By Arjun Makhijani
Transcript of radio commentary that aired April 16, 2003 on KUNM public radio 89.9 fm in Albuquerque.
This month, April, the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, will gather at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss the state of the nuclear world. They will be meeting at a time of unprecedented crisis for the NPT, which went into effect in 1970.
At the time, the main goal of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain, was to prevent a widely-feared nightmare of nuclear proliferation: two-dozen nuclear weapon states by the end of the twentieth century.
In return for a commitment from non-nuclear states not to acquire nuclear weapons, the three nuclear powers promised to end the nuclear arms race, to end nuclear testing, and to negotiate in “good faith” to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. That vague pledge was not good enough for India, Pakistan, and Israel, which stayed out of the NPT.
By 1995, the NPT seemed a considerable success. France and China had joined. There were no nuclear states beyond the eight that existed or were on the horizon in 1970. A threat by North Korea to withdraw from the treaty had been forestalled. It was under international inspections, as was Iraq. The Cold War was over. The United States and Russia were rapidly reducing their nuclear arsenals. They had stopped nuclear testing.
But storm clouds gathered rapidly in the late 1990s. The promised test ban treaty was rejected by the US Senate. A U.S.-Russian arms-reduction treaty was stalled. The United States and Russia insisted on doctrines of possible first use of nuclear weapons in any conflict. The Middle East nuclear weapons free zone, promised at the 1995 NPT meeting, was dead-in-the-water.
So an old question has become insistent: If the most powerful countries in non-nuclear terms still need atom bombs, what about the rest? India and Pakistan gave their loud reply with nuclear tests in 1998. North Korea has withdrawn from the NPT. The Middle East may well become a zone of nuclear proliferation, or endless wars, or both.
A world of double standards is not sustainable. The powerful cannot long persuade the weak to give up nuclear weapons if they are not themselves ready to do it. Nuclear materials and nuclear technology are far too widespread for that approach to succeed. A wild-west idea of shoot first and ask questions later, which is on fearsome display in Iraq, is an invitation to nuclear proliferation, not peace. The inspection and disarmament provisions of the NPT are the world’s strongest instrument for nuclear safety. But the vision and will to save the treaty, which the US did more to create than any other country, have not yet seized those who occupy the halls of power.
For more on security related treaties and the rule of law, visit the website of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, www.ieer.org. This is Arjun Makhijani.