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Facing the failures of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty regime.

Each year the future of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime becomes more uncertain. In the past year alone: North Korea has become the first country ever to withdraw from the treaty, and there has been virtually no progress and considerable regression on the thirteen practical steps for nuclear disarmament agreed to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. The United States has reasserted policies of nuclear weapons use that undermine the negative security assurances promised to non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT in 1978 and again at the 1995 NFT Review and Extension Conference. The doctrine of preemption--or more accurately of preventive war--as pursued by the United States and adopted by other states with nuclear weapons threatens to accelerate nuclear weapons proliferation in the face of the threat of aggressive use of force. In addition, bilateral policies of the nuclear weapons state parties to the NPT are increasingly integrating those nuclear weapons states outside of the NPT regime--India, Israel, and Pakistan--as legitimate nuclear powers through the elimination of sanctions and technology exchanges.

The NPT regime obligations are having less and less success in restraining the irresponsible behavior of nations, especially the treaty's nuclear weapons states and the United States in particular. As nuclear weapons states move further away from their obligations tinder the treaty, they simultaneously weaken incentives for non-nuclear weapons state parties to the treaty to remain within the NPT regime. If such regressions continue, they will inevitably lead to an abandonment of disarmament goals and the gradual lack of interest by nonnuclear weapons states to remain within the regime's boundaries. It is time for members of the NPT regime to issue a clear statement outlining how the treaty is being undermined and by whom.

When U.S. Ambassador Eric M. Jarvits stated at the 2002 NPT Review Conference Preparatory Committee that Washington no longer supported many of the conclusions agreed upon at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, he was clearly alluding to the thirteen practical steps to achieve complete disarmament under Article VI of the treaty. Since the 2002 NPT meeting, not only has no progress been made in fulfilling these steps but nuclear weapons states--the United States in particular--have pursued policies that demonstrate significant regression from fulfillment of their Article VI obligations.

During this period there have been no further ratifications of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by nuclear capable states, including nuclear weapons state parties to the NPT. There has been no progress in moving toward a fissile material treaty. The principles of irreversibility and verification have been undermined by the United States and Russia in the Moscow Treaty, which lays out reversible offensive reductions without providing for any verification methods. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and the START II arms reduction efforts have been entirely abandoned as has any progressive efforts toward START III. No effort to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons has been made, and the United States is even conducting studies on new nuclear weapons designs. The thirteen practical steps have progressed in only one area: some nations submitted reports with regard to their Article VI obligations at the 2002 PrepCom, a process that is still being resisted by many nuclear weapons states, including the United States.

At the NPT's inception, disarmament obligations under Article VI played a key role in convincing non-nuclear weapons states that it was in their best interest to sign the treaty, though it restricted their ability to develop nuclear weapons. As these disarmament obligations continue to be ignored by the nuclear weapons states, they eliminate a significant incentive for non-nuclear weapons states to keep their side of the bargain.

The United States has clearly stated its policy to use "overwhelming force" against chemical or biological attacks. This policy was reiterated in the U.S. National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction issued in December 2002, which states, "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force--including through resort to all of our options--to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."

Such policies undermine the negative security assurances promised by the United States in 1978 and reaffirmed at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. They are intended to reassure non-nuclear weapons states that they need not worry about becoming the target of a nuclear weapons attack. Yet, as the United States has reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological weapon attack for some years, the continued emphasis on this first strike policy undermines nonproliferation goals. When the United States, despite its overwhelming conventional military superiority, takes up a policy that requires nuclear weapons to carry out a strike against a potential chemical or biological weapons threat, other states are likely to conclude that nuclear weapons are also necessary for their security

In addition, as the United States continues to fund studies for new tactical weapons designs such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, it further erodes the confidence-building effect of the negative security assurances. These new weapons designs aren't strategic armaments to be used to deter a nuclear strike upon the United States but most likely would be used against the chemical or biological facilities or in other tactical battlefield maneuvers in a first strike--probably against a non-nuclear weapons state. By eroding its own negative security assurances, the United States is diminishing another important incentive for nonnuclear weapons states to remain within the NPT regime.

The U.S. government is pursuing a doctrine of so-called preemptive use of force both in policy and military action, which ultimately threatens to undermine nonproliferation goals. The Bush administration's National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction states: "U.S. military forces and appropriate civilian agencies must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through preemptive measures. This requires capabilities to detect and destroy an adversary's WMD assets before these weapons are used."

This doctrine, drafted largely in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and used in justifying the recent war on Iraq, is more accurately described as preventive war, historically considered to be much more objectionable than the preemptive use of force. Preemption describes an attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent; preventive war is initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and delay would involve greater risk. This new doctrine legitimizing preventive war is likely to have serious negative effects on the NPT regime.

First, it sets a dangerous precedent for other nuclear powers to justify using aggressive preventive force to settle international disputes. Some countries have already begun echoing the new U.S. doctrine as a possible approach to solving long-standing regional conflicts. Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha stated recently, "There were three reasons which drove the Anglo-U.S. forces to attack Iraq--possession of weapons of mass destruction, export of terrorism and an absence of democracy--all of which exist in Pakistan." On April 11, 2003, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said he endorsed Sinha's recent comments that India had "a much better case to go for preemptive action against Pakistan than the United States has in Iraq." For India to be pursuing such a doctrine of preventive use of force toward Pakistan is extremely dangerous, particularly given Pakistan's conventional weakness, in the face of an Indian preemption policy, Pakistan is likely to approach its own nuclear arsenal with an even higher alert status, bringing these two countries a step closer to intentional or accidental nuclear war, as well as accelerate the regional arms race. In May 2003 Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi publicly claimed the right to conduct a preemptive strike on any country preparing to attack his nation, a statement that was likely aimed at North Korea.

