Prospects for Preventing Nuclear Proliferation
Bush and the Bomb: Undermining Non-Proliferation
Natalie J. Goldring
Navigating the Second Nuclear Age: Proliferation and Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century
C. Dale Walton
A Cloak for Proliferators? The Suspicions that Impede a Nuclear Weapons Convention
Understanding and Stopping Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism
Charles D. Ferguson and Joel O. Lubenau
Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction: How to Prevent the Deadly Nexus
Iran and the West: The Path to Nuclear Deadlock
Seyyed Hossein Mousavian
Rhetoric for War: First Iraq, Then Iran?
The Korean Conundrum: A Regional Answer to the Nuclear Crisis
Wade L. Huntley
Israel’s Open Secret: Time to Confront the Taboo
Nuclear Favouritism: Bush, India, and Pakistan
Raju G. C. Thomas
Britain’s Trusty Trident? Neither Independent nor a Deterrent
A. Q. Khan’s Nuclear Hubris
Proliferation: A Global Survey
Middle Eastern Women and the Struggle for a Public Voice
Valentine M. Moghadam
Imperialism and Globalism
Volume 8 ● Number 1–2 ● Winter/Spring 2006—Nuclear Perils
Prospects for Preventing Nuclear Proliferation
Many scientists who worked on the Manhattan Engineering Project—the US nuclear-weapons development programme—warned the government that use of nuclear weapons against Japan could launch a dangerous nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. They were right. It took the Soviet Union just four years to succeed in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, conducting its first nuclear test in 1949.
During the four-year period from 1945 to 1949, the United States continued to develop and test its nuclear arsenal, engaging in a kind of unilateral nuclear arms race. Once the Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons in 1949, a bilateral nuclear arms race began, concluding only with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
In the decade and a half following the Soviet Union’s development of nuclear arms, Britain, France and then China also developed nuclear weapons. By 1967, the five declared nuclear-weapon states formed an exclusive club. They were the only states with nuclear weapons, and they were all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. As such, these nations had considerable prestige in the world. They all justified their nuclear arsenals on the basis of deterrence—the threat to retaliate against a first-strike nuclear attack—and all but China, which had pledged “no first use” of nuclear weapons, held open the possibility of responding to a conventional attack with nuclear force.
Among the five nuclear powers, there was a great deal of posturing by means of atmospheric nuclear tests and missile launches, first by the United States alone, then by the Soviet Union, and finally by the other nuclear-weapon states. They all played the game of comparing explosive force and missile sizes, demonstrating their power through these highly visible means. Australian physician and nuclear activist Helen Caldicott characterised this posturing as “missile envy”.
At the height of the nuclear arms race, there were more than sixty thousand nuclear weapons in the world. Today, there are still some thirty thousand nuclear weapons in the world, and more than 95 per cent of these are in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. The trend is in the right direction, but the pace of reductions has been agonisingly slow.
The unwillingness of the nuclear-weapon states to give up their reliance on nuclear arsenals or their options for vertical proliferation, and to move with greater rapidity towards a nuclear-weapons-free world, remains a significant incentive to horizontal proliferation. This is extremely dangerous, and particularly so in a world in which extremist groups seek nuclear-weapon capabilities to threaten massive destruction in powerful states.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty
In the mid-1960s, following the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union forged ahead with a treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They feared a far more dangerous world in the event of proliferation to many states. In negotiations with non-nuclear-weapon states, they agreed to a trade-off in which the former would not develop or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons and the nuclear-weapon states would in turn make three commitments: first, to end the nuclear arms race at an early date; second, to engage in good-faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament; and third, to assist the non-nuclear-weapon states in developing nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes. The resulting nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970.
Despite making this agreement, the nuclear-weapon states subsequently demonstrated little effort to stop the nuclear arms race or to engage in good-faith negotiations for total nuclear disarmament. Instead, they focused their efforts on partial measures of arms control, such as the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START). Through these negotiations, the nuclear arms race continued largely unabated and there were no good-faith efforts to eliminate nuclear arsenals.
On the third part of the bargain, assisting with the development of “peaceful” nuclear technology, the nuclear-weapon states were more helpful, particularly when profits could be made by selling nuclear reactors. The problem with this part of the bargain was that nuclear reactors used enriched uranium and produced plutonium that could be used in weapons programmes. In other words, nuclear-energy programmes, particularly those involving the enrichment of uranium and the separation of plutonium, have actually aided nuclear-weapons proliferation.
