The weapons of mass destruction (WMD) come in three forms, nuclear weapons, biological weapons including toxins, and chemical weapons. Three global treaties prohibit the development and production of the WMD: Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT, 1970), Biological Weapons Convention (BWC, 1975), and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC, 1977). The 1970s was a valuable decade for beginning the process of eliminating the WMD. Over the years, some nations have been reluctant to ratify the WMD treaties.
As of May 1, 2017, out of a total of 195 nation-states in the world, 191 are parties to the NPT, 178 are parties to the BWC, and 192 are parties to the CWC. The BWC is the least subscribed WMD treaty and efforts are underway to bring more nations into its prohibitive orbit.
Ratification and accession bind a nation-state to the fullest extent under a treaty whereas mere signing a treaty imposes some obligations not to defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. International law does not require the two-step process of signing and ratifying treaties. Nations may directly ratify (called accession) a treaty without first signing it. For example, China ratified the BWC in 1984 without first signing it. Here I use the word ratification to include accession as well.
Nations that have not ratified the NPT are India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Nations that have not ratified the CWC are Egypt, Israel, and North Korea. And nations that have not ratified the BWC include Syria, Israel, and North Korea.
Thus, North Korea and Israel are the only two states that have not ratified any of the three WMD treaties. North Korea has not signed any of the three treaties whereas Israel has signed the CWC but not ratified it. In the absence of international inspections, the quantity and lethality of the WMD in possession of a non-signatory state is only a matter of conjecture.
North Korea is the most outlier nation as it has shown no commitment to reject the weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, the political system of North Korea is highly dictatorial with an irremovable leader at the top. Even highly centralized dictatorships may have internal consultation processes and may even display wisdom in foreign policy. Yet the world feels threatened with dictators commanding the WMD.
In fact, a political dictatorship with an irremovable leader at the top undermines the value of ratification of the WMD treaties. For example, Iran has ratified all the WMD treaties. Yet, many nations and international organizations, including the UN Security Council, have been skeptical about the Iranian commitment to the NPT. Likewise, though Syria signed the CWC in 2013, the accusations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in April 2017 seem credible because President Bashar Assad is an irremovable ruler.
In 2003, the US invasion of Iraq was defended on the fabricated pretext that Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator, had been secretly developing nuclear weapons even though Iraq had ratified the NPT in 1969. Moreover, though Iraq had ratified the CWC in 1991, the charges that Iraq used chemical weapons against the Kurds were credible. Saddam’s despotism devalued Iraq’s ratification of the NPT and the CWC. In 2009, three years after the execution of Saddam, Iraq ratified the BWC.
It appears that the world is willing to tolerate the WMD in the possession of democratic nations. India and Pakistan have not signed or ratified the NPT, even though both are parties to the CWC and BWC. In 1998, India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in a tit-for-tat pattern. As compared to Pakistan, India’s nuclear program is much more acceptable to the world and many nations are willing to endorse India for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. This is so because India has demonstrated a solid commitment to democracy whereas Pakistan’s democracy has remained unpredictable and prone to military takeovers. General Pervez Musharraf roams freely in the world while Pakistan’s judicial system has been unable to prosecute him for his well-documented crimes against democracy. If Pakistan’s democracy is overthrown again, a case might be made for the de-nuclearization of Pakistan.
Likewise, the world is extremely nervous about North Korea but less so about Israel even though both nations are similar in their non-adherence to the WMD treaties. Israel has been a democracy, though the world is critical of Israel’s occupation of and settlements in the Palestinian territories.
The ideal setup for a peaceful world envisages democratic nations that have ratified all the WMD treaties. Even a better world is conceivable. Given the historically-evidenced inclinations of the human species toward destruction, a better world without the WMD remains an elusive but a worthwhile ambition.