Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's High Time to Make Adherence to the NPT Mandatory

On January 31, 2011, the New York Times published an article saying that thanks to the steady increase in its nuclear arsenal, Pakistan was on its way to becoming the world's fifth largest nuclear power, thereby overtaking Britain. The ramifications for international peace and security of such a build-up of both nuclear material and weapons are enormous and are exacerbated by the fact that Pakistan has never signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ("NPT"). As a consequence, its nuclear facilities are not subject to monitoring and inspection by the international inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency ("IAEA"). Moreover, the long-standing animosity and rivalry between Pakistan and India (which, by the way, has also not signed the NPT), are exacerbated each time one of these two countries makes significant strides in enhancing its nuclear capabilities. It is inevitable that the spiral of mutual suspicion should continue to rise with each escalation. Nothing good can come of this build-up of nuclear capacity on both sides. Then there is the added danger that the nuclear technology that to which scientists in both nations have access, will get into the hands of states whose behavior and motives evoke suspicion within the international community. This has already happened with disastrous consequences thanks to Dr. A.Q. Khan, know as the father of Pakistan's atomic program. He is alleged to have sold nuclear weapons designs to North Korea, Libya and Iran and possibly to Syria. Finally, the dangers of nuclear material and nuclear technology getting into the hands of terrorists increases as the amounts of such material increase, weapons design technology becomes more widespread and as the stability of a country possessing nuclear material becomes shaky.

For a while now, the international community has claimed that one of the most serious dangers facing the peace and security of our planet is nuclear proliferation. The danger lies not simply in the fact that if nations continue to amass nuclear weapons, then the chances are greater that they will resort to them in times of extreme crisis. Rather, the greater danger is that as nuclear materials proliferate, it is more likely that unscrupulous individuals or groups, namely terrorists, will get their hands on enough of that material and with the aid of technological know-how, which is easy to transfer in this global age of communications, they will be able to use it to wreak havoc and sow terror.

There has been no shortage of conferences and meetings and experts' opinions (including the extensive five-yearly NPT review conferences, the last of which was held in the spring of 2010). And yet, not much has come of these. If we are really so concerned about the risks of nuclear terrorism and are serious about reducing and eventually eliminating the dangers of nuclear proliferation, isn't it time to make the radical changes in thinking and behavior that are necessary? So, for example, it seems rather futile to enter into elaborate bilateral treaties such as the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 2) that was initially agreed to by the US and Russia in April 2010 and is to enter into force this month, to eliminate stockpiles of nuclear weapons on one hand, while at the same time ignoring the fact that the back door has long been open to allow the stockpiling of new nuclear weapons and material by other countries who have never signed the NPT.

For starters, wouldn't it make more sense to make adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligatory for all nations, without exception? Who are we kidding, when we turn a blind eye to a system in which nations can choose to sign an international agreement as crucial to the peace of the planet as the NPT? Is it not time to recognize that some systems are so fundamental to the continued peace and stability of our world as to require all nations to fully participate in them, without the right of withdrawal?

If we are truly a community of nations, then we need a set of international laws that apply equally to all the subjects of that community, namely to all nations bar none. Why should the principles upon which we build our international community differ from those governing our local or national communities? We would never conceive of having a system of local or national laws relating to our peace and security to which we, as the subjects of those nations, could choose to adhere or disregard at will. So, for example, it is hard to imagine living in a nation in which the law against murder would apply only to those individuals that chose to sign on to it. The consequent break down in law and order would be as unacceptable as it was inevitable. Why then should we allow such an untenable state of affairs to persist at the international level when it abundantly clear that the world is completely interconnected and no nation, however powerful can survive on its own?

Returning then to the news about Pakistan's recent build-up of nuclear weapons, it would seem sensible to require Pakistan, India and all other nations who have not yet done so, to sign on to the NPT without reservation and without the right to withdraw as an indispensable step towards creating an effective and efficacious international system to prevent nuclear proliferation. Although a critical step toward creating a viable system of collective security, I do not suggest that this step is, in itself sufficient. Other steps will also be required including a serious revamping of the NPT. Such revamping must involve considerable tightening of the monitoring and verification procedures and requirements in order to catch would-be flouters of the international rules early as well as international agreement on a set of punishments to be meted out to nations who break the rules. It is also time to finally create a viable enforcement mechanism that will act both as a deterrent to those who are tempted to break the rules as well as an effective enforcer of the rules. Last, but not least, is the necessity of creating an international fuel bank to which all nations must be required to turn for nuclear fuel to satisfy their domestic energy needs.

There is much to do, let us not waste precious time in taking the first step!

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