Sunday, May 26, 2013
By Mia Gandenberger, Visiting Disarmament Fellow, Los Alamos Study Group
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which entered into force in 1970, is the backbone of the world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime — and the only multilateral, legallybinding treaty requiring nuclear disarmament.
The treaty divides states into “nuclear weapon states” — Russia, the United States, France, China and the United Kingdom — which commit themselves to complete nuclear disarmament, and “non-nuclear weapon states,” which commit themselves not to acquire nuclear weapons but are allowed to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
But the division of the world into nuclear “haves” and “have-nots” has never been accepted by most countries. Over the years the treaty has reached near-universality, with only India, Israel and Pakistan remaining outside its regime. North Korea left the treaty in 2003.
In 2010, the United States, United Kingdom and Russia agreed to convene a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. At the last minute the U.S. announced that the conference could not be held in 2012, in effect postponing it indefinitely — just as a similar promise made in 1995 had been abandoned.
This was not received well by Arab states and caused them to consider boycotting the 2013 Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting. In the end they attended, but on April 29 Egypt announced it would not participate in the remaining sessions as a demonstration of its frustration with the lack of progress.
Egypt’s walkout did not threaten the treaty or its non-proliferation regime, but depending on future developments regarding the Middle East Conference in particular and nuclear disarmament in general, tensions may well increase and states may begin to contemplate tearing up their Non-Proliferation Treaty membership cards.
After all, the great majority of states of the world has been calling for complete nuclear disarmament for a very long time.
The credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness not just of the treaty’s non-proliferation regime but all nonproliferation diplomacy ultimately rest on the promise and performance of disarmament. Troubled times for the treaty are troubled times for the entire non-proliferation regime.
As one of the five nuclear weapon states under the treaty, the U.S. has a special responsibility to implement its disarmament and other international commitments.
Yet it struggles to do so.
While it is very keenly pursuing efforts to prevent proliferation in connection with Iran and North Korea, the New START agreement with Russia serves as an excuse to press “pause” on the nuclear disarmament required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty and increasingly expected by the other signatories.
Not only is there no progress on disarmament, but the U.S. is very active in modernizing nuclear war heads, delivery systems and the laboratories and plants that design, maintain and manufacture nuclear weapons.
New Mexico’s nuclear labs, the best-funded in the world, are centrally involved in promoting and conducting a mission the U.S. has pledged to end. This month, at the recent Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting, non-nuclear weapon states again openly and at times severely criticized the U.S. and the other nuclear weapon states for their modernization programs and called for their termination.
Regardless of local sentiment and current spending policies, the fact remains that nuclear weapons missions will inevitably decline. These weapons are incompatible with successful non-proliferation diplomacy, not to mention broader human security aspirations.
Repeated disregard for disarmament commitments is increasingly a liability for the non-proliferation regime. While the non-nuclear weapon states have kept their end of the bargain and have not acquired nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapon states have little to no progress to report on their part.
The U.S. and other nuclear weapon states need to live up to their responsibilities and start applying their own standards to themselves.
By itself, treaty compliance won’t be enough but it is essential, and it may well prove immediately helpful in addressing the so-called cases of concern, i.e. Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Universal non-proliferation can only be achieved and maintained in a world that has no nuclear weapons.