On January 10th 2003 North Korea announced its intent to become the first country ever to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Though North Korean officials argued that its withdrawal was official immediately, according to Article X of the treaty the withdrawal was not official until today, three months after the notification was issued. This unfortunate event highlights the severe implications of the Bush administration’s refusal to engage North Korea diplomatically. It also draws attention to concerns about the uncertain future of the NPT regime.

Under the NPT North Korea and other countries not possessing nuclear weapons at the time agreed not to develop or obtain nuclear weapons and the nuclear powers agreed to disarm and not to spread nuclear weapons to other states. Now that North Korea is officially not a party to the NPT, there are few legal obstacles preventing it from developing nuclear weapons and selling such weapons, technology and materials to other countries.

North Korea had announced its intent to withdraw from the NPT regime once before in 1993. At that time the United States engaged in bilateral negotiations leading the DPRK to retract its withdrawal days before it officially went into effect.

When North Korea again announced its withdrawal in January its statement of intent clearly called for further negotiation initiatives with the United States. These requests did not, however, result in the skillful diplomatic maneuvering that was employed during the 1993 crisis. Instead, the Bush administration has refused all requests for bilateral talks, urging a multilateral approach that has, thus far, proved entirely unfruitful.

North Korea now joins India, Pakistan, Israel, as the only countries not currently within the NPT regime. Few of these countries have faced serious consequences for such remaining outside of the regime.

Although some sanctions were originally imposed on India and Pakistan after they conducted nuclear tests in 1998, these sanctions have been largely abandoned. The nuclear status of India and Pakistan is increasingly accepted by the world’s major powers. They have been allowed to enter into certain international nuclear research institutions, from which they were previously excluded, and the U.S. is investigating ways to aid these countries in securing their nuclear arsenals.

It currently appears unlikely that the U.N. Security Council will take any punitive action in response to North Korea’s NPT withdrawal. This seeming complacency of the international community in regards to nuclear proliferation begs the question: what is preventing other nuclear aspiring nations, such as Iran, from following North Korea’s lead and withdrawing from the NTP regime?

As the United States continues to wage a pre-emptive attack on Iraq, in part due to Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs, increasing alarm is voiced by other nations accused of such proliferation. It is likely that nations such as Iran will accelerate their nuclear weapons programs due to fears of such U.S. aggression. This is particularly so as the Bush administration continues to increase its emphasis on its own nuclear weapons technology, ignoring its disarmament obligations under Article XI of the NPT. Though these issues will likely be discussed at the upcoming preparatory meeting for the NPT Review Conference this May, the Bush administration is increasingly distancing itself from arenas pushing to find diplomatic solutions to the threat of weapons of mass of destruction.
Devon Chaffee is the research and advocacy coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.