Second, the U.S. policy of preventive war is heightening the level of threat felt by potential nuclear weapons states by adding to the perceived need to possess nuclear weapons in order to ward off an aggressive offensive attack. Instead of warning or discouraging nuclear threshold states, such as Iran and North Korea, from developing nuclear arsenals, the lesson that these countries are most likely to learn from the Iraq example is that they must accelerate their nuclear weapons programs in order to avoid the fate of the Ba'ath regime.

In addition to the many regressions from fulfilling obligations under the NPT, nuclear weapons states' policies toward countries with nuclear arsenals outside of the NPT regime are also having a damaging effect on the treaty. Through their evolving bilateral policies, nuclear weapons state parties to the NPT are increasingly integrating Israel, India, and Pakistan into the international community as legitimate nuclear powers outside of the NPT regime, undermining incentives for non-nuclear weapon states to remain within the treaty.

There has long been a double standard with regard to calling for adherence to United Nations resolutions relevant to the elimination of nuclear weapons within the Middle East. While nuclear weapons states have put increased pressure on countries such as Iraq and Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, Israel has never faced significant consequences for having a nuclear arsenal of some two hundred weapons outside of the NPT regime. In fact, by continuing to aid Israel's missile defense technology development, the United States is helping Israel create a protective shield from which it may, at some point, be able to launch a nuclear weapon, without perceiving itself as vulnerable to reciprocal missile strikes. Not only is Israel developing this potentially destabilizing anti-missile technology but it is also considering selling this technology if given U.S. approval, to India--another nuclear power that isn't a member of the NPT regime.

In 2001 the United States partially lifted sanctions against the safe of dual-use technologies to Pakistan and India in order to gain their cooperation in the post-September 11 war on terror. In June 2003, the State Department formally ended the ban on arms transfers to both India and Pakistan, and Bush recently approved the transfers of some $3 billion in military aid to Pakistan. The U.S. Congress is also examining ways to expand the cooperative nonproliferation efforts from former Soviet Union states to include countries such as India, aiding them in advancing their nuclear security technology and protocol.

Reports from a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in December 2002 also indicated that negotiations are moving forward for India to lease at least one Russian-made Akula-11 class nuclear-powered submarine, capable of carrying a payload of nuclear cruise missiles. Though the head of India's navy, Admiral Madhvendra Singh, refused to confirm or deny assertions concerning the possible lease, for such a lease not to be taken would significantly alter the balance of nuclear capability between India and Pakistan. Prior to the summit, Russia announced its intention to allow India to become an associated member of the United Nuclear Research Institute, one of the top nuclear research institutes in Russia. India was previously denied access to the facilities of this prestigious institute, where nearly half of all Russian nuclear advances have occurred, because it isn't a member of the NPT. But India's NPT status appears to be of decreasing concern to the Russian government when considering weapons, science, and technology exchanges.

The increasing transfer of dual-use and missile defense technology to India, Israel, and Pakistan continues despite the fact that these countries aren't restrained by NPT regulations from sharing this technology with non-nuclear weapons states--even in the case of Pakistan, a country that likely aided North Korea in developing its uranium-based nuclear weapons program. Such policies clearly undermine the goals of the NPT, sending non--nuclear weapons states a clear message: remaining outside of the NPT regime has many benefits and few costs.

The NPT was to be the cornerstone for disarmament, arms control, and the peaceful prevention of the further proliferation of nuclear weapons--a role that the treaty is clearly failing to fulfill. It is no longer fruitful to wait and hope that international political motivation will restore the NPT into a workable and effective regime. It is time, instead, to realize how and why the regime t isn't working and what countries bear responsibility for the treaty's ineffectiveness. The non-nuclear weapons state members of the NPT should unite in calling for a type of censure--a statement that clearly lays out the reasons for the NPT's failures, holding specific countries responsible for their part in the regime's degradation. Such a motion wouldn't pass the NPT PrepCom's procedure of consensus, but it would send a strong message that the majority of NPT members aren't complacent in the face of continuing disregard for nuclear weapons states' treaty obligations.

In particular, the United States' persistent role in undermining the goals of the NPT should be clearly outlined by the other parties to the treaty. If the United States isn't going to take its obligations under the NPT seriously, which it shows no intention of doing, and if the United States continues to pursue policies that directly undermine the treaty regime, then this behavior must be recognized and forthrightly condemned by the other members of NPT regime. Such a statement isn't likely to be effective in changing U.S. policy, but it could affect the sentiment of the American public. Given that the NPT regime is hardly benefiting from symbolic U.S. membership, members of the NPT have little to lose by formally voicing a strong opposition to the United States' many transgressions.

As the U.S. government is becoming more and more frank in its disregard for multilateral diplomatic solutions to security issues, so must the international community be frank in its rejection of the aggressive and dangerous policies of the United States that threaten to further undermine the NPT regime and draw the world into an unending arms race and a state of perpetual war.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is also the coauthor of Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age and editor of Hope in a Dark Time: Reflections on Humanity's Future

Devon Chaffee is the research and advocacy coordinator of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation ( is a nonprofit, nonpartisan international education and advocacy organization.
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Author:Chaffee, Devon
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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