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Toward Consensus on a Strengthened Nuclear Nonproliferation System
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Presentation to American Center for International Policy Studies
Invitational Model United Nations, November 11, 2004

Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director

More than three decades ago, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) established one of the most important international security bargains of all time: states without nuclear weapons pledged not to acquire them, while nuclear-armed states committed to eventually give them up.

Since then, the NPT has helped to limit the number of nuclear weapon states to the five with nuclear weapons at the time of its entry into force (U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China) and the three other known nuclear weapon states (India, Israel, and Pakistan), which have refused to join the treaty. Dozens of other states might have the bomb today if not for the NPT and associated measures, including nuclear export controls, nuclear weapons free zones, negative nuclear security assurances, and intrusive international weapons inspections.

The NPT has also fostered arms control efforts that have also reduced the threat posed by U.S.-Soviet/Russian nuclear weapons. Bilateral nuclear arms control agreements such as SALT, the ABM Treaty, and START helped corral the Cold War arms race, prevented a defensive missile arms race, reduced offensive arsenals, and increased transparency and opportunities for diplomacy, thereby reducing instability and the risk of nuclear war.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, new cooperative programs have successfully dismantled and secured vast quantities of Cold War weapons stockpiles at dozens of locations. In addition, the NPT process helped spur progress in the decades-long effort to ban nuclear testing, which culminated in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the current de facto global test moratorium. The CTBT has been a central disarmament and nonproliferation goal because it makes it more difficult for states to improve their nuclear arsenals, especially fielding new types of advanced nuclear warheads.

Today's Proliferation Challenges

Despite these very significant accomplishments, the nuclear nonproliferation system, including the NPT, is under great stress. As the international community approaches the 2005 NPT Review Conference, it is evident that global security and proliferation challenges are as politically and technically complex as they were in the 1960s when the NPT was conceived and created.

During the past decade, the NPT has endured successive crises involving Iraqi and North Korean nuclear weapons programs. Iran has been found to have pursued secret nuclear activities that could provide it with bomb-making capability in the not too distant future. If the international community fails to turn North Korea and Iran away from the nuclear arms path and either of these two states acquire nuclear weapons, the global security and proliferation situation will very likely take a severe turn for the worse.

India, Israel, and Pakistan have advanced their nuclear weapons programs with relative impunity. India and Pakistan have, in recent years, teetered on the edge of open warfare which, if repeated, could lead to a nuclear conflict. The specter of terrorism and the existence of nuclear black market networks based out of Pakistan's government-run weapons laboratories have added a new layer of risk.

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have failed to capitalize on key opportunities to substantially and verifiably dismantle significant portions of their still massive Cold War-era stockpiles of strategic and tactical weapons. The five recognized nuclear weapon states have failed to fully adopt other measures that would limit future nuclear arms competition and risks of use, devalue the role of nuclear weapons, and help strengthen the nonproliferation system by fulfilling their solemn commitments to pursue disarmament under the NPT.

Enter the Bush Administration

In recent years, officials now in the George W. Bush administration have argued that the NPT has failed to stop proliferation in South Asia, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. Arms control and nonproliferation agreements, they say, are ineffective against problem states and irrelevant for friendly states, including Russia.

The Bush administration has focused on stopping unfriendly states from getting nuclear weapons but has refused to effectively engage with them to achieve a lasting solution. It has downplayed the role of preventive diplomacy and arms control in U.S. policy and emphasized preventive military action. The administration has proposed improving some nuclear export controls, and harmonizing efforts to interdict dangerous weapons shipments through Proliferation Security Initiative, and it has raced to deploy rudimentary and unproven strategic missile defenses.

Such an approach is misguided and inadequate. Though better controls on the global trade of dangerous weapons are important, they are insufficient. As the Iraq debacle shows, military action to topple regimes alleged to be seeking unconventional weapons is fraught with peril.

