By Zubeida Mustafa
THE NPT review conference which collapsed with a whimper at the end of May went practically unnoticed in Pakistan. This indifference can be attributed to the fact that Islamabad, along with New Delhi and Tel Aviv, was not present at the conference which brought 188 NPT signatories together in New York for their five-yearly exercise.
Another reason for not taking note of the event is the apathy in this country towards nuclear weapons. The conference ended a day before the seventh anniversary of Pakistan’s own nuclear tests at Chaghai. It might seem rather strange that apart from a few peace activists no one even remembered that catastrophic day when Pakistan opted for the road which can prove to be self-destructive.
With Hiroshima nearly 60 years behind us, the world appears to have forgotten the horrors of the nuclear war, notwithstanding a desperate campaign by the activists from Hiroshima to keep alive the memory of the devastation caused by nuclear arms. Had it not been so, the NPT review conference would not have collapsed so ignominiously as it did on May 27. As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan pointed out in an article in the International Herald Tribune, “a vital opportunity was missed to repair ‘cracks’ in each of the 35-year-old accord’s pillars — non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear technology”.
Given the deep disagreement between the haves and the have-nots of nuclear weapons, it is not surprising that no substantive agreement could be reached. With each state focusing on the ‘pillar’ that suited it most, the conference saw a lot of fireworks behind closed doors and no serious debate to reach a compromise.
Some countries did not even consider the conference important enough to merit a high profile representation. This sent wrong signals to the world. The US secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, did not address the review conference, though it was being held at a stone’s throw from the UN headquarters in New York.
Mr Annan had warned at the start of the moot in early May that an integrated approach was essential if success was to be achieved. He had appealed to the delegates to address all the three ‘pillars’ simultaneously. That never happened. The nuclear weapon states refused to acknowledge their own responsibility in the matter and mounted a vicious attack on the so-called “culprits,” such as Iran and North Korea.
The secretary general and several others are optimistic about the NPT regime which they believe is still intact. But is it? When the NPT was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970, the fundamental premise was that the world was neatly divided between the nuclear weapons states (the US, Britain, France, Russia and China) and the non-nuclear states which comprised the rest of the world.
This divide was expected to be temporary. While the have-nots would commit themselves not to acquire nuclear arms capacity, the nuclear club would move towards disarmament. Since it was agreed that it would not be fair to deny the have-nots the advantages of nuclear energy for peaceful and development purposes, they were to be allowed to have access to nuclear power but under stringent regulations by the IAEA.
As it turned out to be this arrangement could not be sustained after it was decided in 1995 that the NPT would be extended indefinitely. First, the nuclear weapons states showed no inclination to move towards disarmament. In fact, the US actually began retrogressing on its earlier commitments.
It refused to ratify the CTBT in 1999. In 2001 it withdrew from the ABM treaty. The non-nuclear states were dejected but could not do much about it.
In 1998 India and Pakistan, which had been proclaimed as non-nuclear states, went in for nuclear explosions. They became de facto nuclear states along with Israel whose status has not been formalized either, though it is known to have nuclear weapons.
North Korea pulled out of the treaty in 2002 and in 2004 announced that it had the nuclear bomb. With these developments, the NPT has received a severe jolt.
In the 2000 review conference, the big powers had accepted 13 steps in the agreed programme of action. They included the ratification of the CTBT and commitment to the ABM treaty. With the US reneging on these commitments the situation has changed entirely. In last month’s review conference, the participants refused to even reaffirm their commitment to the 13 steps spelt out earlier.
In this scenario, can you really hold Iran, North Korea and others responsible for their nuclear adventure?
Another message to have emerged from the NPT review conference is that nuclear weapons are an evil only when they are in the hands of the ‘evil guys’ — the states or non-state actors who are not trusted by Washington — but nuclear weapons in the hands of America and its allies are acceptable as they provide security. By the same token, the nuclear bomb in Israel’s arsenal is nothing to worry about.
But North Korea and Iran (which the US suspects is making the bomb) are not the ‘good guys’ deserving of this weapon.
It is time all countries that have the nuclear bomb realized that it is an evil they could all do without. It only gives a false sense of security to the weaker states when it actually makes them more vulnerable, as it is suspected that they will launch the first strike or act irresponsibly. The big powers with nuclear weapons are not in an enviable position either.
They have to maintain a balance of terror (mutual assured destruction) to preempt a nuclear war but when brinkmanship is practised a nuclear holocaust can be sparked by accident.
It is time to make this world free of nuclear weapons. Turning swords into ploughshare, will fetch greater benefits to the Third World countries. It will help them generate savings that can be channelled into human resources development. That brings real prosperity and security to a state.