Zeroing in on Noncompliance

An Interview With Assistant Secretary of State Stephen G. Rademaker on the U.S. Approach to the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference

Stephen G. Rademaker has served as assistant secretary of state for arms control since August 2002. Recently, he was also charged with overseeing the department’s nonproliferation bureau. In an April 19 interview with Arms Control Today, Rademaker shared U.S. views on how to strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on the eve of a once-every-five-years NPT Review Conference. Below are excerpts of the interview.

ACT: What is the United States hoping to achieve at the 2005 NPT Review Conference, and what is your strategy for accomplishing those objectives?

Rademaker: The most important challenge facing the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is the threat of noncompliance, which we have seen many instances of in recent years. These developments have to be truly alarming to anyone who cares about the nuclear nonproliferation regime. We have had North Korea announce its withdrawal from the treaty [in January 2003], resume nuclear weapons related work, and announce that it has produced nuclear weapons. We have a situation with Iran where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has documented an 18-year history of deception and violation by Iran of its safeguards obligations,[1] all of which in our view is clear evidence that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program. We think delegates to the review conference need to take a careful look at that situation. We also have the case of Libya, which was covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons program until evidence emerged of that program. Once [Libyan leader Moammar] Gaddafi was confronted with that evidence, he chose to renounce his nuclear ambitions. Still, Libya is another example of the compliance problem that we think needs to be the focus of attention.

Of course, underlying all three of these particular compliance issues was the Abdul Qadeer Khan network.[2] We learned in Libya of the existence of the Khan network and the fact that a covert operation was underway worldwide to supply countries, including NPT states-parties, contrary to their treaty obligations, interested in developing nuclear weapons. We think we have put the Khan network out of business, but we have to be concerned about the emergence of similar networks in the future.

These are the kinds of developments that have emerged since the last review conference in 2000, and we think the principal focus of attention at the upcoming review conference has to be these problems and what can be done to prevent them from undermining the foundations of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

ACT: When you say these are the problems that need to be looked at, what are you asking other countries to do to address these compliance concerns?

Rademaker: We would like to see a consensus emerge that this is in fact a major challenge and that there is a shared interest among all treaty states-parties in remedying this problem. Once we can achieve agreement that this is a problem that needs to be remedied, then we can begin to talk about what those remedies might be. We do believe it would be important to try and reach agreement about the proper interpretation of Article IV of the treaty, which sets forth the right of non-nuclear-weapon states to peaceful nuclear cooperation. We think that it is clear from the text of Article IV that peaceful nuclear cooperation is an inalienable right for those parties that are in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under the treaty. But for countries that are not in compliance, obviously their right to peaceful nuclear cooperation needs to be implemented in a manner consistent with the simultaneous requirement that they not be seeking nuclear weapons.

ACT: As I am sure you know, the UN high-level panel that included Brent Scowcroft [President George H. W. Bush’s national security adviser] noted in its report [“A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility”] that “lackluster disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states weakens the force of the nonproliferation regime and thus its ability to constrain proliferation.” The report further stated that the nuclear-weapon states have only a “mixed grade in fulfilling their disarmament commitments” and that past progress has been “overshadowed by recent reversals,” specifically citing the renouncement of the 13 practical steps. What can the United States do to turn this tide of opinion at the NPT review conference?

Rademaker: I would disagree with the notion that the United States is in any way lacking in its compliance with its obligations under Article VI of the NPT or is in any way lacking in its commitment to fulfillment of Article VI. Certainly, I am aware that there are countries that register complaints, but in our view, those complaints are not well founded. The record of U.S. compliance with Article VI is unassailable. The obligations of Article VI are clearly stated within the NPT. It’s a one-sentence provision that in relevant parts says that all parties to the NPT, not just the nuclear-weapon states, are obligated to engage in good faith negotiations in the direction of nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. Quite honestly, I do not think there is any country in the world that can point to a better record of compliance with those obligations than the United States.

Just three years ago, we signed with Russia and have since ratified the Moscow Treaty, which provides for a two-thirds reduction in the number of strategic nuclear warheads that we deploy.[3] I simply do not know how a negotiated two-thirds reduction in strategic nuclear warheads is not good faith negotiations by the United States on effective measures leading to nuclear disarmament. I simply do not understand how anyone can make that contention, and I think people frankly will not make that contention. Instead, they will talk about other things that are a bit more removed from the actual obligations set forth in Article VI.

