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Where Are The Consequences?

UN member nations are meeting to assess the state of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The consensus seems to be that it’s inadequate, if not a disaster. The voluntary treaty requires non-nuclear states to forego nuclear weapons in exchange for the five nuclear states - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - moving toward complete disarmament. But commitment to this Cold War era treaty by all parties is weak to non-existent.

The fundamental problem with the NPT, is that the five "official" nuclear nations have no intention of completely disarming, nor is any non-nuclear signatory prohibited from developing a nuclear program to a point just short of weaponization.

For example, Iran's nuclear program is totally legal under the NPT. The current problem revolves around the discovery that they weren't completely open about it. North Korea's nuclear enrichment program, the one President Bush denounced, resulting in that country's withdrawal from the treaty, is also legal under the NPT (the subsequent reprocessing of fuel rods is not, of course). The issue, again, was lack of transparency (and the fact that it violated the 1994 bilateral Agreed Framework), not that it violated the NPT.

It's easy to denounce these countries as dealing in bad faith. Unfortunately, the problem for US credibility is President Bush's push for expanding the US nuclear arsenal instead of disarming as specified in the NPT, and administration officials implying that a nuclear first-strike is part of the United States' pre-emption policy. Not to mention the U.S. delegation spokesman Richard Grenell making the wacky excuse that we need nukes to fight terrorism, "We want to be creative with the tools we have at our disposal." Yikes!

There shouldn't be any debate that the United States needs a nuclear arsenal. Debate over the exact size, composition, and testing is, of course, valid, but dismantlement as specified under the NPT just isn't going to happen. Just as certain is the fact that any nation that wants a nuclear weapons program under the current NPT can do so easily.

The current NPT is clearly inadequate for excluding any determined state from entering the nuclear club. Israel, Pakistan, India, and now North Korea all crashed the party. And BTW, it's grimly funny to me that no one wants to accept Kim's withdrawal from the treaty. No one - not even the US - has officially recognized that North Korea is no longer a signatory to the NPT. Hence the lack of sanctions.

And that's the final nail in the NPT's coffin. Who enforces it? The US certainly won't take the lead in disarming Israel - officially, we don't even acknowledge Israel has nukes. And China is in no hurry to disarm North Korea - officially, they don't even acknowledge North Korea has nukes. And who did we let handle the AQ Kahn proliferation network investigation: Pakistan, for cryin' out loud!

President Bush is lamely dusting off President Clinton's old 1993 proposal to ban uranium enrichment programs for military AND civil use, putting worldwide nuclear fuel production under the control of Russia, France, the US, or some combination (where have I heard that ridiculed before). While I think it's a great idea - even if Kerry doesn't get the credit for it - the issue comes down to enforcement. There doesn't seem to be a fierce determination on the part of the international community - including the United States - to enforce the NPT by sanctions, not to mention by force.

Just like abiding by the NPT is purely voluntary, there aren't any serious consequences, economic or military, for violating it. It might as well not even exist. Any new non-proliferation effort needs to have teeth, and that's going to require a diplomatic tour de force to secure a firm commitment from all the major players for economic and military repercussions for any nation found to be in violation.

The United States cannot enforce the NPT by itself. We must either rally a permanent coalition of major, credible nations with the will to tell violators they "have ten seconds to comply," or forget the whole thing. North Korea is the first test of international resolve on non-proliferation, and so far everyone - including the United States - is falling short.

Posted by American Pundit at May 4, 2005 6:54 AM