Demise of the non-proliferation treaty?

Only prompt collective international efforts can stave off nuclear chaos.

October 8, 2006 21:49
3 minute read.
Demise of the non-proliferation treaty?

nuclear atomic globe 88. (photo credit: )


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The Iranian drive to develop illicit nuclear weapons and North Korea's nuclear test are generating a great deal of verbiage, but no action. The dangers should be clear clear. In Teheran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks openly about wiping Israel off the map and promotes the slogans of Holocaust denial, while his government supports terror groups such as Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And in Pyongyang, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung presides over one of the most repressive regimes in the world, forcing his population to starve while he sells missiles to Iran and Syria. As a result, the nuclear programs of both countries, to be followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and elsewhere, might be expected to produce stern action by the "international community." The threats, one would have thought, should trigger economic sanctions and preparations for military action to prevent catastrophe. If anything could lead to common action by the major powers, stopping the Iranian and North Korean nuclear efforts ought to top the list. But the leaders of the US, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and elsewhere have limited themselves to empty slogans - threatening strong responses but doing nothing to make these threats credible. President Bush, as well as European, Russian and Chinese officials, agree that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran and North Korea are "intolerable." After a decade, as both regimes approach the nuclear finish line, these words sound hollow and unconvincing. THIS INACTION is also leading to the death of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As international treaties go, this one has had a good run, going beyond the rhetoric and distorted agendas that have been the norm in the United Nations. When the NPT was first discussed in the early 1960s, there were serious concerns about the rapid spread of nuclear weapons around the world into the hands of dangerous dictators and revolutionary regimes. And, in a rare example of cooperation between Washington and Moscow, the NPT was imposed on many countries that would otherwise have developed nuclear weapons. The treaty and enforcement mechanism provided a framework in which many countries, including democracies, gave up nuclear ambitions in return for assurances that others would do the same. Japan, Sweden, Germany and many other nations stopped plans to obtain such destabilizing arms. And although the five nuclear powers at the time - the US, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China - were allowed to keep their weapons for the time being, they pledged to lower and eventually phase out nuclear arsenals. In addition, the NPT and various nuclear supplier arrangements helped pressure less reliable military dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere to give up early steps toward nuclear weapons. In the Middle East, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and, belatedly Algeria, signed on, agreeing to inspections to ensure that legitimate research facilities and materials would not be diverted for military programs. The one-size-fits-all inspections were the NPT's primary flaw, and Iraq was one of the first to take advantage of this. In 1981 international inaction forced Israel to destroy the French reactor that would have given Saddam Hussein the bomb. In response, the NPT safeguards system was tightened, with new and more professional inspection procedures, and Iraq, despite intense efforts, was unable to rebuild its program. These actions added 25 years to the life of the NPT, despite the severe blows resulting from Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998, thereby increasing the number of declared nuclear powers from the original five to seven. Israel was always an exceptional case, due to its unique security environment, and while it could not accept the limits of the NPT as long as the threat to survival continued, no nuclear tests were conducted (unlike India and Pakistan). BUT THE system unraveled in the 1990s, as the Clinton administration negotiated a "compromise" with North Korea and considered Israeli warnings about Iranian plans to build nuclear weapons to be exaggerated. Europe buried its collective head in the sand, with no security concepts or ability to think about using force to prevent proliferation. Russia and China were part of the problem, providing technology to Iran and playing outdated balance-of-power games with the US. Now the US is stuck in the Iraqi quagmire, and Europe is still unable to grasp the link between force and security. Russia and China have started to understand the dangers (as has Japan, which recently stopped investment in Iran), but they cannot lead a strong international response. There may be some time - perhaps a year - to use sanctions and prepare for military action in order to prevent the demise of the NPT, and global nuclear chaos. North Korea may be bluffing again, and Iran must still overcome a number of technical challenges to producing nuclear weapons. But to accomplish these objectives a collective international effort involving all the responsible powers is necessary.

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