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.
• 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 US has reasserted policies of nuclear weapons use that undermine the negative security assurances promised to non-nuclear weapon states parties (NNWS) to the NPT in 1978 and again at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference.
• The doctrine of preemption, 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.
Bilateral policies of the nuclear weapon states parties (NWS) to the NPT are increasingly integrating those nuclear weapons states outside of the NPT regime: India, Pakistan and Israel’s 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 NWS, and the United States in particular. As NWS move further away from their obligations under the treaty, they are simultaneously weakening incentives for non-nuclear weapon 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 non-nuclear weapons states parties 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.
The NPT 13 Practical Steps Towards Disarmament Ignored
When the United States ambassador stated at the 2002 NPT Review Conference Preparatory Committee that Washington no longer supported many of the conclusions from the 2000 NPT Review Conference he was clearly alluding to the 13 Practical Steps to achieve complete disarmament under Article VI of the treaty. In the past year not only has no progress been made in fulfilling these steps but NWS, the United States in particular, have pursued policies that demonstrate significant regression from fulfillment of their Article VI obligations.
In the past year there have been no further ratifications of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by nuclear capable states, including NWS parties to the NPT. There has been no progress in moving towards 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 progress towards START III. There has been no effort to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons, and in fact the United States is conducting studies on new nuclear weapon designs. The only area where some progress in meeting the 13 Practical Steps has been made is that some states submitted reports with regard to their Article VI obligations at the 2002 PrepCom, a process that is still being resisted by many NWS, including the United States.
At the NPT’s inception, disarmament obligations under Article VI played a key role in convincing NNWS 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 NWS, they eliminate a significant incentive for NNWS to keep their side of the bargain.
Negative Security Assurances Undermined
The US has reiterated its policy to use “overwhelming force” against chemical or biological attacks. This policy was reiterated in the recent US 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. These assurances are supposed to reassure NNWS that they need not worry about becoming the target of a nuclear weapons attack. Though 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 non-proliferation 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 protection.
In addition, as the United States continues to fund studies for new tactical weapons designs, such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penatrator, it further erodes the confidence building effect of the negative security assurances. These new nuclear weapon designs are not strategic, to be used to deter a nuclear strike upon the United States, but would most likely be used against the chemical or biological facilities or in other tactical battlefield maneuvers in a first strike, most likely against a NNWS. By eroding its own negative security assurances, the United States is diminishing another important incentive for NNWS to remain within the NPT regime.
Preemption Doctrine Pursued
The United States government is pursuing a doctrine of preemptive use of force, both in policy and military action, which ultimately threatens to undermine non-proliferation 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 US preemption doctrine, which was drafted largely in response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and which was used in justifying the recent invasion of Iraq, is likely to have serious negative effects on the NPT regime.
First, it is setting 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 US 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-US 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 pre-emptive action against Pakistan than the United States has in Iraq.” Such a doctrine of preemption pursued by India towards Pakistan is extremely dangerous, particularly given Pakistan’s conventional weakness. In the face of an Indian policy of preemption, 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.
Second, the US policy of preemption 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 avoid to the fate of the Ba’th regime.
Israel, India and Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenals Accepted
In addition to the many regressions from fulfilling obligations under the NPT, NWS 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, NWS 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 NNWS to remain within the treaty.
There has long been a double standard in calling for the adherence to UN resolutions relevant to the elimination of nuclear weapons within the Middle East that puts little pressure on Israel to eliminate its arsenal. While NWS 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 200 weapons outside of the NPT regime. In fact, by continuing to aid Israel in developing its missile defense technology, 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 to be vulnerable to a reciprocal missile strike. Not only is Israel developing this potentially destabilizing anti-missile technology, but it is also considering selling this technology, if it is given US approval, to India, another nuclear power that is not a member of the NPT regime.
The United States lifted sanctions against the sale of dual-use technologies to Pakistan in 2001 in order to gain Pakistan’s cooperation in the post-September 11 war on terror. Such sanctions against India, which were partially lifted when India also became part of the US-led “coalition against terrorism” in 2001, were repealed in their entirety in February 2003. The United States Congress is also examining ways to expand the co-operative non-proliferation efforts from states of the former Soviet Union 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, if such a lease is undertaken it 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 is not a member of the NPT. But India’s NPT status is a factor that 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 Israel, Pakistan and India continues despite the fact that these countries are not restrained by the NPT regulations from sharing this technology with NNWS, 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 NNWS a clear message: remaining outside of the NPT regime has many benefits and few costs.
A Time To Speak
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 the political will appears to make the NPT a workable and effective regime. It is time, instead, to realize how and why the regime is not working and what countries bear responsibility for the treaty’s ineffectiveness. The NNWS members of the NPT should unite in motioning 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 would not pass the NPT PrepCom’s procedure of consensus, but it would send a strong message that the majority of NPT members are not complacent in the face of continuing disregard for treaty obligations by the NWS.
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 is not going to take its obligations under the NPT seriously, which it shows no intention of doing in either the near or distant future, 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 is not likely to be effective in changing US policy it could possibly affect the sentiment of the American public. Given that the NPT regime is hardly benefiting from US symbolic membership, there is little to lose by members of the NPT formally voicing a strong opposition to the United States’ many transgressions.
As the United States 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 draw the world into an unending arms race and a state of perpetual war.
* David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the co-author of Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age (Middle way Press, 2002) and editor of Hope in a Dark Time, Reflections on Humanity’s Future (Capri Press, 2003).
Devon Chaffee is the Research and Advocacy Coordinator of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and can be contacted at email@example.com.