A tale of two treaties?


Before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force in 1970, concerned scientists made dire predictions about the rate at which nuclear weapons would spread around the globe. Thanks in part to the treaty, the gloomiest scenarios have been avoided. But many in the developing world question whether their countries have been fairly compensated for their decisions to forego nuclear weapons -- whether the bargain at the heart of the treaty is being honored. Below, Naeem Ahmad Salik of Pakistan, Adel M. Ali of Egypt, and Sunday Jonah of Nigeria grapple with the question: "How can signatories to the NPT ensure that the treaty's provisions are fairly enforced?"

Round 1

Needed: a bigger toolbox for the IAEA

The basic aims of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are fairly straightforward: to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons; to provide assurances, through international safeguards, that peaceful nuclear activities will not lead to the production of nuclear weapons; to promote, to the maximum extent consistent with the treaty's other provisions, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy; and eventually to make progress toward nuclear disarmament.

But enforcement of the treaty's provisions has long been a major challenge — in part because the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is empowered to enforce the Safeguards Agreements that it establishes with individual nations, is not empowered to enforce the treaty as a whole. That is, the agency has no executive force. In any case, its role as an international promoter of "Atoms for Peace" is as important as its safeguards function.

Limits on the IAEA's authority, particularly in the field of nuclear security, amount to a set of serious deficiencies in the nonproliferation regime. For example, the agency cannot require states to establish systems for nuclear security. It has no authority to verify that nuclear materials within states are accorded appropriate physical protection. Even guidance on these issues is provided by the agency only on request, and though the IAEA regularly publishes recommendations on these topics, following the recommendations is not mandatory. No nuclear security mandate requires that states adequately protect their nuclear materials.

In fact, the agency lacks the authority to take action or even comment on the measures that states enact regarding physical protection of nuclear materials unless states request that the agency carry out a specific mission to do so. And even if safeguards inspectors were to note inadequacies in nuclear security, they would not have legal authority to report them.

Compliance could be more reliably ensured if the agency's mission were redefined, thus placing it at the center of international efforts toward establishing nuclear security. Under such a scenario, the agency would develop comprehensive nuclear security standards, perform mandatory threat assessments in signatory countries, and carry out follow-up missions that would likewise be mandatory. As part of this process, an international agreement on nuclear security standards would need to be established, as would agreement on the means by which compliance could be ensured.

In the meantime, some progress is being achieved through a series of summits. In 2010, US President Barack Obama convened 47 world leaders in Washington, DC, for the first Nuclear Security Summit, which highlighted the enduring need for vigilance among committed governments. Still, the nature of the proliferation threat has evolved dramatically in recent years. The threat of non-state actors' obtaining nuclear weapons has seemed more pressing since 9/11, and existing and new nuclear power plants seem more vulnerable than ever. Increasingly, countries — most notably those represented by the Non-Aligned Movement — have expressed resentment of the restricted access to nuclear technology set by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which establishes the rules for international nuclear commerce; with more conditions placed on nuclear commerce comes the possibility of the proliferation of nuclear weapons expertise.

Thus, a second summit was held in March in South Korea, which was attended by over 50 world leaders. That summit, conducted in the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, concluded with a communiqué that addressed the security of radioactive materials, which can be used to fashion radiological dispersal devices, as well as the interface between nuclear safety and security.

The high profile of the summits has put nuclear security, and by extension the NPT regime, closer to the top of the world agenda. Perhaps progress can now be made toward enacting much-needed provisions for better enforcement of the treaty, especially considering that a third summit is scheduled for 2014 in the Netherlands. A step in the right direction would be the entry into force of the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials; this 2005 amendment was drafted to criminalize nuclear theft and smuggling, and it includes important provisions regarding storage, transport, and protection of nuclear materials, as well as protection of facilities.

In addition, special efforts toward nonproliferation ought to be targeted toward the developing world. A number of developing countries, including some in Africa, have proven to be hotbeds for terrorist recruitment, and the inability of African governments to police their borders effectively has raised concerns over illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. To address these problems, the international community should assist African governments in implementing developmental programs that might redress the endless cycle of poverty and hopelessness that characterizes much of the continent. By marrying solutions to these endemic challenges with new streams of nonproliferation assistance, the world could help curtail the risk of trafficking in nuclear materials — thus curbing proliferation through development.

How to honor the entire bargain

Though the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was never designed to be discriminatory, it has now, more or less permanently, divided countries into different classes — the five recognized nuclear weapon states, the 184 states without nuclear weapons, and the four nations that stand outside the treaty. The basic bargain of the NPT is that the non-nuclear weapon states pledge not to acquire nuclear weapons, while the nuclear weapon states agree to share their peaceful nuclear technology and also, crucially, to pursue disarmament. But progress toward disarmament has been very slow.

