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
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.