ACT: What do you mean by that? What issues do you think that they are going to raise?

Rademaker: What did the UN panel report?

ACT: Well, they talked about the renouncement of the 13 steps.

Rademaker: I am not aware that we have renounced the 13 steps. We are prepared to talk about our record. But the 13 steps do not encapsulate the obligations of Article VI in the NPT. The obligations of Article VI are encapsulated in Article VI.

ACT: You are well aware that the 13 steps will be raised at the conference. How does the United States plan to address the matter when other countries raise it? Would the United States agree to a final document that refers to the 13 steps or elements of them?

Rademaker: I have not seen a proposed final document that either refers or does not refer to the 13 steps. We think the 13 steps reflect a statement of views that were relevant to the year 2000, when that statement was agreed to. A lot has changed since the year 2000, and we think it is time for the upcoming review conference to address the situation that exists in the year 2005. As I noted at the outset, the most important change since the last review conference is the emergence of this problem of noncompliance. Those of us who actually care about the future of the nuclear nonproliferation regime need to focus on the real problems of today, not a historical discussion of problems that were identified five years ago.

ACT: But is the United States concerned about the consequences that its position on the 13 steps might have in terms of other states’ views on their political commitments made at previous review conferences? One can cite the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and the linkage of Article IV with Articles II and III in 2000. Are you concerned about the consequences for those political commitments by taking this view of the 13 steps as a historical commitment?

Rademaker: I am not sure that I would agree that the decision to extend the NPT was a political commitment. I think that, if you look to the text of the treaty, it was more than just a political decision. And, the linkage between Articles IV and II and III is a linkage that rests not on a political ground, it rests on the actual language of Article IV. There is explicit reference in Article IV to this linkage. We think that we can stand on our record, which we think is unassailable.

ACT: Still, even though the United States states that its record is unassailable, other countries are going to still raise questions and ask why can’t you do more. Are there steps the United States is willing to take to try and meet those concerns that other countries are going to raise? What steps could the United States take to satisfy the demands of other countries at the review conference to make them more willing to deal with the noncompliance issue?

Rademaker: The most important step we can take is to implement our obligations under Article VI, which we have done with the Moscow Treaty with its two-thirds reduction in strategic nuclear warheads. It is a negotiated measure that will effectively lead in the direction of nuclear disarmament. It’s indisputable compliance by the United States with Article VI.

We have done additional things outside of negotiated processes that have been equally effective. With regard to nonstrategic nuclear weapons, we have fully implemented the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives,[4] dismantling more than 3,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads. Last May, the president decided on an almost 50 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear stockpile to be implemented between now and the year 2012.

Taken as a whole, it is very hard to find fault with the U.S. record. None of the other countries at the upcoming review conference, if asked what they have done under Article VI—and I am speaking not just of the nuclear-weapon states but of the non-nuclear-weapon states that also have Article VI obligations—will be able to point to a record anywhere near as compelling as the United States can point to.

ACT: You are basically saying that the U.S. record cannot be challenged.

Rademaker: Yes. There will be criticisms. Countries will accuse us of not doing as much as they would like us to do. But these are ill-founded criticisms. These are not countries that will be able to answer very effectively what they have done to implement their obligations under Article VI.

ACT: In terms of the Article VI commitments and the Moscow Treaty, one criticism that is likely to be raised is that the reductions are not irreversible or transparent. In addition, the United States has not been that active over the past year in making reductions. For instance, the U.S. arsenal has apparently been reduced by two warheads in the past year under START[5] counting rules. What can the United States do to address the concerns that it is not doing enough to reduce its nuclear arsenal?

Rademaker: These additional criteria [irreversibility and transparency] are not specific criteria you will find outlined in Article VI. But we do think that there is tremendous transparency about the reductions we have made. They are all a matter of public record. They are subject to verification under the START inspection regime. You have not heard any complaints by the Russian Federation that we are failing to provide transparency under that regime with regard to the Moscow Treaty reductions. The point about START counting rules are just sophistry because START counting rules impute levels to delivery systems. They have nothing to do with the actual levels of warheads deployed on delivery systems. The Moscow Treaty refers to actual levels, not counting rules. And, with regard to irreversibility, I find it truly remarkable that anybody is going to come to the upcoming review conference expressing concern that in the year 2012 that, after we implement a two-thirds reduction in our level of strategic nuclear warheads, we are going to somehow want to reverse course and build up. That is a purely hypothetical or conjectural concern.