Over the years, many countries, and finally nearly all countries, became parties to the NPT. A few, however, stayed outside the treaty so as not to be bound by it. Israel was one of these, and is widely understood to have developed an arsenal of some two hundred or more nuclear weapons, although it has not admitted doing so. Mordechai Vanunu, a technician at the Dimona reactor in Israel, released information on Israel’s clandestine nuclear programme to British newspapers. He was subsequently kidnapped, secretly tried, and jailed for eighteen years, mostly in solitary confinement. Even after his release from prison, Vanunu is not allowed to leave Israel or speak with foreign journalists. Israel still refuses to confirm the existence of its nuclear arsenal.
India and Pakistan also never became parties to the NPT. India was always clear that it was willing to forego the nuclear option, but not live in a world of nuclear apartheid. In other words, India was prepared to renounce nuclear weapons in a world where no state had them, but would not do so in a world where some countries reserved nuclear-weapons status for themselves but denied it to others. India first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, and then tested more extensively and openly in May 1998. Immediately following India’s 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan conducted its own nuclear tests, sending a message back to India that it, too, could play the nuclear game. India and Pakistan, two rival states that have warred many times over the disputed territory of Kashmir, are now engaged in a nuclear standoff.
The last state thought to have developed a small nuclear arsenal is North Korea, a country that withdrew from the NPT in January 2003. No one is certain that North Korea actually has a nuclear arsenal, but it claims to have developed nuclear weapons and it has the technological capability and the weapons-grade nuclear materials from its nuclear reactors to have done so.
In accordance with the terms of the NPT, a “Review and Extension Conference” was held in 1995, twenty-five years after the treaty had entered into force. Some states party to the treaty and many civil society organisations argued that the NPT should not be extended indefinitely because that would be akin to giving a blank cheque to the nuclear-weapon states which had been so lax in fulfilling their disarmament obligations under the treaty. These states and groups argued that instead of an indefinite extension, the treaty should be extended for five- or ten-year periods, with automatic extensions if the nuclear-weapon states had achieved concrete progress on nuclear disarmament.
But, following heavy lobbying and arm-twisting by the United States, the treaty was extended indefinitely. To reach this outcome, certain additional promises were made. Among these were commitment to the following goals, listed in the Final Document of the conference:
First, the completion of negotiations for a universal and verifiable Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) no later than 1996.
Second, the immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of nuclear explosive or fissile materials (known as a “Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty”).
Third, the “determined pursuit by the nuclear-weapon states of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally”, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons.
The document also made reference to UN Security Council Resolution 984 (1995), which provided security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states, and called for further steps that would be “internationally legally binding”.
While the international community did manage to complete and open for signature a CTBT by 1996, the treaty required the ratification of all nuclear-capable states—that is, of all states having the resources and know-how to develop nuclear weapons if they chose to do so. As yet, however, about one-quarter of the forty-four states in this category have still not ratified the CTBT. The United States was the first to sign the treaty, but the US Senate rejected ratification in 1999, and the Bush administration has been hostile to the treaty and has not resubmitted it to the Senate.
The Bush administration’s opposition to the CTBT is best understood in relation to its interest in developing a new generation of nuclear weapons, such as “bunker busters” and low-yield nuclear weapons. This is reinforced by the administration’s efforts to reduce the estimated time needed to prepare test sites for the resumption of nuclear testing from thirty-six months to eighteen months. These efforts suggest that the Bush administration is holding open the possibility of breaking the current (voluntary) moratorium on underground nuclear testing.
On the other pledges outlined in the 1995 review conference’s Final Document, there have been no negotiations in the UN Conference on Disarmament on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. Nor have there been any efforts to provide legally binding assurances prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Given this lack of progress, it is hard to argue that there has been a “determined pursuit . . . of systematic and progressive efforts” by the nuclear-weapon states to achieve nuclear disarmament. In fact, the Bush administration’s secret “Nuclear Posture Review”, released to Congress in January 2002, states that US nuclear policy includes a possible nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.
‘Thirteen Practical Steps’
At the 2000 NPT review conference, the parties agreed by consensus to “Thirteen Practical Steps” for nuclear disarmament. These included recognising the importance and urgency of the following measures:
• Securing the early entry into force of the CTBT.
• Agreeing a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
• Establishing in the Conference on Disarmament a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament issues.
• Preserving and strengthening the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
• Applying the principle of irreversibility to nuclear disarmament.
