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Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treat Poised to Fall Apart

Topeka, Kansas

Recognizing “the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT, which is now 35 years old, has succeeded to the extent that nearly 190 states have subscribed to it. Despite its grandiose universality, however, here are five reasons why the NPT is poised to fall apart in the near future.

1. The NPT’s nuclear club has been broken into. In 1970, the Treaty divided the world into two camps: haves and have-nots. It acknowledged that five states–US, UK, France, Russia & China–lawfully possessed nuclear weapons. It hoped that the rest of the world would not acquire them. That did not happen. In 1998, India and Pakistan detonated nuclear weapons in face of the world. The US now publicly admits that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. Probability dictates that North Korea has them too. The dilemma is therefore insurmountable. If the club of five is expanded to eight and perhaps more, proliferation would seem to have been accommodated. If not, the club would be treated as a foolish anomaly. Either way, the NPT is in legal disarray.

2. The NPT can be lawfully dumped. It allows a signatory state to withdraw from the non-proliferation regime “if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. All that is required is a three months advance notice. North Korea joined the NPT in 1985. In January, 2003, however, it withdrew from the Treaty (effective immediately). If North Korea detonates the bomb and joins the de facto club, the NPT would be further weakened. And the dumping rule will be reaffirmed in international law. As luck would have it, there will be new withdrawals from the NPT, most likely in the Middle East where states will not accept Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly. Even one or two more withdrawals will kill the Treaty.

3. The NPT’s foundational promise is not kept. The five declared nuclear-weapon states promised to cease the nuclear arms race and head toward a complete nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a godsend that ceased the superpowers, nuclear arms race. But no good faith effort, as the Treaty requires, is being made towards complete nuclear disarmament. In fact, contrary to the letter and spirit of the NPT, the Bush administration is actively considering to develop brand new nuclear bunker-buster weapons. No treaty regime can succeed on such blatant contempt for the world. When the shepherd on the white horse loses his way, no sheep come home.

4. The NPT is a double-headed monster. It is simultaneously good and evil. The Treaty allows the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In fact, the Treaty rests on a bargain. States relinquished the right to have nuclear weapons because they were led to believe that “peaceful applications of nuclear explosions will be made available to them. Iran that signed the NPT claims that it has “the unalienable right to develop peaceful nuclear energy. The United States claims that if Iran is allowed to acquire nuclear technology, it would come closer to developing nuclear weapons. Both claims are simultaneously accurate. This double-headedness is precisely the inherent flaw of the NPT. Its one head spews light, the other flames.

5. The NPT is a suicide pact. The US foreign policy has created a global context in which it is far more protective for states to have nuclear weapons than not to have them. The war on Iraq demonstrates that a state without weapons of mass destruction is vulnerable to invasion and occupation. It would be perfectly logical to conclude that Iraq was attacked not because it had weapons of mass destruction but because it had none. This pathological logic will be further confirmed if the United States continues to pursue diplomacy with North Korea that presumably have both nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. The Iraq/North Korea binary reality resurrects old truths that might is right, and be firm with the bullies And so, in a dangerous world, adhering to the NPT will be considered foolish.

For these five reasons, the NPT seems no longer viable. If the analysis above is dark and pessimistic, and something can indeed be done about the weapons of mass destruction, beware, more wars and “the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind might be on the way. A complete nuclear disarmament is, of course, another possible solution.

Ali Khan is a professor of law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. His book, A Theory of International Terrorism, will be published in 2005 by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Send comments to ali.khan@washburn.edu.