April 22, 2003
By Urs A. Cipolat
The Bush administration wrongly believes it can eliminate the nuclear threat by wars of prevention. This policy may actually stimulate efforts by other countries to quickly obtain nuclear weapons.
Earlier this spring, North Korea became the first country ever to effectively withdraw its signature from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), amid indications that it is stepping up preparations to produce nuclear bombs. Only the possession of nuclear weapons, the reclusive regime argues, will save it from being next on President Bush’s list.
“The Iraqi war teaches a lesson that in order to prevent a war and defend the security of a country and the sovereignty of a nation, it is necessary to have a powerful physical deterrent,” the North Korean government said on April 18.
To effectively stop countries like North Korea or Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the proliferation problem must be taken by its roots. Only universal nuclear disarmament can bring the dangerous spiral of nuclear proliferation to an end.
Despite a 35-year-old commitment to eliminate their deadly arsenals, the five nuclear powers — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — continue to lag behind in fulfilling their treaty obligations under the NPT.
The NPT, adopted in 1968, requires the nuclear nations to move toward complete elimination of their nuclear weapons. While the 183 signatory states not possessing nuclear weapons have largely complied with their obligation not to acquire them, the nuclear powers have done too little to fulfill their part of the bargain.
More than 30,000 nuclear warheads remain in the hands of the nuclear club, with a destructive power of tens of thousands of Hiroshimas. More than 90 percent of these horrific weapons are stationed in the United States and Russia. Nearly half of them are operational and can be launched within minutes.
At the NPT Review Conference in 2000, the nuclear-weapon states pledged an “unequivocal undertaking” to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. In that conference’s final document, they committed to more than a dozen practical disarmament steps. These steps include the irreversible reduction of strategic and tactical nuclear arms; a moratorium on nuclear testing, pending the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; and the negotiation of a Fissile Material Treaty. It also includes the reduction of the operational status and role of nuclear weapons in security policies; the preserving of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; and an overall strengthening of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) capabilities.
Three years into this deal, none of these goals have been met.
The Moscow Treaty, unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate in March, requires both Russia and the United States to cut their deployed arsenals to below 2,200 warheads each over the next 10 years. However, the pact fails to make these cuts permanent.
Worse, last year’s U.S. nuclear posture seriously challenges the universal taboo against the use of nuclear arms by advocating the development and testing of “usable” mini-nukes. The new posture, besides violating the NPT, dangerously lowers the nuclear threshold and encourages other countries to follow suit.
The United States and its fellow nuclear-weapon countries must overcome current divisions and fully deliver upon their “unequivocal undertaking.” By reneging on its disarmament commitments, the United States lacks the moral and legal coherence necessary for curbing the spread of these weapons of terror. The Bush administration has embarked on a nuclear policy whose consequences could be devastating.
Urs A. Cipolat is program director at the Global Security Institute in San Francisco (www.gsinstitute.org).
Note: This op-ed also appeared in the Rome News -Tribune (Georgia) on Sunday, May 18, 2003.