by Zafar Bangash (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 3, Jumada' al-Ula', 1431)
By the middle of last month, frustration was growing among non-nuclear states over the nuclear weapons states’ foot-dragging on important aspects of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
By the middle of last month, frustration was growing among non-nuclear states over the nuclear weapons states’ foot-dragging on important aspects of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The treaty was under review throughout last month (May 3–28) by the 189 NPT signatories at a UN conference in New York. For most NPT members, it was a repeat of the vacuous rhetoric of previous years’ conferences, especially 1995 and 2000, when much hot air was expended but there was little substance, except perhaps to target countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran that have run foul of big bully America. The 2005 conference had ended up in total disarray because member states could not even agree on an agenda. It was also sabotaged by the US when former President George Bush repudiated all previous agreements and pressed ahead with building more nuclear and other lethal weapons.
There were loud calls from the 184 non-nuclear states that nuclear weapons possessor honour agreements made at previous NPT conferences before making additional demands of non-nuclear states. In particular, they demanded direction, accountability and muscle to the outcome of this NPT conference as well as for nuclear states to provide proof that they were moving toward total disarmament and not think that they can placate non-nuclear states by prattling about reduction in such weapons. The US, Britain, France and Russia have all been touting reduction in their lethal arsenals when in fact, these should have been totally eliminated by now as demanded by the treaty.
What is wrong with the NPT and the manner in which its provisions are contemptuously repudiated was best illustrated by US behaviour. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke on the opening day of the NPT conference (May 3) after President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran because of protocol (a president trumps a secretary of state!), talked up the US commitment to a “nuclear free world” as envisioned by President Barack Obama in his Prague speech in April 2009. But Clinton reiterated Obama’s caveat in Prague that “the United States will retain a nuclear deterrent for as long as nuclear weapons exist”. If the US with an annual military budget of $750 billion plus hundreds of billions more earmarked for the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still thinks it needs nuclear weapons to deter, such arguments will continue to drive nuclear dependence and proliferation by others. Not surprisingly, President Ahmedinejad demanded that the US should be expelled from the NPT conference for its repeated failures and violations of treaty obligations.
Obama’s rhetoric to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the new Arms Reduction Treaty (START) agreement with Russia, as well as the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review fly in the face of his actions. On May 5, Obama sent a proposal to Congress promising $80 billion to modernise US nuclear infrastructure and arsenal over the next ten years. Many have questioned the sincerity of his commitment to nuclear disarmament. This huge sum is much more than the amount spent by warmonger Bush on nuclear weapons and facilities. Besides, Obama categorically stated in his Nuclear Posture Review that Iran and North Korea would not be exempt from the use of first strike nuclear weapons. Obama, the president for change, threatened to use nuclear weapons against two states, one Iran, that has no nuclear weapons. Such irresponsible threats places the US in the category of states advocating terrorism.
Following her UN speech at which Clinton promised that Washington would show “transparency” about its nuclear arsenal, the Pentagon announced that the US had 5,113 active nuclear warheads and another 4,600 in reserve. While welcoming such transparency, many NPT members wondered aloud why after 40 years of NPT, the US still possessed such a large arsenal. A growing number of governments are also arguing that the missing link between Obama’s Prague vision and the practical fulfilment of the disarmament obligations in the NPT is a negotiated treaty to ban nuclear weapons altogether. This is unlikely to be realized in the foreseeable future given the US and indeed other nuclear weapons states’ behaviour.
The nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons in US possession are enough to obliterate the earth many times over. Given its terrible record of being the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons — against civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and subsequently depleted uranium shells in Iraq, the US has no moral authority to lecture others about nuclear restraint. President Ahmedinejad was right when he said in his NPT speech that nuclear weapons were “not a source of pride” but “rather disgusting and shameful”, a sentiment that ought to be welcomed and indeed was welcomed by most participants.
Beyond US hypocrisy, there were other issues as well that came up for discussion. What shape the final communiqué will take or whether there will be a final agreement is difficult to predict (this will come after Crescent press time), given past failures. A number of areas, regional and global disarmament commitments, for instance, could still derail the conference outcome if there is failure to get an agreement.
Halfway through the conference (May 14), the first drafts of proposals from the three committees on disarmament, safeguards and nuclear energy were circulated. They highlighted major disagreements between the have and have-not states in three areas:
The manner in which the work of the committees is being undermined is de-monstrated by the nuclear states steering their recommendations into vague statements of principles. For instance, on disarmament, there was much emphasis on reaffirming a set of principles and steps that were adopted 10 years ago, but barely implemented. These include bringing the Com-prehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, negotiating further multilateral disarmament measures, making much deeper and irreversible cuts in existing arsenals, and diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies. If these principles were affirmed 10 years ago but not implemented, what hope is there that reiterating them again would make any difference this time?