• An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
Unfortunately, the nuclear-weapon states have not taken these steps seriously. In the world community, the United States has been the country least responsive to these steps, putting up obstacles to nearly all of them. The United States opposed the CTBT, opposed a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, opposed a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament in the Conference on Disarmament, abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and made nuclear disarmament completely reversible in the one agreement it did reach with Russia.
The 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, entered into by the United States and Russia, calls for reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons from about six thousand on each side to about two thousand on each side by the year 2012, but makes no provision for destroying these weapons or otherwise making the reductions irreversible. After 2012, the treaty ends, with no further prohibitions on the size of nuclear arsenals. In some respects, this treaty may even promote proliferation by allowing both sides to keep many nuclear warheads in reserve, which are thus potentially more vulnerable to theft by extremist groups.
The most recent NPT review conference, in 2005, ended without progress and without a Final Document demonstrating even a modicum of agreement. The United States opposed any mention in the conference agenda of the Thirteen Practical Steps for nuclear disarmament, giving the impression that it wanted to rewrite history, blotting out any memory of the progress made in the year 2000.
The 2005 NPT review conference was almost surrealistic. In the basement of the UN building in New York where the conference took place, there was a broad corridor leading to some of the conference rooms. At one end of this corridor was a group of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki earnestly pleading for progress on nuclear disarmament so that their fate would not befall others in the future. At the other end of the corridor was a US representative handing out slick brochures which claimed the United States was leading the world in nuclear disarmament. Conveniently removed from the timeline in one of these brochures was any mention of the CTBT’s being opened for signature in 1996, or of the agreement in the year 2000 on the Thirteen Practical Steps for nuclear disarmament. George Orwell’s presence seemed alive and well in the US promotional literature.
Nuclear Double Standards
The original intent of the NPT was to stop proliferation and put an end to nuclear double standards by achieving nuclear disarmament. The nuclear-weapon states have, however, largely made it clear that they are committed to double standards rather than to fulfilling their obligations to achieve nuclear disarmament.
In an attempt to quell proliferation, while maintaining nuclear double standards, President George W. Bush has promoted a “Proliferation Security Initiative” (PSI), which he first announced in Krakow on 31 May 2003. The PSI was described in a White House press release as “a broad international partnership of countries which, using their own laws and resources, will coordinate their actions to halt shipments of dangerous technologies to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern—at sea, in the air, and on land”.1 The original members of the PSI included European countries, Australia, Japan, and the three Western nuclear-weapon states—the United States, Britain and France. A PSI “Statement of Interdiction Principles” was adopted in Paris on 4 September 2003. The first and key principle commits PSI participants to: “Undertake effective measures, either alone or in concert with other states, for interdicting the transfer or transport of W[eapons of] M[ass] D[estruction], their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern.”
In what was in effect an effort to further the PSI, the UN Security Council on 28 April 2004 adopted Resolution 1540, which called upon states to “refrain from providing any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery”. The resolution also called upon states to establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their means of delivery, as well as border, export and transit controls.
The PSI, its Statement of Interdiction Principles, and Security Council Resolution 1540 all seek to prevent proliferation by means of international co-operation and, if necessary, the use of force. They also seek implicitly to maintain the nuclear double standard, since they make no reference to current nuclear arsenals or the need for their dismantlement.
A key question for the international community and for any thinking person is whether proliferation can be prevented in a world composed of nuclear haves and have-nots. Those who promote the double-standard initiatives seem to believe that they can hold back nuclear proliferation while continuing to rely themselves on nuclear weapons for security. Their argument, however, leaves no room for inevitable errors and misjudgements.
So long as nuclear weapons and materials exist in the world, there is the possibility that they may proliferate to other states or non-state actors. The prospects of deterring non-state extremist groups by means of retaliatory threat are zero. Deterrence is a psychological theory, which requires rationality and also fear of retaliation. It cannot work against a terrorist organisation that cannot be located. Nor can it work against groups or individuals that are prepared to die for their cause. Therefore, the tolerance level for the contingency of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremist groups is also zero.
The more nuclear weapons in the world, the greater the possibility that some will be obtained by extremist groups. The fewer nuclear weapons in the world, the fewer weapons-grade nuclear materials, and the greater the international controls, the less likely it is that such weapons and materials will fall into the hands of extremist groups.
Zero tolerance requires zero nuclear weapons and full international controls. It requires implementation of the nuclear disarmament obligations of Article VI of the NPT. Viewed in this light, the PSI and Security Council Resolution 1540 may be viewed as sticking-plasters, possibly comforting but unlikely to solve the problem.