Meanwhile, North Korea is building up and proudly declaring that it has become a nuclear-weapon state. Iran is clearly moving in that direction. Those are problems that exist today. Rather than focusing on hypothetical problems that some fear may emerge in seven years, we think it’s of much greater relevance to focus on the problems that we know exist today.

ACT: At the Conference on Disarmament, Dutch Ambassador Chris Sanders recently noted, “Effective multilateralism presupposes a genuine attitude to take each other’s proposals seriously.” What proposals from other countries are the United States considering seriously?

Rademaker: I think that the French and the Germans have made some very interesting proposals about Article X of the NPT, which is the withdrawal provision. I think that we will come with an open mind to those proposals. We look forward to the proposals that other governments have to make about the problem of noncompliance. IAEA Director-General [Mohamed] ElBaradei has made some proposals about the nuclear fuel cycle that we have not embraced in the exact form that he has put forward, but we think that he has correctly identified a major problem facing the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the nuclear nonproliferation regime. We look forward to working with him and others who have an interest in trying to develop solutions to the concern about the spread of [uranium-] enrichment and [plutonium] reprocessing technologies.6

ACT: Speaking of North Korea, are you looking for specific language at the review conference for dealing with the North Korean question?

Rademaker: I would be surprised if there is a desire at the review conference to deal with the decision by North Korea to withdraw. On the other hand, I would be surprised if there was not a strong desire to speak to the problem that other countries may decide to follow suit. In other words, I would expect North Korea’s withdrawal to be addressed in a more generic manner as potentially part of a systemic problem. The way it is likely to be viewed in New York is from the perspective of, what can we do to discourage other countries from withdrawing from the treaty pursuant to Article X? That is the general thrust of the French and German proposals. There should be widespread consensus at the upcoming review conference that withdrawal from the NPT is a bad idea and it’s something to be discouraged.

ACT: You said that you are hoping for a successful outcome to the conference. What would you consider a successful outcome?

Rademaker: A renewed commitment by all states-parties to the importance of the NPT. A general consensus that noncompliance with the NPT poses a threat to the regime and it’s something that needs to be taken very seriously and addressed. Effective action needs to be taken in cases of noncompliance, both to reverse the noncompliance that we know about and to discourage others from contemplating noncompliance.

ACT: On the flip side, what would you consider a failed outcome to the conference?

Rademaker: The conference would be a failure if it chose to dwell on the past rather than the present and the future, for instance, if, in the discussion on the problem of noncompliance, the review conference spent disproportionate time focusing on Article VI, where as illustrated by the Moscow Treaty all the movement is in a positive direction, rather than on Articles II and III, where all the movement is in a negative direction.

ACT: Beyond specific policy steps, is there a diplomatic strategy that might be more likely to be successful?

Rademaker: We are not approaching this review conference from the cynical perspective of, we are going to toss a few crumbs to the rest of the world and by doing that try to buy goodwill or bribe countries into agreeing to the agenda that we think they should focus on rather than some other agenda. We will stand on our record. We are proud to stand on our record. We do not think that we need to make apologies for our record. An objective analysis of our record will lead to a very brief discussion of Article VI, which can be a small sidelight to the much larger and more important discussion that needs to be had about the noncompliance problems we have under Articles II and III.


1. Safeguards are mechanisms, such as inspections, seals, and remote monitoring, used by the IAEA to verify that countries are not illicitly diverting nuclear materials and technologies intended for peaceful purposes to build nuclear weapons.

2. Abdul Qadeer Khan is the “father” of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program and ran a proliferation ring that spanned a number of countries and provided nuclear expertise and technologies to Iran, Libya, North Korea, and possibly others. Khan publicly confessed February 4, 2004, to his proliferation activities on Pakistani television.

3. Signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin on May 24, 2002, the Moscow Treaty is formally titled the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The agreement commits the United States and Russia to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to less than 2,200 apiece by December 31, 2012.

4. The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives were voluntary pledges made by President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the fall of 1991 to eliminate certain types of tactical, or “battlefield,” nuclear weapons.

5. Signed on July 31, 1991, by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) committed Washington and Moscow to reduce their “accountable” strategic warheads down to 6,000 apiece by December 5, 2001. The two sides established specific criteria for what was “accountable,” so figures for START “accountable” warheads do not necessarily reflect weapons operationally deployed.

6. Uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing can be used in making fuel for civilian power reactors and producing nuclear weapons.


For a full version of this interview please click here.