is failing: What now?
For several decades now the world
has been living with the illusion that the
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) established a functioning
treaty regime that has spared the world from nuclear
danger. It is an illusion partly because three nuclear
weapons aspirants (Israel, India, Pakistan) have kept
clear of the treaty, and suffered no adverse consequences
when they developed nuclear arsenals.
On the contrary, President Bush's
proposed nuclear deal with India must be understood as a
major diplomatic reward in spite of India's crossing the
nuclear weapons threshold. And Israel has been allowed to
develop a formidable nuclear weapons arsenal while the
West kept completely silent.
But this is not the only concern.
The NPT has generated a new set of pretexts for launching
aggressive war. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was mainly
vindicated, in public at least, because of Baghdad's
stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and its covert
nuclear weapons program. The reality that such a
stockpile did not exist, nor the program, conveys the
perverse message that a country hostile to the United
States might be better off with the weapons than without.
Iran and North Korea certainly heard this message!
And now, shifting course, the
United States is leading a second charge toward
aggressive war, this time against Iran, and in so doing
approaching the nuclear precipice. Rumors abound that the
only sure way to disable Iran's nuclear capabilities is
by relying on nuclear warheads to hit and destroy
protected underground facilities.
And there is more to worry about.
The NPT promises in Article IV as a matter of
"inalienable right" full access to peaceful forms of
nuclear technology for non-weapons states. Several
countries, including Germany and Japan, parties to the
NPT, have a complete nuclear fuel cycle, including
enrichment phases, which makes it possible for them to
acquire weapons in a matter of weeks or months. Iran is
being threatened with military attack and UN sanctions if
it moves in a similar direction.
This appears to be such a blatantly
discriminatory application of a vital provision of the
NPT as to give Iran grounds for regarding itself as free
from any duty to comply. It is elementary treaty law that
if an important provision is violated this constitutes a
material breach that allows other parties to declare
their unwillingness to remain bound by the treaty. In any
event, the treaty allows for parties to withdraw, and
North Korea has already exercised this option.
If this were not trouble enough,
there is another cluster of difficulties with the NPT.
The nuclear weapons states, starting with the United
States, have failed to uphold their obligations in
Article VI to pursue in good faith negotiations on
nuclear disarmament, and beyond even this, to seek
general and complete disarmament.
The World Court in The Hague back
in 1996 unanimously called upon nuclear weapons states to
regard Article VI as a solemn legal obligation. Most
non-nuclear weapons states have been upset about this
failure for years. It is long past time that they do
something. It is not tolerable to keep sliding closer and
closer to the nuclear precipice, and hope for the
It is time for a group of
governments, as many as possible, to step up and say we
have waited long enough. It is time to say that the NPT
was based on mutual commitments, and is failing. It is
past time to awaken the nuclear weapons states by
administering shock therapy.
This is not a plea for
proliferation. It is an urgent plea for nuclear
disarmament based on a negotiated agreement, reliable
monitoring and verification, phased reductions in weapons
arsenals, and a commitment to the total prohibition of
the threat or use of these weapons.
Only the United States has the
stature and shoulders the responsibility to take such a
momentous step toward safeguarding its own security and
contributing to the realization of a nuclear weapons free
world. It is absurd to believe that we can have an
arrangement whereby some states acquire and continue to
develop these weapons while others are punished with war
for doing the same thing on a miniscule scale.
This logic of the NPT in practice
is to endorse double standards of the worst possible
sort. It would have been treated as absurd if such an
approach had been taken with respect to the treaties
renouncing the right to develop or possess chemical and
biological weapons. Even though some states had huge
stockpiles of these weapons, the treaties were based on
the equality of obligations binding on all states. Why
should nuclear weapons be treated differently?
And the approach of the NPT to
nuclear power is also flawed.
There is no way to allow this
access to countries without giving them the status of
being latent nuclear weapons states. The only solution at
this stage is to impose a moratorium on the production of
weapons-grade fissionable materials, and those materials
already produced should be placed under strict
international controls in all countries including our
Additionally, an International
Sustainable Energy Agency should be immediately
established and generously funded to extend aid to poorer
countries to develop various types of sustainable energy
(solar, wind, geothermal, tidal). Such a step would both
ease the prospects of a global energy crunch, and would
contribute to environmental protection.
In effect, we are calling for
two new treaties: a Nuclear Disarmament Treaty and a
Treaty Establishing an International Sustainable Energy
Agency. These are the only initiatives that have a
reasonable chance of moving us back from the terrifying
edge of the nuclear precipice.
Richard Falk is Milbank Professor of International Law
Emeritus, Princeton University, and Chair of the Nuclear
Age Peace Foundation. David Krieger is the President of
Age Peace Foundation.
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