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Home > Publications > Research Papers > > Chapter 7: Shared, But Not Equal Responsibilities
Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament: A Global Debate

Chapter 7: Shared, But Not Equal Responsibilities

Mohamed I. Shaker

Scott Sagan’s article on “Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament” does more than provide a strong analysis of disarmament and Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It also establishes a set of links between this issue and other provisions of the NPT, such as peaceful uses of nuclear energy (Article IV) and the withdrawal clause (Article X).

On the issue of disarmament and deterrence, Sagan’s article reminds me of a discussion I once had with a former professor, Louis Halle of the United States. Halle was a great believer in the merits of nuclear deterrence. When I mentioned the merits of nuclear disarmament, he asked, “Why nuclear disarmament? Do you want us to go back to the bow and arrow?” Halle believed that without nuclear weapons, conventional wars would erupt more frequently. Sagan notes that this belief, a kind of faith in nuclear deterrence, continues to exist in many circles in the United States. In his article, he cites multiple examples of such thinking and notes that concerns about conventional weapons imbalances will need to be seriously addressed at some point in the nuclear disarmament process.

The eradication of nuclear weapons would be similar to the eradication of smallpox. In the case of smallpox, miniscule amounts of the deadly virus are kept for research purposes at the Centers for Disease Control in the United States and at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Russia. Similarly, it might be prudent to maintain a small amount of nuclear weapons materials, under strict safeguards, for some unexpected, future purpose. In Rome in April 2009, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev identified one such contingency: the possible need for nuclear weapons in the event of a potential collision between Earth and a meteor that could destroy the planet. Some scientists expect this scenario to occur in the third decade of this century. Aside from such contingencies, there should be no reason for maintaining nuclear weapons. In view of the fact that the NPT does not allow the transfer of nuclear weapons or other nuclear-exclusive devices to any recipient whatsoever, this would prohibit putting this force under international or UN control. The NPT could be amended to allow such a transfer in extraordinary circumstances and especially in a world almost completely free of nuclear weapons, except for what is needed to face the threat to the planet from outer space.

Moreover, I agree with Sagan that “the current nuclear disarmament effort must be transformed from a debate among leaders in the NWS [nuclear-weapons states] to a coordinated global effort of shared responsibilities between NWS and NNWS [non-nuclear-weapons states].” Under the NPT today, however, the NWS appear to be more equal than others—that is, the NNWS. Despite Sagan’s observation that Articles IV and VI of the NPT are written to apply to the NWS and the NNWS, the lack of equality is obvious. Here I would note that the NWS definitely bear more responsibilities and obligations than the NNWS, whether with regard to the elimination of nuclear weapons and disarmament, in general, or with regard to the transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

In the case of the transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, multinational approaches are needed, whereby sharing in the decision-making process should be among the conditions for cooperation. At the same time, not all states should necessarily have access to sensitive technologies. As I discussed in my article published in the Winter 2010 issue of Daedalus, participation in this process is more important than all schemes of assurances of supply that do not make room for a decision-sharing mechanism between the supplier and the user.

With regard to Article IV of the NPT and its relationship to the commitment, under Article II, not to seek or to receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, I would like to quote from a 1968 statement by William Foster, leader of the U.S. delegation to the UN’s Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament in Geneva in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On the meaning of the term “manufacture,” as prohibited by the NPT, Foster stated:

It may be useful to point out for illustrative purposes, several activities which the United States would not consider per se to be violations of the prohibitions in Article II. Neither uranium enrichment nor the stockpiling of fissionable material in connection with a peaceful program would violate Article II so long as these activities were safeguarded under Article III.

Thus, Article IV of the NPT does not prohibit NNWS from uranium enrichment activities, provided they are adequately safeguarded and judged to be in conformity with Article II of the NPT. Both the IAEA and the UN Security Council, either individually or collectively, depending on the type of violation, bear the responsibility for judging whether a state is in compliance with Article II. In the case of transferring nuclear weapons from one state to another, for instance, the UN Security Council would be responsible for judging the state’s compliance with Article II.

With regard to nuclear disarmament, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should have responsibility for verifying states’ compliance with a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). I therefore disagree with Sagan’s proposal of creating a new organization for this purpose. Indeed, the IAEA would be bolstered by the addition of this new task. Over the years, the IAEA has continued to accumulate experience in inspecting enrichment facilities and reprocessing plants, making it the ideal candidate for verifying FMCT compliance.

The NNWS are already involved in a variety of shared activities in the disarmament process, and their role could be expanded to include the following responsibilities:

  • Exerting pressure on the NWS to make progress within the framework of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where the NNWS are well represented, as well as in the UN General Assembly and its First Committee;
  • Putting forward ideas and proposals on specific issues, without waiting for the NWS to take the initiative;
  • Sharing financially in the application of IAEA safeguards, as mentioned by Sagan, but not at the expense of technical assistance that NNWS badly need, assistance that remains far below the required level because safeguards expenses have been higher than the funds available for technical assistance; and
  • Playing a role in bilateral negotiations between the United States and Russia, such as the ongoing negotiations of the so-called START II follow-on agreement (note that the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 was negotiated between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States; much later, in 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was agreed upon after a long period of multilateral negotiations).

The role of NNWS in future arms control negotiations should be enhanced. NNWS participation in disarmament, and in particular nuclear disarmament, should be expanded whenever feasible.

I applaud Sagan’s mention of the 13 Practical Steps agreed upon at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Not only are they useful examples of shared responsibilities, but they generate hope that more can be done in the future.

Finally, I would like to comment briefly on Sagan’s discussion of the withdrawal clause of the NPT. A state that withdraws from the NPT for reasons acceptable to the UN Security Council should not be penalized by any “return to sender” clause. The withdrawal clause represents a safety valve that should be protected and remain unaltered. States that withdraw after violating the NPT, however, should be penalized, either by the Security Council if their violations constitute a threat to world peace and security or by the parties to the NPT themselves, collectively or individually, and in accordance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

In conclusion, the NPT Review Conference, such as the one to be held in May 2010, represents an opportunity for the NWS and the NNWS to expand their shared responsibilities for nuclear disarmament and beyond.