Non-proliferation dilemma

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE non-proliferation treaty review conference being held in New York since May 2 is the biggest hoax in the history of nuclear disarmament negotiations. There is a lot of sound and fury that is being generated at the moot. But it seems strange that the thrust of the nuclear club’s attack is against the supposedly aberrant states in the Third World.

At the same time, a blind eye is turned to the inherent inequity envisaged in the treaty that was concluded in 1968 and came into force in 1970. What is more, the haves of the nuclear world appear to be acquiring greater privileges and power while the have-nots are being pushed further against the wall. This inequality in their relationship has been growing with the passage of time causing greater discontent globally.

The fundamental flaw inherent in the treaty is that it divides the world between the nuclear powers (those who had exploded a nuclear device before Jan 1, 1967) and the non-nuclear states. Thus, it does not give recognition to a situation, which in fact exists today, where states have acquired nuclear weapons after the cut-off date. There is the case of India, Pakistan and Israel which never signed the NPT and now possess nuclear weapons.

North Korea was a signatory but withdrew from it in 2003 in accordance with Article X which allows a state to pull out in exercise of its sovereignty. Pyongyang subsequently announced that it had manufactured nuclear weapons. According to the terms of the treaty the have-nots are required to remain have-nots in perpetuity and the nuclear powers are obliged not to transfer nuclear weapon technology to those outside the nuclear club.

How this anomaly is to be resolved is not quite clear, especially when this inequity is written into the treaty and has been perpetuated regularly at the review conferences held every five years. In 1995, it was decided that the treaty would continue in force indefinitely (as the treaty required the parties to decide after 25 years).

At the same time the second pillar of the NPT that imposed the obligation on all states, especially the nuclear weapon states, to negotiate a general nuclear disarmament treaty, was blatantly not addressed. Even now, there are no signs that the nuclear powers will surrender their weapons in a hurry while they press the others to institute a stringent non-proliferation regime globally. In fact, the United States, the world’s only superpower today, has regressed on its earlier nuclear disarmament commitments.

In 1999, the American Senate refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and President Bush subsequently made it clear that he would not try to persuade the upper house to change its stance. He went further to renounce the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty.

The 2002 agreement that Washington has concluded with Moscow and which provides for deep cuts in their deployed nuclear stockpiles does not require the two powers to dismantle their weapons, which will only be mothballed. Moreover, the Bush administration has announced that it will be working on a new generation of nuclear weapons.

All this makes grim news for the world community. The Americans have also made it clear that they plan focusing on another “leg” of the NPT, which according to them, has created havoc in the non-proliferation regime. This is Article IV which unequivocally recognizes the “inalienable right” of all parties to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.

It is this right which Iran has been exercising and for which it has come under attack from Washington on the suspicion that the enriched uranium Tehran has produced will be used for the manufacture of weapons. Although the nuclear programmes of countries which have them are under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguard, efforts are now being made to tighten these safeguards.

Pakistan has not signed the NPT on the grounds that its security has been threatened by India all these years and since India is not a signatory, there was no question of Islamabad signing the treaty either. With the strategic/political situation in the region changing radically and given the anomalies in the NPT pointed out above, it is time the Musharraf government did some hard thinking on the issue. Why the situation is grimmer than is generally realized is because of the reports which have been emanating from Washington over the last few years.

Last week, a Harvard University study group warned of the possibility of Al Qaeda attempting to steal nuclear weapons in Pakistan, “The US and Russia will become vulnerable to nuclear terrorism if they don’t focus on securing weapons of mass destruction,” writes Mathew Bunn, the author of the report Managing the Atom Project.

Other reports are more serious in their implications. They indicate that America’s concern is not just that the extremist groups will steal nuclear weapons. Another major concern that has come to the fore in the US Senate testimonies is “if Musharraf were assassinated or otherwise replaced, Pakistan’s new leader would be less pro-US.

We are concerned that extremist Islamic politicians would gain greater influence”. The Bush administration has assured its opponents in Congress that it has taken security measures against such possibilities. Under normal circumstances, one would have believed them to be safety devices the US has negotiated with India and Pakistan in case of an emergency like a fire or the breakdown of an aging plant.

But these are not normal times. It is being said that the US has had devices installed in Pakistan’s nuclear programme called permissive action links (PALs) to disable nuclear warheads if they fall into the wrong hands. One report by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker also spoke of a US-Israeli plan to take control of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in case of an Islamist coup, which the Bush administration denied, calling Hersh a “liar”.

Coming back to the NPT review conference in New York, the moot question is what approach should the Third World governments adopt? Given America’s bellicose mood any government with a nuclear programme — even one for peaceful use of nuclear energy — could come under attack as Iraq did on grounds of unfounded suspicion.

In this case, will nuclear weapons really protect the country as is claimed by the champions of nuclear arms? Way back in 1975, Dr Henry Kissinger had threatened Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto with dire consequences if plans for the nuclear reprocessing plant was not abandoned. Ziaul Haq could clandestinely continue the nuclear plan because he extended full support to the Americans in their war in Afghanistan. President Musharraf has Washington’s support at the moment because he has extended cooperation to the US in its war on terror.

Pakistan finds itself in a dilemma that has no simple answers. All non-nuclear weapon states at the NPT review conference should at least join hands and put pressure on the nuclear weapon states to move concurrently on three fronts — namely, nuclear disarmament, non-transfer of nuclear technology and stringent regulation of peaceful nuclear energy programmes.

But how should countries such as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, which are not participating in the NPT conference, react? What should be their role? One thing is certain that if the nuclear weapon states were to actually embark on an arms cut programme, they would be on a moral high ground to persuade others to voluntarily follow suit.