The most notorious recent instance of the criminal proliferation of nuclear technology was the activities of the ring headed by Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. His clandestine network sold nuclear-weapons technology and materials around the world for years before apparently being broken up (Khan admitted his role and was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in February 2004). However, it remains unclear how much damage was done by Khan’s efforts or what their results will be in the future.
Iraq, Iran and North Korea
In his 2002 State of the Union speech, George W. Bush named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “Axis of Evil”. These states, along with some others, had already shown up in the Nuclear Posture Review as possible targets in US contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons. In 2002, Bush and other US officials began talking about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Subsequently, in March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, initiating a war of aggression against that country and justifying its action in part on grounds of averting nuclear proliferation.
Following the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction were found. Surely, the war against Iraq has put other states on notice that nuclear weapons may be useful as a means of preventing a US attack. This suggests that while nuclear weapons may not be particularly useful to a powerful state, they have deterrent value for a weaker state wishing to prevent the attack of a more powerful state. This may be the lesson drawn by both Iran and North Korea.
Iran, in maintaining its right to enrich uranium for nuclear reactors, is relying on the Article IV provision of the NPT that nuclear energy is an “inalienable right”. This points to the inherent contradiction in the NPT, which seeks both to prevent nuclear proliferation and promote nuclear energy.
As for North Korea, it has withdrawn from the NPT, undertaken reprocessing of its spent fuel to extract plutonium, and claims to have developed a small arsenal of nuclear weapons. Six-party talks have taken place for several years between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. North Korea has made it clear that it is seeking security assurances and development aid from the United States in exchange for giving up its nuclear programmes and returning to the NPT. Despite years of negotiations, little progress has been made, although it would seem that the conditions set forth by the North Koreans are reasonable.
Incentives to Proliferate
There are many countries that could develop nuclear arsenals, but have chosen not to do so. Among these are Canada, Sweden and Japan. Canada and Sweden made their decisions early in the nuclear age. Japan is a good example of a virtual nuclear power. It has the technological capability to make nuclear weapons and tons of reprocessed plutonium to do so, but has thus far foregone the option as it currently falls under the US nuclear umbrella. If Japan did decide to become a nuclear-weapon state, it could become a major one in a matter of months. North Korea’s advances in its nuclear arsenal and missile technology may play a key role in determining whether Japan decides to join the nuclear club in future years.
Some states have developed or obtained nuclear weapons and then given them up. South Africa actually developed a small nuclear arsenal and then destroyed it just before the end of apartheid. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan inherited nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union split apart, but agreed to transfer all of them to Russia for dismantlement. Brazil and Argentina had nuclear programmes and were on the path to creating nuclear weapons, but gave up these programmes.
Among the major incentives to proliferation are threats of nuclear attack, threats of conventional attack by a more powerful state, and national prestige. These incentives suggest that nuclear weapons serve the purposes of the weak more than they do the strong. They suggest that strong states would better serve their national security and their citizens by leading the way towards nuclear disarmament rather than by clinging to nuclear arsenals. By their very act of reliance on their own nuclear arsenals, the nuclear-weapon states provide incentives for other countries to join them in the nuclear club. A two-tier system of nuclear haves and have-nots is ultimately unstable and untenable.
A Return to Basics
Article VI of the NPT calls for “good-faith” negotiations by the nuclear-weapon states to achieve nuclear disarmament. The International Court of Justice in 1996 ruled: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”2
At the 2005 NPT review conference, we at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation called for the following eight commitments as the minimum necessary to revive nuclear disarmament in the non-proliferation regime:
1. Commitment to total nuclear disarmament and to good-faith negotiations towards that end. This is the basic commitment of Article VI of the NPT.
2. Commitment to a timeframe for achieving nuclear disarmament. This is necessary to indicate to the international community that the nuclear-weapon states are indeed acting in good faith.
3. Commitment to no first use. Without this commitment there will always be pressure for some non-nuclear-weapon states to consider developing nuclear arsenals to provide deterrence against nuclear-weapon states.
4. Commitment to irreversibility and verifiability. This is one of the key steps of the Thirteen Practical Steps for nuclear disarmament agreed at the 2000 NPT review conference. It would close the door to reversing the progress made in disarmament efforts, and would be a strong confidence-building measure.
5. Commitment to standing down nuclear forces. This would dramatically reduce the possibility of using nuclear weapons inadvertently—currently a serious danger to humanity.
