WASHINGTON: In October 1999, shortly before the fateful vote of the US Senate rejecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined to voice their support for ratification of the treaty, calling nuclear proliferation the “principal threat to world safety” in the 21st century.
Two years later, the events of September 11 underscored the growing potential for major catastrophe and forced us to consider how much more horrible the damage would have been if terrorists had acquired fissile materials or nuclear weapons.
Despite these warnings, the United States and Russia have made it clear in recent treaties and policy statements that they plan to retain thousands of nuclear warheads for the next several decades, if not in perpetuity. The American and Russian actions are clearly inconsistent with Article 6 of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which requires the five “declared” nuclear powers — Russia, the United States, Britain, France and China — to engage in negotiations toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The position the United States has taken is untenable. It is saying, in effect, “while we have the most powerful conventional military force in the world, and will not allow any other nation to challenge our conventional power, we will not permit nonnuclear nations, with smaller conventional forces, to acquire nuclear weapons, but we will retain them ourselves.”
This position is viewed as both unreasonable and unfair by nations around the world and has already led to a breakdown of the non-proliferation pact, as evidenced by North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT. Some other nations — Iran, for example — appear to be violating the treaty as well. If these nations continue to move in that direction, it is likely that Syria, Egypt, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan will follow their lead. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that 60 to 70 countries are now capable of building nuclear weapons.
The United States recognizes the danger of weapons of mass destruction and has adopted a policy of pre-emptive military action and regime change to meet it. Iraq was a key test of that policy. But although the war in Iraq, in military terms, was enormously successful, the cost in Iraqi civilian lives and in purely financial terms has been huge. Given this, it is highly unlikely that the United States will threaten such action to deter or respond to nuclear threats each time we have a new crisis with the NPT.
The Iraqi war, by its cost, has demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the US programme to counter nuclear proliferation. And the world community, as represented by the UN Security Council, lacks an alternative.
What to do?
The plan of the G-8 countries — the leading industrial nations and Russia — for reducing the threat of the huge fissile material stockpile in Russia is a promising step, but more is required.
One, or preferably more, of the five declared nuclear powers should petition the Security Council to develop a full response to the breakdown of the NPT. Further, extensive debate should be focused on the following actions:
All nations now possessing nuclear weapons will state the number and type of weapons they possess in a formal submission to the Security Council.
Each nation now possessing nuclear weapons will present to the Security Council a programme to drastically reduce their number over a period of years, leading to their elimination.
To assure the security of nations giving up nuclear weapons — such as Israel, North Korea, Pakistan or India — legally binding security guarantees will be provided by the declared nuclear- weapon states.
Evidence of failure of any nation to adhere to Security Council regulations will lead to the introduction of inspectors for such periods — indefinitely if necessary — as are required to enforce transparency and compliance.
Violation of the Security Council regulations will result in the council authorizing the use of conventional military force to compel compliance.—Dawn/The LAT-WP News Service (c) The Los Angeles Times.
(The writer was secretary of defence under presidents Kennedy and Johnson)