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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Bush, ElBaradei, Discuss Proposals of Nuclear Nonproliferation Talks
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Wade Boese


Diplomats from more than 100 states are expected to convene for nearly two weeks beginning April 26 to assess what future measures might be taken to shore up the beleaguered nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In anticipation, U.S. President George W. Bush and Mohamed ElBaradei, the United Nations’ top nuclear expert, met in mid-March to discuss possible proposals.

Although the nuclear nonproliferation regime was recently buoyed by Libya’s December 2003 renunciation of its nuclear weapons program, the exposure of illicit Iranian nuclear activities and the disclosure of Abdul Qadeer Khan’s black market nuclear network highlighted the regime’s ills.

With the help of the Pakistani-based Khan network, NPT states-parties Libya and Iran pursued secret nuclear work for years without being caught. North Korea, which announced its withdrawal from the NPT last year, also conducted nuclear-related dealings with Khan. (See ACT, March 2004.)

These revelations have spurred calls for reform from Washington, other world capitals, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for making sure states do not illegally use their peaceful nuclear programs to build atomic bombs covertly.

At Washington’s invitation, ElBaradei, the IAEA director-general, visited the United States March 15-18 to discuss proposals for remedying the ailing nonproliferation regime. ElBaradei met with Bush, top officials from the CIA and the Departments of Energy and State, and members of Congress.

ElBaradei summed up his message to the president in a March 18 PBS interview as “[T]his is a different ball game and we have to revise the rules.”

Possible revisions discussed at the meetings included cleaning up and securing weapons-usable material worldwide, strengthening export controls, and denying uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them. Currently, 15 states possess such capabilities, which are legal under the NPT but necessary for making nuclear weapons. ElBaradei does not want to see that total grow.

Although Bush and ElBaradei share many of the same concerns and believe that the threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons demands that the past rules of the nonproliferation regime be updated, they have yet to announce a set of agreed specific proposals or general strategy.

Both men have laid out initiatives separately: Bush in a Feb. 11 speech at the National Defense University and ElBaradei in a series of written pieces and interviews. (See ACT, March 2004 and November 2003.) Bush’s proposals have stressed getting individual states to do a better job of clamping down on their own nuclear materials and technologies, while ElBaradei has urged that states subject their nuclear programs to more stringent multinational controls. There is some overlap, such as ending the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in reactors around the globe.

The forthcoming NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting, which is scheduled from April 26 to May 7 in New York, will likely see a full airing of proposals to amend the nonproliferation regime. Indonesian Ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat will serve as the meeting’s chairman.

Treaty compliance and enforcement will be the central themes pushed at the PrepCom by the U.S. delegation, which will be headed by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton.

In a March 12 interview with Arms Control Today, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter said, “Verification and especially compliance are going to be important topics at the PrepCom.” The reason, she explained, is because the treaty “has been under assault by
North Korea, Iran, and other countries of concern.”

If past PrepComs are any guide to what can be expected, the United States will not be the only state reprimanding other NPT members for failing to live up to their commitments. In fact, the United States will face the same charges.

Many states have previously alleged that Washington, as well as Beijing, London, Paris, and Moscow, have not done enough to reduce the role and size of their nuclear arsenals. Article VI of the NPT calls upon all treaty members to work toward disarmament.

In 2000, these five capitals joined in agreeing to 13 steps to advance toward that goal, but they have made mixed progress in fulfilling their pledges. For example, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans nuclear testing, has not been brought into force, and negotiation of a treaty to end the production of HEU and plutonium for weapons purposes has not been initiated even though a five-year deadline was set for its completion. The Bush administration is now reviewing whether it supports such negotiations. (See ACT, March 2004.)

However, the administration contends it has a solid NPT record, citing its 2002 treaty with Russia to reduce their nuclear forces to fewer than 2,200 deployed strategic warheads each by the end of 2012. “I think we can point toward greater progress under this administration in moving toward the objectives of Article VI than can be pointed to under the entire history of the NPT,” Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker asserted in a Jan. 21 interview with Arms Control Today.

DeSutter said, “I think it would be a very sad thing given the assault we’re seeing on the NPT by virtue of the noncompliance that we’ve got if countries focused on the United States instead of where the problem is.”