The limits of wisdom?

Voices linking the proliferation situation with activities aimed at universal nuclear disarmament are disregarding reality.

May 11, 2010 10:53
3 minute read.
Hillary Clinton a the NPT

Hillary Clintion at the NPT 311. (photo credit: AP)


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The reemerging campaign to persuade/force Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), although not new, is strange at best. One thing that can be said for Egypt, the initiator and real force behind this move, is that it has been consistent. Of all those joining the campaign one way or another, Egypt is probably best aware that Israel will not respond to these calls.

Israel would do so only if it were persuaded that joining the NPT was in its best interests. The multitude of letters, decisions and resolutions are not the best way to go about it. While Egypt may know this, at least some of the others give the impression that they  really expect Israel to bow to their wishes.

On the formal side, the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that “...the principles of free consent and of good faith and the pacta sunt servanda [agreements must be kept] rule are universally recognized.”

Well, trying to force someone to join a treaty is certainly outside the requirement of “free consent.”

Shotgun weddings are not expected to last; they only serve to legalize the offspring. Asking Israel to demonstrate its “good faith” to those calling on it to join the NPT is ludicrous in today’s world, with Iran calling for the destruction of Israel, Syria amassing chemical weapons and trying to develop nuclear ones, and with rockets threatening almost every part of the country.

And “agreements must be kept” is a sham where the NPT is concerned. With North Korea, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran as (caught) violators, and the multitude of states, which the world tends to forget, that violate Articles I and II of the NPT that require them “...[Article I] not in any way to assist... and [Article II] not to seek or receive any assistance... to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons,” states that have not joined the treaty (India, Pakistan and Israel) would be naturally wary of it.

AND THEN comes the issue of discrimination. Although the principle of “equal justice for all” is usually applied to criminal law, it is discordant when the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency writes a letter to his constituent states asking for ideas on how to implement a resolution calling on Israel to join the NPT. Formally he was correct. But, taking his cue from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, he should have mentioned that, although outside the scope of the resolution, there are two other states in the same geographical IAEA region (Middle East and South Asia) that are not party to the NPT – India and Pakistan – and the same question could be applied to them. Why the discrimination?

The variation behind the demand to join the NPT is the idea to reach an agreement and declare the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons, or even free of all weapons of mass destruction. Israel declared it would be ready to do so when conditions are right;, when there are peaceful relations in the region.

Peace, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said, is key to this matter. Peace, in a way, is the formality. Trust must exist before a country seriously weakens its security. Without trust, nothing of lasting value can be achieved.

Looking at the Middle East and South Asia, how can trust exist with Iran developing nuclear weapons and, together with its affiliate terrorist organizations, threatening the existence of Israel? And the more practical question: Would Iran abandon its military nuclear ambitions? Could it be trusted to do so?

Realities do not seem to bother those who sit down and draft resolutions for the sake of political convenience, in the hope that at the end of May, they will be able to say: This was a successful NPT review conference.

It is perhaps not yet possible to predict the outcome of the conference. However, with Iran having  de facto veto power, the situation is quite clear. Some of the things not resolved during the NPT review conference will determine the long-term view of its results. The voices linking the proliferation situation with the activities aimed at universal nuclear disarmament are disregarding reality. No matter how you clothe it, the nuclear non-proliferation body has never been so vulnerable. A nuclear Iran will deal it a severe, if not a fatal blow.

The writer is a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

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