The Need for A New Nonproliferation Consensus

Instead, the threat of nuclear proliferation must be met with firm resolve and dealt with through a balanced and comprehensive array of strategies. More than anything, the treaty's success - and international security - requires that the United States and other nations work together to achieve universal compliance with strengthened rules against nuclear weapons possession, trade, development, and use.

Success also requires that nuclear-weapon states reduce the salience of nuclear weapons by fulfilling their solemn disarmament obligations and give credible assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states that they will not be subjected to nuclear attack. Finally, it also requires something that the NPT cannot by itself deliver: the reduction of the underlying tensions and conflicts that motivate states from acquiring nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons capabilities.

But over the last several years, U.S. officials have pushed for greater limitations on other states while arguing the United States needs to do little or nothing more on disarmament. As a result, states-parties are more divided than ever about how to enforce the treaty, deal with the three nonsignatories (India, Israel, and Pakistan), and tighten restrictions on the availability of nuclear weapons technology. In addition, the decades-long rivalries between states in the Middle East, South Asia, Northeast Asia, and even between the United States and Russia continue to fester. With the re-election of President Bush, the ability of the international community to break this dangerous impasse will be as difficult as ever.

The NPT Review Process: the Past is Prologue

The issues that will be at the center of the debate about how to strengthen the nonproliferation system at the upcoming 2005 conference must be seen in the context of the ongoing nonproliferation and disarmament debate.

Recall that at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states pledged to a set of principles and objectives on nonproliferation and disarmament in order to achieve the indefinite extension of the treaty. The chief commitments in the 1995 Statement, by the United States and all other NPT parties, included: a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by 1996; universality of membership in the NPT including India and Pakistan but most importantly Israel; immediate commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT); and systematic efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally. In addition, the indefinite extension of the NPT was based on compliance with the NPT by all states in the Middle East, which was a clear reference to Israel's unacknowledged and unsafeguarded nuclear weapons program.

The 1995 final conference document called on all states in the region to take practical steps toward the goal of an "effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction" and support for nuclear weapon free zones elsewhere. The 1995 conference called for progress toward legally binding negative security assurances. In response to clandestine North Korean and Iraqi nuclear programs, it also called for strengthened International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and expansion of peaceful uses of nuclear technology. This set of pledges was crucial to winning support for the indefinite extension of the treaty.

But between 1995 and 2000, limited progress was made in realizing key NPT objectives. The CTBT was completed and signed in 1996, but it was rejected by the U.S. Senate in 1999. The U.S. and Russia failed to conclude additional agreements to verifiably reduce their nuclear stockpiles. New nuclear weapon free zones were established in Africa and Southeast Asia, but the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty has not yet come into force, nor has the U.S. ratified any of its protocols. Alone among nuclear weapons states, the U.S. has not ratified any of the protocols of the pre-existing South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty. No discussions regarding the establishment of Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction have occurred. The Additional Protocol strengthening NPT Safeguards was agreed to in 1997 but as of 2004, less than 30 percent of NPT parties had ratified it.

In response, key nonnuclear weapon states parties-led by the New Agenda Coalition (Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, South Africa, Egypt, Brazil, and Mexico)-these disarmament goals were reaffirmed and refined at the 2000 NPT conference in the form of the "13 steps" section of the final document. At the 2000 conference, the five-acknowledged nuclear weapon states also expressed their "unequivocal commitment" to nuclear disarmament. In other words, the extension of the NPT does not imply the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons.

The 2000 Review Conference also endorsed the goal of wider accession and compliance with the 1997 Model Additional Protocol agreement on IAEA safeguards to improve the international community's ability to detect and deter noncompliance with the NPT.

The 2005 Review Conference: Toward Consensus or Conflict?

Tension regarding the mutual obligations of NPT members is nothing new. Yet, if the 2004 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2005 NPT Review Conference is any indication, the review conference promises to be one of the most difficult and important in the history of the NPT.

