Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rules To Prevent Proliferation of Nuclear Arms Must Apply to All Nations

Every now and then in the life of a nation and in our collective life as a community of nations, we must stop to ask ourselves the following question:  Do our laws, institutions and policies serve our best interests and promote the well-being and happiness of our people?  It is important to ask this question because our laws, institutions and policies are there to serve us.  We must not unwittingly sacrifice our collective well-being and happiness for the sake of our attachment to their preservation. 
An example that comes to mind relates to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, also known as the 'NPT.'   This Treaty was designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear arms while encouraging the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  And yet, as leaders of thought and experts in the field attest, it is a fragile system that is falling apart at the seams: Nations are ignoring their commitments under the NPT or withdrawing completely from it.  New dangers, such as the international terrorist networks and easy dissemination of military technology are compounding the problem.   It is clear therefore that this Treaty and the system of which it is a part must be either fixed or replaced if we are to keep our world safe from the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons.  

No matter how we go about strengthening the nuclear proliferation system and the quest for a viable, effective and efficient system that can keep us safe from the scourge of nuclear weapons, we must apply two key principles:  The first is that all nations must be treated as one, in other words even-handedly and fairly, without favor or discrimination.  This means that all international rules relating to the safety and security of the world as a whole must apply to all nations across the board without exception and must be equally enforced.  The second principle is that the advantage of the part can only be truly guaranteed by assuring the advantage of the whole.  

Applying these two principles it becomes clear that the time has come to make all rules and treaties for the prevention of nuclear proliferation apply mandatorily to all nations.  We can no longer afford to have an arms control system in which participation by states is voluntary as there is too much at stake.  It seems ludicrous for instance that a treaty intended to prevent the proliferation of nuclear arms would make the participation of nations known to have nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, India and Israel, optional.  Having such a voluntary system simply invites states to consider their short-term self-interest at the expense of the long-term security of the international community as a whole: while it serves their interests, they join the NPT and benefit from it - for example by gaining access to civilian nuclear technology - while possibly developing the ability to make nuclear weapons in secret.  Then, when it no longer serves their interests to be subject to the NPT rules and restrictions, they withdraw from the Treaty by giving a mere 30 days' notice to the other NPT parties and to the Security Council   

The same is true with respect to the safeguards established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is tasked with monitoring compliance with the NPT.  It makes no sense that 30 members of the NPT should not be subject to any monitoring safeguards.  Again applying the principles articulated above, the program of safeguards established by the IAEA should mandatorily apply to all nations without exception.

In addition, it is time to abolish the right of nations to withdraw from treaties such as the NPT that are so fundamental to maintaining the safety and security of our world.  It is preposterous
that a member of the NPT should be allowed to withdraw with only 30 days' notice for reasons that are blatantly self-serving, including jeopardy to its supreme interest, and without suffering any consequences.  Such a rule serves only as an invitation to expedient behavior.  

It is time that the laws and institutions we craft to ensure the safety and security of our world are firmly grounded in principle rather than driven by expediency.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Time to Even Out the Nuclear Energy Playing Field

On September 7, 2008, the New York Times reported that the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, an international body which regulates the sale of nuclear energy and technology around the world has approved a deal which allows India to engage in nuclear trade for the first time in three decades.  India was banned from buying nuclear fuel and technology because it conducted nuclear tests, developed a nuclear weapons program and yet consistently refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.   The deal in question reverses past policy and practice in this regard and allows India to buy nuclear fuel and technology to power its civilian nuclear program thereby allowing it to meet its growing demand for electricity and to continue its economic growth.   In return, India has promised to separate its civilian nuclear reactors from its military reactors used for its nuclear weapons program.  It has also agreed to allow international inspectors to monitor its civilian nuclear program.

Putting aside the politics of the situation, it strikes me that a number of relevant questions need to be asked:

1. How does the international community explain its decisions to allow certain countries like India to trade in nuclear nuclear fuel and technology while denying others like Iran and North Korea the same opportunity?  Are there a set of principles on the basis of which such decisions are made?  Have these principles been agreed to by all nations in advance?  If not, what should these principles be?  

