The Bush administration has approached nuclear non-proliferation with Iran and India by two very different measures. Iran, a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has been threatened with sanctions, if not actual violence, for its pursuit of uranium enrichment, although there is no clear evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. India, on the other hand, has now been offered US nuclear technology, although India is not a party to the NPT, is known to have tested nuclear weapons and is thought to possess a nuclear weapons arsenal of 60 to 100 weapons.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty, which entered into force in 1970, is at the heart of worldwide nuclear non-proliferation efforts. The US was one of the original signers of the treaty, and was one of the major supporters of its indefinite extension in 1995. The principal goal of the treaty is to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation by assuring that nuclear weapons and the materials and technology to make them are not transferred by the nuclear weapons states to other states.
The five nuclear weapons states parties to the treaty (US, Russia, UK, France and China) all made this pledge. They also pledged “good faith” negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. The 183 non-nuclear weapons states that are parties to the treaty pledged not to develop or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons and the materials and technology to make them.
A problem arises with the treaty because it also promotes peaceful nuclear technology – which is inherently dual-purpose, capable of being used for peaceful or warlike purposes – as an “inalienable right” for all nations. Iran claims to be exercising this right, arguing that it is pursuing uranium enrichment for nuclear power generation and not for weapons purposes. The Bush administration disputes this claim, and insists Iran must stop enriching uranium altogether, a policy inconsistent with its proposed deal with India, a country that has already developed nuclear weapons.
India never became a party to the NPT, and conducted its first nuclear test in 1974, which it claimed was for peaceful purposes. India did not test again until 1998, when it conducted a series of nuclear tests and announced to the world that it had become a nuclear weapons state. Pakistan followed India with nuclear tests of its own. While India and Pakistan were not restricted by the NPT because they had never joined the treaty, they were initially sanctioned by the US and other states for going nuclear. But now this has changed. Mr. Bush wants to provide nuclear technology to India in exchange for India allowing international safeguards at 14 of its 22 existing nuclear power reactors by the year 2014. This makes little sense, as it would leave eight of India’s reactors without safeguards, including those in its fast breeder program, which would generate nuclear materials that could be used in weapons programs.
The Bush administration seeks to reward India for non-cooperation with the treaty and for developing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while Iran is threatened with punishment for being part of the treaty and seeking to exercise its rights under the treaty. The implications of the hypocritical US approach to proliferation are to leave countries questioning whether their participation in the NPT is worthwhile. This approach is likely to lead to a major breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the international regime that supports it.
To prevent such a breakdown, a number of important steps should be taken, which will require US leadership. First, there should be a worldwide moratorium on uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, subject to international inspections and verification. This means a moratorium by all countries, including the US and other nuclear weapons states.
Second, all current stocks of weapons-usable uranium and plutonium in all countries should be placed under strict international controls.
Third, there should be no “nuclear deal” with India until it agrees to give up its nuclear weapons program and dismantle its nuclear arsenal. Congress should turn Bush down flat on this poorly conceived and opportunistic deal.
Fourth, the US should give up its plans to develop new nuclear weapons such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which signal to the rest of the world that the US intends to keep its nuclear arsenal indefinitely.
Fifth, the Non-Proliferation Treaty should be replaced by two new treaties: a Treaty to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which sets forth a workable plan for the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons under strict international controls; and an International Sustainable Energy Agency that develops and promotes sustainable energy sources (such as solar, wind, tidal and geothermal) that can replace both fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
The alternative to this ambitious agenda, or one similar to it, is a world in nuclear chaos, in which extremist terrorist organizations may be the greatest beneficiaries. This is the direction in which current US nuclear policy, with its flagrant disregard for international law, is leading us. The double standards in US dealings with Iran and India are the latest evidence of this misguided policy.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), and a leader in the global movement to abolish nuclear weapons.