Reinforce the Nonproliferation Bargain

Daryl G. Kimball

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is a good deal that must be honored and strengthened. Since the NPT entered into force 35 years ago, the number of states forswearing the world’s most destructive weapons now stands at 188. Only India, Pakistan, and Israel have refused to join the treaty. The NPT has solidified the norm against nuclear weapons acquisition, trade, modernization, and use.

Nevertheless, the foundation of security established by the NPT is under severe stress. Since the NPT was extended 10 years ago, a few states have exposed and exploited the treaty’s limitations. Iran, Libya, and North Korea pursued illegal nuclear programs with the assistance of a secret Pakistani supplier network. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. Iran may soon have the capacity to produce fissile material for weapons if ongoing European diplomatic efforts falter.

Meanwhile, the nuclear-weapon states have fallen short of key disarmament commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences. As a result, a growing number of states believe that the nuclear haves do not intend to fulfill their end of the NPT bargain—their pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons. That growing frustration makes the non-nuclear-weapon states less willing to agree to further measures that would bolster the regime.

When the states-parties meet for the treaty’s seventh review conference this May, they must not only reaffirm the legal and political objectives established by the NPT and previous review conferences, but also resolve differences blocking agreement on a balanced and effective action plan to advance nonproliferation and disarmament.

One of the most important steps would be for all NPT states to agree to establish more effective controls on technologies that can be used to produce the key ingredients for nuclear weapons: highly enriched uranium and plutonium. As Article IV of the NPT has been interpreted, countries under international monitoring can acquire nuclear equipment for peaceful pursuits that brings them to the very brink of nuclear-weapon capability. Under the NPT’s withdrawal rules, they can then leave the treaty without penalty.

According to the findings of a new report from an expert panel convened by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, a number of viable options exist that would constrain the spread of uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technology while guaranteeing nuclear fuel supplies under multinational authority. The NPT’s members should agree not to permit access to controlled nuclear materials and equipment by a state that withdraws from the treaty.

The NPT Review Conference must also act to improve the IAEA’s ability to detect and deter treaty violations by urging all states to agree to tougher inspections under the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, to which only 64 states fully adhere. Today, the international community depends on the IAEA’s Additional Protocol authority to verify Iran’s voluntary commitment to freeze its uranium-enrichment program.

Efforts to ensure compliance must also be backed by diplomacy designed to resolve regional tensions. Ultimately, the goal should be new regional security measures, such as a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The global political consensus needed to implement these strengthening measures will not be achievable unless the nuclear-weapon states accelerate and deepen the disarmament process. U.S. opposition to two key commitments—the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and an effectively verifiable ban on fissile material production for weapons—is especially damaging.

Nevertheless, U.S. and other nuclear-weapon-state representatives argue that their Article VI disarmament record is a good one and peaceful nuclear cooperation is put at risk unless cases of noncompliance are forcefully addressed. U.S. and French officials have even suggested that the 13-point action plan on disarmament that they agreed to in 2000 was a product of another time and is no longer relevant.

If some nuclear-weapon states disavow past NPT commitments, they increase the risk that non-nuclear-weapon states will not fulfill theirs or agree to new measures to strengthen the nonproliferation system. Rather, the nuclear-weapon powers must acknowledge their existing disarmament obligations and commit to reduce further the risk of nuclear war and the allure of nuclear weapons. If such leadership is not forthcoming, then they should at least follow the United Kingdom’s example and publish detailed plans on the conditions by which nuclear disarmament could be achieved.

The May 2005 Review Conference is a crucial forum for parties to measure progress—or lack of progress—in implementing their mutual NPT obligations and commitments. The multiple threats to the nonproliferation cause also make it an indispensable opportunity to demonstrate the political will to strengthen peace and security for all states, not just a few.