Rather than build broad support for a plan to strengthen the treaty in all of its aspects, Bush administration officials chose to use the May 2004 Preparatory Committee Meeting on the NPT to level a blunt critique of illicit Iranian and North Korean nuclear activities. With Iran in mind, President Bush has called on other states to support proposals to limit the sale of nuclear technologies that can be used to make bomb material.

This initiative could produce useful but hard-to-win additional limitations on non-nuclear-weapon states' access to some forms of "peaceful" nuclear technology. Iran's previously undeclared uranium-enrichment activities do indeed create the possibility that it intends to become the next nuclear-weapon state. There is broad agreement that Iran must fulfill its pledges to allow more intrusive nuclear inspections and make its temporary uranium-enrichment halt permanent.

But achieving these outcomes involves heavy diplomatic lifting and a more balanced approach strengthening the NPT. Nonnegotiable U.S. ultimatums, however justifiable, will not do the trick. Nor will they make it any easier for an ongoing British-French-German initiative to convince leaders in Tehran that full compliance with the NPT and a suspension of its uranium enrichment program is in their best interest.

The United States and other leading international players can ill-afford to abdicate their disarmament responsibilities, which are in their self interest and are vital to tightening controls designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states. But, as many NPT states parties have stated, the nuclear weapons states have failed to live up to their end of the bargain.

At the 2004 Preparatory Committee meeting, U.S. delegates to the NPT meeting did their best to block discussion of further disarmament measures, including the possibility of multilateral talks on weapons of mass destruction issues in the Middle East. In an April 27 speech at the conference, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton declared, "[W]e cannot divert attention from the violations we face by focusing on [disarmament] issues that do not exist."

Or do they? To be sure, the United States and Russia have made steady progress in dismantling and securing large portions of their Cold War nuclear stockpiles declared excess under the first START agreement of 1991. And with the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, the two states have pledged to reduce operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces to fewer than 2,200 warheads by 2012.

But these actions are far behind pace and they would allow each side to redeploy launchers and warheads. Even after SORT, the United States and Russia will still likely possess some 4,000 to 5,000 strategic nuclear warheads in various states of readiness. The situation is even worse in other areas. Talks with Russia on verification measures and tactical nuclear weapons remain on the backburner. The U.S. maintains about 1.300 such weapons including 480 stationed in Europe, while Russia is estimated to possess at least 3,000.

The administration has initiated research on new types of more "usable" nuclear weapons, stiff-armed progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and opposed negotiations on a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty.

President George W. Bush has also approved nuclear-use policies that undercut previous commitments to nonuse of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states in the context of the NPT. Specifically, NSPD-17- the classified version of the United States' 2002 "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" -calls for the possible use of nuclear weapons to counter chemical and biological threats.

Sensing that the Bush administration wants to erase any memory of earlier U.S. commitments to these and other disarmament commitments, leading non-nuclear-weapon states, including several U.S. allies, cried foul at the 2004 NPT Prep Com. Arab states continue to be frustrated by the failure to confront the reality of Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal and will do so again at the 2005 meeting. Perhaps as a consequence, they have said little about Iran's IAEA safeguards transgressions. The impasse blocked agreement on next steps and even a basic agenda for next year's Review Conference.

An Action Agenda to Strengthen the Nonproliferation System

As the world looks ahead to the 2005 NPT Review Conference, it is clear that there is consensus on the need to strengthen and preserve the NPT. At the same time, it is also apparent that there is not yet agreement among the major governments and groups of states on how to do so.

On the tactical level, most states and especially the Chairman of the Conference, Brazil's Sergio Duarte, will focus on winning support for positions and proposals they consider vital to their national interests and on inclusion of language in a final conference document supporting their positions.

As Ambassador Sergio Duarte noted in a recent and soon to be published interview in the Arms Control Association's journal, Arms Control Today: "If the result [of the 2005 Review Conference] is balanced between the improvement of the mechanisms to prevent proliferation and progress toward nuclear disarmament, I think we could claim success."

