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Revisiting the NPT at 2010

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nasser Saghafi Ameri

The Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) once again will be reviewed in order to be strengthened and updated in 2010. What adds to the importance of the coming event is a new demand for nuclear energy worldwide, dubbed as nuclear renaissance and the emergence of nuclear states like Iran that endeavor their status to be recognized by the international community.

As specified in the NPT when came into force in 1970, the Review Conferences were to be held at five-year intervals. If unlike previous occasions the seriousness of the challenges is tackled properly and constructive measures are adopted respectively, the 2010 conference could be a reviving event for this Treaty.

By all accounts, the 2005 NPT review conference failed in finding solutions to the chronic issues related to the NPT, especially the issue of nuclear disarmament. Kofi Annan, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations called the 2005 Review Conference "a missed opportunity". The failure of the conference was due to many factors, some of them still persist. Obviously, nuclear power states' compliance to their commitments is crucial in any effort for strengthening the NPT.

Some nuclear weapon states, referring to the reduction of their nuclear arsenals, claim that global disarmament and arms-control are already taking place. However, those reduced weapons are usually their "surplus" weapons. Limited efforts by the United States and Russia, as the two major nuclear weapon states, in reducing their nuclear arsenals or decommissioning some of their nuclear stockpiles by placing them in the stockrooms is not consistent with their legal obligations. The present stock of nuclear weapon is therefore more than sufficient to destroy the world many times. The situation becomes even more alarming when several nuclear-weapon states no longer give pledges against a first use of nuclear weapons thus increasing the risk of nuclear weapons use.

Article 6 of the NPT regarding nuclear disarmament needs prompt attention. The process of nuclear disarmament should be based on certain principles and followed by a reliable program of action. The past experience shows this vital issue cannot be left to the wills of the nuclear power states and real non proliferation happens with an overwhelming international support for the elimination of present nuclear weapons and credible commitments by nuclear weapon states not to seek new types of nuclear weapons.

The logic of keeping nuclear weapons with such high expenses especially after the Cold War is not clear. Surely, those weapons are not effective for deterrence of Al Qaeda or confronting other terrorist organizations. Therefore, the only possible use of these weapons could be for bullying or intimidation of other states. Apparently, some powers like France and Britain, along their permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, keep nuclear weapons also for its symbolic value and to boost their big power status. The great risk is that the continuation of this trend and the usage of nuclear weapons as currency of power in international politics might encourage other countries like Japan and Germany that have moved up the ranks compared to some present nuclear power states to opt for nuclear weapons in the future.

Another development in the nuclear field that relates to the other main part of the bargain in the NPT is a new trend in global energy markets which will have direct impact on demand for nuclear energy. Following the events that led to a dramatic surge in oil price to more than 145 dollar per barrel; many industrial countries revised their previous policies for phasing out their nuclear powered energy plants. Obviously, the cheap gas prices in the early 1980 and Chernobyl disaster in 1986 motivated and greatly influenced the policies for abandoning nuclear energy. But rising gas prices and growing environmental concerns for carbon emissions and climate change created strong incentives for revision of previous policies and for construction of new nuclear power plants in Italy and Germany and other European countries that are more dependent on natural gas imports. Similarly, many developing nations, some with abundant oil and gas resources, are also opting for nuclear energy. Ironically, some of the countries that criticized Iran's nuclear program are now following its footsteps for developing nuclear energy. According to the World Nuclear Association, there are now some 436 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries. There are 30 more under construction and over 90 are firmly planned.

This new trend that is marked by unprecedented growth in demand for nuclear energy and for related technologies place institutions like the NPT and IAEA in the spotlight. It seems that with the growing demands for nuclear energy, a new approach by the IAEA for accommodating such demand is needed. In recent years, Iran's nuclear program has been under focus and subject to a policy of denial of access to nuclear technology by major nuclear powers. Iran insists that it has fully complied with the NPT and all its nuclear facilities are under 24 hour surveillance of international inspectors of the IAEA. Iran has repeatedly questioned the legality of those restrictive policies for pressuring it to abandon its peaceful nuclear program. Many countries agree that under current international law Iran has technically done nothing wrong and its nuclear program including its uranium enrichment is perfectly legal. Therefore, it is generally perceived that with the nuclear renaissance on the horizon the decisions about Iran's nuclear case may decisively affect the future of the NPT.

While Iran's nuclear program has been under scrutiny, little attention is paid to the countries outside of the NPT. In fact, Israel and India have been unlawfully helped by the US and their allies in the NPT to develop their nuclear capacities. In a shrewd tactic to camouflage the threat posed by Israel's nuclear weapons to the region and world security, the public attention is diverted to the peaceful nuclear program of Iran by Israeli supporters. The risk of Israel using its nuclear weapons is alarming given its aggressive military posture and its continuing threat of attacking Iran. Israel's nuclear weapons demonstrate a vivid double standard by which a country outside of the NPT is virtually given a free hand to pursue its nuclear weapons program and threatening to use them, while major powers in the NPT attempt to stop Iran, another faithful member of the NPT, in practicing its legitimate rights in development of peaceful nuclear industry.

The case of nuclear India, another non member state of the NPT has become even more complicated with the United States decision to sign a nuclear cooperation treaty with that country. The treaty between India and the US is considered by many experts contrary to the goals of nuclear non proliferation, if not in violation of the NPT.

As far as Pakistan's nuclear weapons are concerned, given the volatile situation in that country and Afghanistan, it is imperative that they be safeguarded in a way that it would never fall in to the hands of unauthorized people while major efforts should be made for elimination of those weapons along a global nuclear disarmament scheme.

The 2010 Review Conference could be considered as a new opportunity to strengthen the NPT if it adopts a practical agenda with suitable approaches to nuclear energy by removing present obstacles in the way of non nuclear weapon states in their activities for development of their peaceful nuclear industry. Accordingly, it seems necessary to deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons in world politics and strategic calculations by broadening the definition of "nuclear weapon states" to all countries that enjoy nuclear capability but have refrained from crossing the threshold of nuclear weapons. For that to happen, the nuclear power states should commit themselves to ultimate goal of comprehensive nuclear disarmament within a defined timeframe. It is utterly important for convincing other states that they do not need nuclear weapons, that nuclear weapon states pay genuine respect for the existing restraints on the threat and use of nuclear weapons. In addition, nuclear weapon states should adhere to their obligation for cooperation with other members of the NPT in peaceful nuclear fields. Given the setbacks in arms control and disarmament at the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in 2005, it is necessary to set the stage for a credible multilateral disarmament and nonproliferation process thorough necessary preparations as soon as possible.

Source: Center for Strategic Research

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