The majority of 184 non-nuclear states wanted the review conference to agree to implement a more clearly defined and set agenda, including some kind of comprehensive nuclear treaty or framework, to give legally binding context and coherence to the proposals. They wanted to ensure that this time the NPT outcome would have direction, accountability and muscle, and would not end up as so much ink on paper, as happened to many earlier agreements painstakingly negotiated and adopted in 1995 and 2000 but discarded and repudiated.
The non-nuclear states want to build on the conventions that have prohibited biological and chemical weapons; a “nuclear weapons convention” that would prohibit the use and deployment of nuclear armaments, provide an agreed timeline for eliminating current arsenals and establish a stringent verification system applicable to all, and not just to states on the US target list. The first draft of the NPT Chairs’ disarmament plan of action that was circulated on May 14 recommended “special efforts to establish the legal framework required to achieve the final phase of nuclear disarmament and maintain a world without nuclear weapons”. Such recommendations, however, will remain pious hopes unless the nuclear weapons states are forced to see the error of their ways. Under the present global architecture, it appears highly unlikely that current recommendations will move beyond statements of intent, to be discarded at the altar of self-declared national interest of nuclear states.
What are the chances of nuclear weapon states accepting these recommendations? If past behaviour is any guide, they will insist on deleting the recommendation related to establishing a legal framework and a set timeline for making the world free of nuclear weapons. France and Russia already succeeded in doing this at the NPT preparatory meeting in 2009. Why should one expect them to behave differently at this conference when nuclear weapons are at the heart of their military doctrines? Disarmament, as far as the nuclear states are concerned, must be implemented by non-nuclear states.
Such hypocrisy is even more glaring in the case of Israel, the only nuclear state in the Middle East and one of three — India and Pakistan being the other two — not to have signed the NPT (North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003). In return for agreeing to the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995, the Arabian states got a resolution calling for a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Fifteen years later, Israel possesses an even larger stockpile of nuclear weapons (estimates range from 200 to 500 nuclear warheads) and has an aggressive chemical and biological weapons production program. So what did they get from the NPT conference or the West? Pious words while the Zionist state continues to enlarge its nuclear and other military weapons arsenal. True, the conference will call on Israel (and indeed on India and Pakistan) to join the NPT but since Israel has arrogantly dismissed all such calls, will there be any penalties against Israel? Given the craven attitude of US politicians that cringe at the thought of offending the American Jewish lobby or standing up to the Zionist bully, more billions will be siphoned off to the Zionist settler entity to oppress, displace and murder Palestinians in their own land rather than force it to agree to some internationally accepted behaviour.
The Arabian states called for the 2010 NPT Conference to agree on a practical process to move towards negotiations on a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, and proposed a regional conference that would include Israel. While such a conference would accord Israel the recognition it has demanded for decades, it is unlikely to attend it if the NPT were to arrange one. Israel’s demand that its “right to exist” must be recognized flies in the face of international law and norms of diplomacy. No state in the world can demand the right to exist; a state exists on the basis of its being in possession of certain territory and its ability to defend that territory. Israel has not defined its borders and does not intend doing so since it continues to expand by expropriating more and more Palestinian lands while being financed by billions of dollars in US handouts.
Israel’s nuclear arsenal is never criticized by the US. Last September, when the NPT conference called on Israel to join the NPT, not only the Israeli delegate but also the American delegate called it unfair and one-sided. Why that should be so was not explained but it is clear that as far as the US is concerned, Israel cannot be criticized no matter what crimes it perpetrates. Instead, the US and indeed the West’s wrath is reserved for Iran that has no nuclear weapons and has no intention of making them, as stated by its top officials repeatedly. Instead, regarding the Middle East, the US and its European allies are holding private discussions with Arabian representatives. Egypt has been made the principle interlocutor so that Washington can exert pressure on its Egyptian client. Other Arabian regimes, too, do not have the courage to stand up to the US and will be easily placated by soothing words and vague promises while Israel continues to expand its massive nuclear arsenal.
Unless there is a clear timeline for nuclear disarmament and effective penalties against violators — both highly unlikely in the current international environment — nothing much will come out of the NPT conference. Pious words will not and have not made the world a safer place. Those that thrive on blackmail and bullying can hardly be expected to abandon the means that enable them to do so.
The nuclear-weapons states, starting with the US, have failed to uphold their obligations under Article VI to pursue negotiations on nuclear disarmament in good faith and beyond this, to seek general and complete disarmament. In July 1996, the International Court of Justice in The Hague 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.
The only choice left for them is to embark on programs to acquire nuclear weapons of their own. If such weapons act as deterrent for the US, Britain, France, and Russia why others cannot adopt the same doctrine?