It is almost impossible to maintain absolute objectivity when commenting
on an issue as controversial as the reform of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
This topic carries within it long-term political, and even cultural, biases and
misconceptions by all parties across the divide. Steven Miller’s paper is
one of the very few I have read that attempts to provide a balanced presentation
of the disagreements over the effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, and credibility
of the regime.
The paper comprises three distinct parts: the introduction, the panoramic description
and analysis of the problems (and their roots), and the conclusions. I take note
of this division because my evaluation of the quality of each part is different.
- Miller’s introduction refers to an emerging agenda for reform
and notes that “large constellations of states (such as the Non-Aligned Movement)
reject or dispute substantial portions of the reform agenda.” This statement
gives the impression that the NAM opposes reform per se. In fact, there is no one
agenda for reform, and the NAM has its own agenda based on the three pillars of
the NPT, not the nonproliferation reform agenda alone. Miller slightly corrects
and clarifies this point later in the essay, but his early statement could be misleading.
- Miller argues that the durability and adaptability of
treaty regimes depend on the attitudes and perceptions of the states that participate
in the arrangements. Thus, the adaptability, durability, and future of the NPT must
be evaluated in light of the growing discontent of many members within regime. When
viewed in this way, a very negative picture of the future of the regime emerges.
- Miller describes the history of the NPT as “schizophrenic,”
which is an accurate and appropriate term to use. From an Arab perspective, the
treaty was originally conceived as a three-legged bargain—nonproliferation
by NNWS, disarmament by NWS, and rights to peaceful uses of nuclear energy—and
Miller clearly lays out this point of view. However, the treaty, from its inception,
has been of a transitional nature; it is more of a road map leading to the overall
objective of nuclear disarmament. It is for that reason only that NNWS have tolerated
being party to a discriminatory treaty that has two classes of membership, each
with different sets of rights and obligations. The NPT was never intended, by default,
to be permanent; the expectation was that each class of members would eventually
fulfill its obligations under the treaty. Yet when the NPT was extended “indefinitely”
in 1995, it created the misperception (at least to some members) that “indefinitely”
THE PANORAMIC DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS OF THE PROBLEMS
In this part of the paper, Miller clearly and objectively describes the different
aspects of the nonproliferation regime, the different opinions about the regime,
and the obstacles facing it. This section considers the criticism that each group
has of the other and how each perceives the NPT. Miller focuses on a number of important
and controversial issues, such as rights to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy;
the universality of the treaty; reinterpretations of the different articles, particularly
the withdrawal clause; and the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the
The nonproliferation regime has faced serious crises ever since its inception, but
this has been particularly the case since the end of the seemingly successful 2000
NPT Review Conference.1 The multilateral
community has been divided over a host of controversial issues relevant to the regime,
including: compliance and noncompliance; universality of the NPT; the status of
the three non-NPT members (India, Israel, and Pakistan); nuclear disarmament, including
reductions in strategic and nonstrategic nuclear arsenals; modernization and replacement
of nuclear weapons systems; preventing nuclear terrorism; concerns about nuclear
doctrines and policies, including the use of nuclear weapons; security assurances;
the CTBT and FMCT; IAEA safeguards and the Additional Protocol; export controls;
nuclear-weapons-free zones, especially in the Middle East; concerns relating to
the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea; nuclear energy rights under the treaty;
the dilemma of nuclear fuel supply versus the proliferation risks posed by fuel
enrichment; the destabilizing force of the U.S.-India nuclear deal; and the questions
related to the right to withdraw from the NPT.
These are serious differences and points of contention; however,
they are also symptoms of far deeper problems:
- The discriminatory nature of the NPT has created two classes of
members: the haves and the have-nots.
- The imbalance between
the negotiating powers of the two groups has led many to judge the regime as biased
- Structural deficiencies in the treaty prevent
serious progress; these include an “institutional deficit”: that is,
the lack of direct and effective structures or mechanisms for NPT parties to address
issues of compliance, implementation, accountability, and withdrawal. Miller touches
on this topic, but I believe it requires further analysis.
There is a disconnect between the three pillars of the NPT, with NWS focusing on
nonproliferation and compliance while NNWS insist that disarmament by NWS is an
integral part of the commitments under the treaty.
discourse on nonproliferation has been distorted into talk of “responsible”
and “irresponsible” states, and the different rights of each category,
without establishing criteria to determine what constitutes a responsible state
and who has the authority to stigmatize or classify states.
Certain groups and powers have attempted to reinterpret the NPT to serve their interests.
Miller discusses some of these six issues, but not all. Addressing these issues
head-on would help advance the debate around an amended reform agenda.
- Miller’s conclusions appear not to be solutions to the problems,
but rather an enumeration of ways for the haves to overcome the oppositions of the
- In his subsection “Political Diversity
and Diplomatic Opportunity,” Miller brilliantly analyzes the NAM opposition
and exposes its weaknesses. But he then goes on to explain how to overcome NAM opposition
to the Western reform agenda! We must start by merging the different sides and then
amending the reform agenda into something comprehensive and viable that takes these
various perspectives into account. Certainly, this is a more difficult task, but
we must work on gathering support for it.
- “The reform
agenda” should not be used as shorthand for what is in fact the Western nonproliferation
- On “The Broad Common Interest,”
I agree that the majority, if not all, of the states parties to the NPT would prefer
what the treaty offers as opposed to living in a heavily proliferated world. However,
Miller frames this idea as if those are the only two alternatives available, and
as if working toward a more balanced agenda that includes disarmament is not possible
- On “Interests, Not Rights,”
I agree that denying rights will produce resentment; but claiming that “it
is not rational or profitable to enrich” is also controversial. Equating rationalism
with profitability is not a winning argument, because when it comes to states’
security, profitability is not the only motive for attempting to develop the full
nuclear fuel cycle. States that refuse the profitability logic should not automatically
be viewed as harboring nonpeaceful motives! Some states may deem it more beneficial
to their security to enrich rather than be under the thumb of other producers or
at the mercy of shortages in the market.
- In terms of “Universal
Means Everybody,” I fully subscribe to Miller’s conclusion, particularly
his point that “if the United States and other NWS would exempt themselves
less frequently, bend the rules less often, and conform occasionally even to rules
or obligations they find onerous or inconvenient, it would reduce the sense of injustice
and grievance that is so common in the regime today.” Yet I have to admit
that this sentiment is more wishful thinking than practical mechanism.
In summary, Miller’s essay offers one of the most objective viewpoints that
I have read on the obstacles and challenges facing the nonproliferation regime.
It covers most of the important areas of contention, analyzes the major players
and their positions, and resists judging whether the cup is half-full or half-empty,
opting instead to give a comprehensive view of the entire cup. Miller’s conclusions
are controversial, but this is to be expected when dealing with such a controversial