In practical terms what does this mean? In my view there are several important measures and steps upon which all states can and must support and include in the final conference document. Some of the most important include:

1. Reduce and Eliminate the Role of Nuclear Weapons

All states parties, particularly the nuclear weapon states should " Reaffirm their commitment to fulfill Article VI nuclear disarmament objectives."

The United States and possibly France will be the chief obstacles to an agreement on this point and to a more specific articulation of what constitutes progress in the field of disarmament.

2. Support Progress on Specific Disarmament and Nonproliferation Measures

Given likely NWS hesitancy, states parties could call on all states to take steps that help halt and reverse the nuclear arms race and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in foreign and military policies. These include:

  • A unilateral suspension of fissile material production for weapons purposes until such time as a verifiable and global fissile material cut-off treaty can be negotiated and enter into force.
  • The renewal of negotiations to account for and verifiably dismantle excess strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
  • A reiteration of the nuclear weapon states' 1995 statement on the non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT.
  • A call for all states to refrain from conducting nuclear test explosions for any purpose pending entry into force of the CTBT, to fully support the work of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, and to consider signature and ratification of the CTBT.

3. Strengthen Verification and Compliance Tools

To address ongoing concerns and compliance with the NPT and IAEA safeguards and improve verification capabilities to detect and deter possible cheating, states parties could:

  • Urge all NPT states parties, as well as non-members, to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol without delay, and to fully cooperate with all IAEA investigations of illicit nuclear activities.
  • Support new, automatic penalties against states that withdraw from the NPT or do not otherwise abide by the standards and norms it establishes.
  • Urge all states to limit nuclear and military cooperation with states that are not subject to rigorous IAEA safeguards.
  • Call on nuclear supplier states to provide a full accounting of all transactions involving dual-use nuclear technologies in order to augment the IAEA's ability to detect and deter illegal trafficking.

4. Address Security Concerns of Nonnuclear NPT States Parties

To reduce the security concerns that can lead some states to consider, pursue, or acquire nuclear weapons, states parties should express support for:

  • The initiation of a direct dialogue on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and the conditions under which such an agreement might be possible.
  • The initiation of negotiations that would establish legally-binding negative security assurance that would apply to all nuclear weapon states.

5. Resolve Regional Proliferation Problems and Underlying Security Issues

To address immediate concerns about Iranian and North Korean nuclear activities, states parties should:

  • Express support for an agreement between the government of Iran and the European Union that would lead to a voluntary and indefinite suspension of nuclear fuel cycle activities and further discussion on the possible dismantlement of its fissile material production facilities and guarantee a supply of nuclear fuel for energy production purposes.
  • Call for the rapid conclusion of negotiations with North Korea on an agreement that would require North Korea to fully, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear capabilities and allow North Korea to fully meet its obligations as a member of the NPT.
  • Acknowledge that the success of such agreement involving North Korea will also require that the United States and other states in the region agree to a phased approach involving the normalization of relations, energy assistance, and pledges of nonaggression, and the renewed and intrusive IAEA inspections to verify North Korea's compliance.

6. Tighten Controls on Weapons-Applicable Technologies and Fissile Material

To guard against the future possibility that peaceful nuclear technologies will be diverted to weapons purposes, states parties should agree to:

  • Suspend the construction of new uranium enrichment or plutonium production facilities and, in exchange, guarantee nonnuclear states access to nuclear fuel supplies for civilian purposes under an international mechanism.

7. Support Reinforcing Measures to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism

To reinforce the NPT, states parties should encourage further progress on:

  • Securing and disposing of nuclear materials and stockpiles in the former Soviet states.
  • The establishment and enforcement of national laws that prohibit activities by individuals that are prohibited by the NPT.

In sum, the international community-and especially the United States-must pursue a more balanced and credible approach that addresses the fundamental obligations of all states. Important advances in strengthening the nonproliferation system, the NPT's future, and national and international security depend on it.

Posted: November 11, 2004