Ta Minh Tuan
Steve Miller’s paper is comprehensive, offering in-depth analysis
of the debate over the NPT. He examines its weaknesses and how its member states
view the treaty and use it as a diplomatic instrument to advance their national
interests in the international arena. I would like to offer a few thoughts on some
of the arguments that Miller puts forth in his paper.
- In the section titled “Core Bargain or Design Flaw?”
Miller argues that the NPT is inherently flawed, leading members of the nonproliferation
community to interpret the treaty differently. Although both proponents and opponents
have their own perceptions, that does not change the fact that the treaty has existed
for more than four decades and has remained the centerpiece of the nonproliferation
regime. This suggests that the original signatories of the NPT might not have differed
sharply on the three pillars. They generally were able to reach compromise and agreement
in order to adopt the treaty as it is. It would be a good idea to investigate briefly
the question of why and how the NPT was agreed on in the first place. Did the original
parties not see the “inherent weaknesses” and “loopholes”?
Were those issues purposely left unresolved because the parties failed to reach
a consensus, or did they concur on the three pillars? If the latter, does it mean
that the problems arose only after the NPT had entered into force, becoming unintended
points of contention?
- Miller’s discussion on whether the NPT is an “Instrument
of the NWS or Expression of Collective Interest?” presents those conflicting
notions of the NPT. Nevertheless, the interpretations share a common point: namely,
that national interest is a priority. The frustration has run deep on either side
of the divide, but the two sides still try to keep the NPT alive. Except for a few
countries, such as North Korea, it appears that the member states cannot afford
to stall implementation of the treaty completely. It does not serve nations’
interests to insist on having their demands met without making any compromises.
This fact could explain why we have seen progress on compliance with the NPT worldwide,
no matter how small the progress has been. But what if we did not have the NPT?
Do we have an alternative or a better option? Perhaps it is clear that the haves
and the have-nots ought to find ways to support the NPT,
and that they do not dare kill it. This, in turn, suggests that we can encourage
advancement of the legitimate interests in the NPT, while also insisting that both
sides keep their promises. Blocking positive efforts to introduce reforms that would
strengthen the nonproliferation regime is irresponsible, but adopting a double standard
by failing to meet disarmament obligations is equally so. After all, the NWS have
benefited the most from the NPT, so they should take tangible steps toward fulfilling
their commitments before pointing the finger of blame at the NNWS. Fair treatment
is a legitimate interest of the NNWS. Reducing nuclear arms to zero may be impossible
to achieve in the foreseeable future, but we should not lose sight of this ultimate
goal because it is the only way to assure that the agreement between the NWS and
the NNWS is equitable.
- Miller’s analysis of the interpretation of Article IV is most
interesting because it touches on the core of the contemporary debate over the NPT.
The “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear technology does not, of
course, necessarily imply assured access to the nuclear fuel cycle. However, neither
does it mean that the NPT member states are forbidden or denied nuclear fuel cycle
capabilities. The terms of Article IV are open to different interpretations and
to manipulation. But we will remain locked in this controversy if we do not consider
the issue from a different angle. In fact, the current perspective obscures the
real concerns of the NNWS:
- It is unfair to allow some countries to possess nuclear fuel cycle
capabilities while barring all others, even when their nuclear programs are genuinely
peaceful. This restriction significantly thwarts these nations’ development
and constrains their choices.
- Though it is possible to
purchase nuclear fuel in the international market, there is no way to ensure that
the market will remain stable and reliable. Building nuclear power plants is very
costly; therefore,no country is entirely comfortable depending on a foreign fuel
supply to power its plants. Certainly, producing fuel domestically is a more secure
option. Moreover, mastering nuclear technology is a matter of national pride, a feat
that not many countries can accomplish and one that proves a nation’s technological
advancement and achievement. South Korea is a telling example. The NWS and nonproliferation
advocates may not want to hear this argument, but the psychological aspect exists
anyway and should not be ignored.
National security could constitute another reason for considering nuclear fuel
cycle capability. Once a country possesses this capability, it is much less exposed
to international pressure and thus has more space in which to conduct foreign policy.
Nuclear power is not merely an economic issue but a security one as well. A threat
cut off nuclear fuel supply when the recipients and the suppliers
have diplomatic problems or even become antagonists could pose an immediate risk
to a recipient state’s national security. Policy-planners and policy-makers
must foresee worst-case scenarios such as this and work out a contingency plan to
respond to them.
Iran’s case clearly reflects the anxiety of the nuclear have-nots with regard
to the restrictions introduced by the NWS and their like-minded partners to curb
the enrichment and reprocessing capabilities of the NNWS. Iran received offers from
a number of international fuel suppliers, but all failed to give Iran sufficient
assurance and confidence in their services. Stricter export control regulations
and unilateral imposition of additional rules by the NSG only reinforce the belief
that the international market is not reliable, as the recipients have no choice
but to depend on the terms dictated by the suppliers. Most recipients feel even
more frustrated by the NSG’s recent actions. It remains the NSG’s right
to set regulations; however, rules that alienate recipients and fail to earn their
support will bring dangerous consequences. First, the recipients could be compelled
to develop indigenous nuclear technology, which in turn would mean uncontrolled
proliferation. Notwithstanding the fact that such technology developed domestically
may be much more expensive and less sophisticated, as India’s nuclear industry
has demonstrated, the nuclear have-nots could continue to venture into this area.
Second, illicit trade of nuclear material and technology will spread more quickly
if certain recipients seek them in the black market when needed. Hence, while the
NSG’s measures to strengthen the nonproliferation mechanism could be welcome,
they should not be undertaken at the expense of the recipients. The more burdens
the recipients are forced to shoulder, the more resentment they will have toward
any reform proposal.
Miller frequently cites the NAM’s position on various issues. Although
the NAM often adopts a common stand on a number of sticky points related to the
NPT, it has become clear that the movement is by no means a homogenous grouping.
To consolidate their bargaining power vis-à-vis the NWS, NAM members have
found ways to iron out their differences; but when it comes to voting, they will
often act individually. Discrepancies exist largely because the NAM comprises both
nuclear haves and have-nots. The interests of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia
must differ, for instance, from those of Cambodia, Chile, and Sudan. NAM members
that have a nuclear energy program should be more concerned about the NPT reform
agenda or the NSG’s new regulations on the transfer of nuclear technology
than those members that do not intend to
develop nuclear energy. Thus, it is interesting to explore how the
NAM has solved its own problems to reach consensus, such as that presented in the
position paper it submitted to the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Although Miller briefly
mentions the divide and struggle among NAM members, he should expand on that topic,
thereby removing the wrong impression that the NAM is a strong grouping that works
for the interests of all member states.
Miller’s conclusion is extremely useful and well thought-out. However, I would
suggest that he restructure this section and put the points and arguments under
a new subtitle, something along the lines of “Some Thoughts about the Way
Forward.” This revision would highlight Miller’s valuable suggestions
and observations that could help policy-makers think through the various issues
discussed in the paper.