Disarmament and Nonproliferation Toronto Star: Nuclear
Nuclear pact threatened
Warnings about the wildfire spread of nuclear materials are now commonplace, and security officials sound the alarm weekly on "dirty bombs" that can be made with loose radioactive matter and simple explosives.
Meanwhile, North Korea admits to harbouring nuclear weapons and suspicions about Iran's nuclear intentions go unchecked.
But in the background, largely out of the media spotlight, is a debate that may determine whether nuclear weapons will multiply across the globe, or enter a new era of co-operative control.
The five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty begins May 2 at the United Nations with the aim of renewing and strengthening one of the world's essential security bargains: that countries without nuclear weapons won't acquire them and those that already have them continue to eliminate them, eventually doing away with their arsenals.
But disarmament experts, including prominent Canadians, say that regime is threatened as never before, and not only "rogue states" but the world's superpowers are undermining the treaty. Without new commitment, they predict, a catastrophic "cascade of proliferation" could result.
"The situation is so serious, and the threat of nuclear terrorism is so real that governments need to put aside their quarrels and power plays and take meaningful steps to ensure the treaty will not be lost to the world through erosion," says Senator Douglas Roche, chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative of international non-governmental organizations for disarmament.
Most countries agree they want to stop North Korea and Iran from developing arsenals of nuclear weapons, says Roche.
"But it's futile to try and stop that horizontal spread as long as the original nuclear powers arrogate unto themselves the continued possession of nuclear weapons, and show disregard for their legal responsibility to enter into comprehensive negotiations to get rid of weapons that are a horrendous threat to humanity."
A long-awaited international treaty against nuclear terrorism, passed by the U.N. General Assembly last week, demonstrated that consensus is possible. It had the backing of the United States and other nuclear powers to step up worldwide efforts to prevent nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists.
But Washington's co-operation in the NPT is less certain, experts point out. They say that not only the intransigence of countries like Iran, but President George W. Bush's hawkish stand on nuclear weapons, and his disregard for international treaties, cast dark shadows over the prospects for its future as an effective instrument.
The recent nomination of John Bolton, a former U.S. arms negotiator, as ambassador to the U.N. has alarmed some disarmament advocates, who see it as a signal that his policy of promoting an "America first" policy over multilateral negotiation has been fully endorsed by the Bush administration.
Although Bolton is not expected to take part in the upcoming NPT review, they point out, his views have been stamped on administration policy....
In a sharply worded letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has postponed a vote on Bolton's appointment until next month, disarmament advocates protested that he has set a precedent of opposing vital arms control treaties.
"He has been closely identified with multiple assaults on treaty regimes that protect the security of Americans and people around the world," wrote members of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy and the California-based Western States Legal Foundation.
And, they charged, last year Bolton "brushed aside other countries' concerns about whether the United States is meeting the obligation of good-faith negotiation of nuclear disarmament under Article VI of the NPT."
Article VI, which obliges all nuclear weapons states to disarm, was recognized by president Bill Clinton as the cornerstone of arms control policy. He pledged to begin putting all "excess" nuclear materials and infrastructure under the NPT's regime of inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency - the same U.N. body responsible for monitoring Iran, and other countries suspected of building nuclear weapons.
But Bush changed the focus from a multi-country bargain to the imposition of restrictions on nuclear have-nots, critics say.
Last year, the letter pointed out, Bolton insisted that bringing "Article VI issues that do not exist" into the non-proliferation discussion was a diversion from violations of the treaty by Iran and North Korea: "Ignoring the fact that the viability of the non-proliferation regime depends on balanced compliance with both non-proliferation and disarmament obligations."
At the upcoming NPT review, says Lawyers' Committee executive director John Burroughs, Washington is likely to continue steering away from disarmament to a crackdown on would-be nuke states.
"They will say they want to focus on the non-proliferation side," he said. "But exactly what they will be pushing isn't clear. They will say that the U.S. is complying with its obligations because it has made nuclear reductions since the Cold War."
What Washington - and many other countries - would like to see is a broader and tougher regime for controlling the spread of nuclear materials and technology.
The U.S. State Department has called for "all states to acknowledge the gravity of the threat, and to affirm all parties' responsibility for holding violators accountable for their actions."
Those who defied the regime, it said, would be subject to "political, economic or other actions."
On its side, the U.S. points out that it has moved more than 200 tonnes of fissile material from its military stockpile, dismantled 13,000 nuclear weapons, supported a ban on production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of technical and other assistance to safeguarded international energy programs.
That may not carry much weight with states like Iran that are under increasing pressure from the U.S. to give up nuclear weapons development, Burroughs says.
They argue that rejecting nuclear weapons development dooms them to inequality, and that prevents them from becoming major regional or world players.
"The Middle East is one region where the NPT is at risk. If Iran eventually decides to go nuclear it may cause other countries in the region to do so too, and there will be a withdrawal from the NPT. It's all very well for us to say we don't want the spread of nuclear weapons but if we want non-nuclear countries to buy in, there must be more compliance with arms control and disarmament."
Washington's interest in developing a new generation of "mini-nukes" that can be used to battle insurgents or enemy armies has concerned many disarmament advocates....
Such moves undermine confidence in the NPT, critics say. And they reduce the likelihood that the countries the West most wants to control will agree to more stringent rules.
"Perhaps today's greatest threat stems from the existing global stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, the fissile materials that are the fuel of nuclear bombs," says the Campaign to Strengthen the NPT, a coalition of more than 20 international experts, diplomats and former government ministers.
"These materials remain far too accessible to terrorists as a result of inadequate security and accounting at nuclear facilities throughout the former Soviet republics and in dozens of other countries."
The group is also concerned that the NPT's current rules allow countries to acquire technologies that bring them to the "very brink of nuclear weapons capability," and then withdraw from the treaty without penalty unless the U.N. Security Council takes action.
The outcome that developed countries hope for from the NPT review is an agreement for more effective controls on technologies that can be used to produce nuclear weapons materials, as well as expanded controls on those who already have them.
But there is debate about how to reach a fair solution for countries that need a supply of nuclear material for peaceful purposes.
Developing countries say that if the enrichment process for uranium - one of the key bomb products - is limited to the richer nations who now produce it, a solution favoured by some states, it would create an export monopoly.
Another suggestion, that some countries be allowed to produce their own enriched fuel under tougher safeguards, would be accompanied by intensive inspection and monitoring by the IAEA....
(Emphasis added and shortened for space as indicated.)