this issue and I tabled Dáil questions on it before the summer and through the spring.
Chairman: Deputy Mulcahy asked if Deputy Michael D. Higgins would amend the words “on any basis, exceptional or general”. Is the Deputy prepared to do so? The motion would then read: “not supporting or facilitating such proposals as may be made at forthcoming meetings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group — of which Ireland is a member — as would enable the proposed US-India agreement...”.
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