1.  If the issue is one of a nation's increasing demand for electricity and energy, shouldn't the international community be equally concerned with ensuring that such demands are met not only in India but in all countries where the need arises?  At the level of principle, isn't it crucial to deal even-handedly with the legitimate energy demands of the peoples of all nations including Iran and North Korea?  After all, they too, have claimed that they need nuclear reactors to satisfy the growing energy demands of their people and yet they have not been offered similar deals by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.  It is time to deal with all nations in an even-handed fashion, be they large or small, powerful or weak and ensure that the legitimate energy demands of all are met.  And yet, the issue is not that simple.  Clearly a closely allied question is how trustworthy a nation has proved itself to be in its dealings with the international community.  It is clearly too risky to allow all nations to have access to nuclear fuel and technology especially if one cannot trust their intentions.  Which leads us to the next question:

2.  What are we going to do about crafting a viable international system to adequately manage the risks of the proliferation of nuclear arms while at the same time providing for the legitimate energy demands of peoples everywhere? The current international system designed to protect the world from this danger appears to be falling apart at the seams.   In a world where nations can still adopt secret nuclear weapons programs that threaten the peace of the world, in which there is no mandatory, no-notice and geographically unlimited system of inspections of ALL nuclear sites worldwide and in which nations can choose whether they want to sign onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or not, it is too dangerous to allow countries to build nuclear reactors even if they claim that they are intended to meet legitimate civilian energy demands.  

In order to respond to both questions i.e., the legitimate and growing energy demands of countries worldwide while also ensuring our safety from nuclear weapons, I propose that we create a supranational institution with responsibility to manage all nuclear facilities and all activities related to the nuclear cycle worldwide.  This institution would be made up not of government appointees but rather of individuals elected by the people of every nation.  To ensure its independence from the dictates of individual governments it would be funded from levies imposed on the sale of nuclear fuel.  This body would be responsible for assessing the legitimate energy demands of all nations and of ensuring that each nation has fair and equal access to nuclear energy to meet its needs.  It would have the authority to set prices that are fair for all.  It would also have the authority to impose penalties on any individual, company and country that did not abide by its regulations.  Such penalties would have directly enforceable by the courts of each country.  The transparency regarding supply, demand and nuclear activities afforded by having all nuclear facilities under international management would considerably reduce the risks of secret weapons programs and would make the world safer.  Most importantly, nations would no longer feel the need to acquire nuclear capability because they would be assured that their energy needs were met.  They would also be secure in the knowledge that no other nation was building nuclear capabilities against which they would need to protect themselves.    

Fortunately, we do not have to start from scratch in creating such a supranational institutions.  The world has done something similar in the past with great success and created a model that we can learn from:  In the aftermath of the Second World War, six Western European nations including France and Germany established the European Coal and Steel Community and pooled the management of their coal and steel into its hands.  They were willing to cede a measure of sovereignty in this narrow economic sphere, albeit one critical to their reconstruction and economic well-being, because they concluded that it was in their collective self-interest to do so.  Consequently, despite their visceral discomfort with the idea of ceding sovereignty over such critical resources over which they had fought many wars, they did so to their great advantage.  In addition to ensuring that they all had equal access to the coal and steel they needed for reconstruction after the war, the creation of the Coal and Steel Community marked the end of ruinous wars between France and Germany and established the foundation for further European integration ultimately resulting in what we now know as the European Union.  There are many lessons the international community can learn from this experiment.  It can replicate this model to our advantage with respect to nuclear energy as well as oil and gas, learning from its strengths and avoiding its weaknesses. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What ought we to do when one nation illegally sends troops into another?

On September 2nd, the New York Times reported that during the course of a four-hour meeting in Brussels, European leaders had criticized Moscow's military offensive in Georgia but yet had failed to settle on concrete measures that might deter Russia from similar action in the future. 

Indeed, one would think that with the magnificent achievements of the human race in so many fields, including some complex scientific and technological ones, our community of nations would have been able to figure out by now what to do when one country breached the territorial integrity of its neighbor.  

Isn't it time for us as an international community to come together and agree upon some firm rules about the consequences that are to follow if one nation takes the belligerent step of sending troops into another?  Should not such an action be viewed as a "threat to the peace" in the language of the United Nations Charter (Ch. VII, art. 39), giving the Security Council the right and indeed imposing on it the obligation to take steps to maintain or restore the peace, up to and including the use of force, if necessary?  Perhaps if our system were more rule-based, with all nations being on notice of the rules in advance along with the consequences for their breach, it would be easier for our international institutions tasked with maintaining the peace to act swiftly and decisively.  

In addition to establishing a set of clear rules and consequences, the world community would also need to create an international standing force that would operate at the beck and call of the Security Council and on behalf of a unified community of nations.  With such an enforcement mechanism in place, individual nations would be less tempted about acting with impunity, knowing that they would have to face a unified international response.