6. Commitment to no new nuclear weapons. This would be another sign of good faith on the part of the nuclear-weapon states, indicating that they are not basing their policies on the double standard of asking others not to develop new nuclear weapons while doing so themselves.
7. Commitment to a verifiable ban on fissile materials. This is one of the Thirteen Practical Steps and would rein in the amount of fissile material being created that could be used for nuclear weapons. The nuclear-weapon states should commit themselves to placing their stores of weapons-grade fissionable material under strict international control and to eliminating this material.
8. Commitment to accounting, transparency and reporting. These are essential for building confidence and providing a baseline for verification of the disarmament process.3
In addition to these eight commitments for achieving nuclear disarmament, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation urged five additional commitments to close the loophole created by the NPT’s promotion of the so-called peaceful uses of atomic energy. These are:
1. Commitment to a global ban on spent-fuel reprocessing and to reduced reliance on nuclear energy. Reprocessing of spent fuel may be good for the nuclear industry, but it creates far more weapons-grade material that could be used for military purposes.
2. Commitment to bring uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation facilities under strict international control. It is primarily enriched uranium and separated plutonium that can be converted to weapons use. These controls must be imposed on all states, not only the non-nuclear-weapon states.
3. Commitment to regulate and store spent nuclear fuel under strict international control. There need to be high standards of control for the regulation and storage of spent fuel in order to keep it from being reprocessed for weapons use.
4. Commitment to make the Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mandatory for all states. The IAEA Additional Protocol imposes on states a higher set of standards for safeguarding nuclear materials. Currently, the Additional Protocol applies only to non-nuclear-weapon states, and it should be universalised to apply to nuclear-weapon states as well.
5. Commitment to restrict tightly the trade of all nuclear materials and technology. This trade creates possibilities for proliferation through theft or through the enhancement of a country’s nuclear programmes.4
These final five commitments can help create a far stronger barrier between the peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy. They are critically important steps in keeping nuclear materials from being diverted to weapons programmes. These commitments complement the aforementioned eight on reviving nuclear disarmament. Both sets of commitments are mutually reinforcing.
Can Proliferation Be Averted?
If it is true that these commitments are needed to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, then it may be unlikely that proliferation will be prevented. Most of the nuclear-weapon states seem comfortable continuing with the double standards that have characterised their behaviour, and seem unwilling to make the necessary commitments. The nuclear-weapon states appear comfortable asking for commitments from others, but not in making commitments themselves. Over time, this promises to be a recipe for international failure in preventing nuclear proliferation.
It is noteworthy that the nuclear-weapon states at the bottom of the nuclear pyramid—namely, China, India and Pakistan—have all indicated a willingness to reduce their nuclear weapons to zero if the other nuclear-weapon states did so as well. In addition, Russia has offered to reduce its nuclear arsenal below the levels agreed to in the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, but the United States has not accepted these lower levels.
In the end, preventing proliferation will depend upon changes in the policies of the strongest nuclear power, the United States. It sets the tone for the world. If it does not show leadership in this area, proliferation will certainly continue. At present, the US non-proliferation effort is based entirely on double standards. The United States continues to rely upon its nuclear arsenal, while seeking to develop and implement mechanisms to prevent other countries from doing as it does. It even seeks to develop new nuclear weapons, a form of vertical proliferation.
Given the aversion of the United States to serious nuclear-disarmament measures, and its failure to provide leadership to the other nuclear-weapon states to fulfil their disarmament obligations, nuclear proliferation appears inevitable. This is not only because of the narrow policy positions of the Bush administration. It was also true, in a less extreme form, during the Clinton administration. The great irony of this is that the country most likely to be the target of a terrorist nuclear attack is the United States.
This leads to the conclusion that the United States is acting against its own best interests in failing to end nuclear double standards and to make phased and negotiated nuclear disarmament a priority of its non-proliferation programme. Perhaps at some point US leaders will awaken to the likelihood that their nuclear posturing is making it more likely that their cities and citizens will become the victims of their own nuclear policies.
It is to be hoped that this awakening will not be the result of a nuclear attack, and that it will be possible to prevent such an attack against the United States or any other country. This may be possible if we employ imagination, reason and leadership, and seek the necessary international co-operation.
2. Advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, United Nations General Assembly, A/51/218, 15 October 1996.
3. See David Krieger and Carah Ong, “Back to Basics: Reviving Nuclear Disarmament in the Non-Proliferation Regime”, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara, Calif., 2005, pp. 13–15.
4. Ibid., pp. 16–17.