On Sunday, the Australian Labor Party's national conference will take an important decision: whether to end its blanket prohibition on uranium exports to India's nuclear energy program.
Wherever you stand, a robust debate on the issue can only improve the chances of a sensible policy outcome. That's why I am pleased The Interpreter has hosted its own debate (click on this link to see every post in the debate thread) involving a powerful range of arguments on this issue.
I am a self-declared advocate of the Prime Minister's proposal to change Labor's policy at the party's national conference this weekend. As I noted in opening our blog debate, the longstanding arms control arguments for sticking with Labor's export ban need to be taken seriously. But as I argued in today's Melbourne Age, the three main non-proliferation criticisms are exaggerated and based on shaky logic. And if safeguarded Australian exports to India are proliferation neutral, then the case for a policy change to advance bilateral relations becomes more important.
Our debate has ranged from the views of some former diplomats who strongly oppose a policy change, to the assessments of others, also with significant arms control experience, who are persuaded that there are ways to export to India responsibly. It has been argued that Australia should have tried to extract greater concessions from India. Indian voices, too, have joined the discussion.
Our contributions to the debate have also extended to the wider media story. For instance, The Interpreter exclusively published the assessment of former Australian safeguards head John Carlson in critically appraising an academic legal opinion put forward by opponents of exports to India.
Also this week, the Lowy Institute hosted an awareness-raising visit to Australia by leading US nuclear policy and non-proliferation expert Professor Scott Sagan. Professor Sagan's Canberra and Sydney lectures were sponsored by the independent US-based Nuclear Security Project and address much wider nuclear issues – Obama's disarmament agenda and the future of nuclear power – but unsurprisingly the India issue came up in question time, and you can hear his balanced perspective here or here (an interview with Sagan will be posted on The Interpreter early next week).
Finally, for deeper background on Australia's uranium export dilemma, I can't help but recommend this brand new book produced by a team of Australian scholars. My chapter in that book forms the basis for a research paper launched this week at the Australia-India Institute, which concludes that Australian uranium policy has never been really about the money – but nor has it been guided by non-proliferation priorities alone. Geopolitics and diplomacy are nothing new in this debate.
It will be fascinating to see how the Australian Labor Party resolves this hot question on Sunday. Will this be the first weekend of Australia's Indian summer? We will offer an initial reaction on The Interpreter on Monday.
Photo by Flickr user Michael C Clark.