MIDDLE EAST: Non-proliferation for all
In the past couple of months, Iran has agreed to sign additional protocols with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for intrusive and surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities. It is a measure the United States insisted upon, fearing that Iran’s ultimate motive was to develop nuclear weapons.
Another little-noticed item – though of enormous significance from the perspective of global nuclear non-proliferation – was that Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, urged Israel, on December 12, 2003, to scrap its nuclear weapons.
Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is one of the world’s worst-kept secrets, a source of grave concern for its Arab neighbors, and one of the reasons underlying Iran’s continued pursuance of its own nuclear program.
Towards the end of December, the world was pleasantly surprised to hear that Libya’s strongman, Muammar Qadhafi, had decided to come clean on his regime’s covert nuclear program, thereby removing another important source of global concern regarding the potential spread of nuclear weapons. The world seems to be moving toward nuclear nonproliferation.
But that is only a partial description of the current situation.
A sad, but pervasive reality underlying nuclear non-proliferation is that countries spread misinformation and disinformation about their real intent and, above all, operate under double standards, all of which, in turn, jeopardize the prospects of nuclear non-proliferation. Consider, for example, Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the mother of all non-proliferation documents. That article states, “Each party to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Yet, nuclear disarmament has remained a pipe dream for the international community. The United States, the chief advocate of global nuclear non-proliferation, has been one of the worst violators of that article.
The US Senate refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – the single most important global endeavor aimed at stopping the nuclear arms race – in 1999, despite strong advocacy on its behalf by former president Bill Clinton.
President George W. Bush is not at all interested in resubmitting the CTBT for ratification. On the contrary, the Nuclear Posture Review issued under his administration has lowered the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, claiming the special circumstances of the post-9/11 era as a rationale.
Under the Bush administration, Washington has argued that the notion of nuclear deterrence, which was so effective during the Cold War years, is no longer relevant against rogue regimes or transnational terrorist groups.
No existing government – rogue state or otherwise – could contemplate using nuclear weapons against the lone superpower. The outcome would, without a doubt, be the obliteration of the perpetrator.
At the same time, there have not been any recent moves to bring about nuclear arms reduction between the United States and Russia. In fact, since 9/11, counter-proliferation has emerged as the most viable and observable law of the jungle.
According to that law, only the so-called ‘nuclear weapons states’ – i.e., the five states defined as possessors of nuclear weapons under the NPT, who are also the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus India and Pakistan – are allowed to possess nuclear weapons. Other aspirants had better be on guard, since the US counter-proliferation option remains the Damocles sword hanging over their nuclear facilities. Except Israel, which is exempted from that criterion since it is an undeclared nuclear power.
So, we return to ElBaradei’s official recognition that Israel has nuclear weapons, even though Israeli officials have never officially confirmed that fact.
ElBaradei noted that weapons are not “an incentive for security.” More to the point, Arab states have been critical of the IAEA, saying that it has ignored Israel’s possession of WMD and the implications of those weapons for the region.
The IAEA’s rationale for being so hard on Iran’s nuclear program is that it is a signatory to the NPT, while Israel is not. In other words, technically Israel is allowed to possess nuclear arms.
But wait a minute. Under the letter of the law, there is another article of the NPT, Article X, which allows a signatory to walk away from the agreement after giving three months’ notice, should it feel that its national security is under threat. This is exactly what North Korea did in 1993, creating a crisis that threatened to bring armed conflict to the Korean peninsula.
So, the reality of nuclear non-proliferation is still quite tenuous. The established nuclear weapons states – especially the US – have to understand that the sanctity and effectiveness of the NPT lies in the universal application of all of its articles – especially Article VI, aimed at bringing about universal non-proliferation and universal nuclear disarmament.
Using exceptions to underscore the primacy or sanctity of one’s own national security objectives is likely to prompt similar responses from other nations. Today’s rogue states are weak nations. As long as they feel threatened by the nuclear or conventional might of world powers, they will continue to seek a nuclear arsenal of their own.
Ehsan Ahrari is an independent strategic analyst based in Alexandria, Virginia