The nuclear weapon states care a great deal about potential proliferation but not enough about the steps that are necessary to achieve disarmament. If these states wish to enhance the nonproliferation regime, they should achieve additional reductions of nuclear weapons and also reduce the importance of nuclear weapons in their foreign policy. Additionally, the two nuclear weapon states that have not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — the United States and China — should quickly do so.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) safeguards regime, which began as a simple collection of statutes in 1970, has evolved into a rather sophisticated verification system under the NPT. Advanced inspection and monitoring techniques have been introduced over the years through safeguards agreements and the Additional Protocol. These include on-site inspections, area-wide environmental monitoring, and special inspections.

Further, the United States under President George W. Bush proposed that the Nuclear Suppliers Group exclude from peaceful nuclear trade those nations that lack the technology to enrich uranium and reprocess spent fuel, unless they promise never to acquire such technology. This would represent a revision of the treaty's central bargain: nonproliferation in exchange for progress toward disarmament and the sharing of peaceful nuclear technology. That is, it would change the rules of the game. But non-nuclear weapon states increasingly regard the treaty as allowing them to develop capabilities in uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing for peaceful purposes (even though under certain conditions those capabilities could be applied toward developing nuclear weapons). Indeed, non-nuclear weapons states generally believe that under the treaty they have an "inalienable right" to carry out these activities, subject to the safeguards of the IAEA.

In the zones. Meanwhile, nuclear-weapon-free zones can contribute a great deal toward the disarmament project, and the time has come to shift more focus toward them. Five such zones exist today — Latin America (1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (1985 Treaty of Rarotonga), Southeast Asia (1995 Treaty of Bangkok), Africa (1996 Treaty of Pelindaba), and Central Asia (2006 Treaty of Semipalatinsk). Within these zones the development of peaceful nuclear energy programs is accepted but the possession, acquisition, testing, and manufacture of nuclear weapons is prohibited under legally binding nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties and protocols. Nuclear weapon states pledge through separate protocols not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons within the zones.

In view of the severe tensions threatening peace and security in the Middle East, concerted global and regional efforts should be made to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region, composed of the members of the Arab League plus Iran and Israel. The Middle East is one of the most dangerous regions in the world, and was described as a "region of tension" by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. This is the natural consequence of a heated conventional arms race in the region, fueled in part by Israel's presumed stockpile of nuclear weapons.

But it is also the consequence of a lack of political will, outside Arab countries, to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone or a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The very cornerstone of establishing such a zone is the political commitment of the non-Arab parties in the region to enter into the undertaking. Such a zone has indeed received global attention thanks in large part to the 2010 NPT Review Conference's recommendation that official discussions begin — in fact, they are tentatively set for December of this year in Helsinki. But without greater international commitment to the project, this essential step in building a new Middle East cannot be achieved.

Following protocol. The time has also come to ban, through a protocol to the NPT such as those that accompany nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are parties to the NPT. For the nuclear weapon states to establish a legally binding commitment not to use nuclear weapons against states without nuclear weapons would constitute an essential step toward realizing the NPT bargain.

It should not be overlooked that the number of nuclear-armed states is on the rise. India and Pakistan have become de facto nuclear weapon states and refuse to become parties to the NPT; North Korea has become a de facto nuclear weapon state after withdrawing from the treaty; and Israel, the only country in the Middle East that is not a party to the treaty, is universally believed to possess nuclear weapons, though it maintains a policy of nuclear opacity. Preventing further cases of proliferation is difficult. Ultimately, the treaty regime can survive only if the NPT is adhered to and supported by all its members — both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states — and Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are brought into the regime as non-nuclear weapon states. Realizing universality for the treaty is a crucial project.

Toward a fairer, more effective nonproliferation regime

This Roundtable asks how signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) can ensure that the treaty's provisions are fairly enforced. But because the treaty is characterized by an imbalance between the rights and obligations of signatories — dividing them as it does into "haves" and "have-nots" — the concept of fairness in the treaty's implementation frankly seems a bit surreal. In addition, "enforcement" is a strong word, as it carries connotations of force (indeed, as represented most dramatically in the US-led attack on Iraq in 2003, counterproliferation as opposed to nonproliferation is already the preferred option for the United States and the European Union). Perhaps "implementation" would be a better choice for this Roundtable question.

The treaty has been the centerpiece of the global nonproliferation regime for over four decades. But its record is mixed. To a large extent the treaty has fulfilled the objective expressed in its name, that of preventing nuclear weapons proliferation. In the 1960s, some analysts predicted that 25 to 30 nuclear weapon states would exist within decades, but in fact only nine states have nuclear weapons today.

Nonetheless, the treaty has always suffered from inadequate institutional support structures. The NPT's oversight functions are carried out through the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), supplemented by export control regimes — but the only action at the agency's disposal in cases of noncompliance is referral to the UN Security Council.

Moreover, the treaty's credibility has been eroded at times over recent decades, for instance by Iraq, Libya, and Syria's surreptitious pursuit of nuclear weapons. Ongoing concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions have also challenged the treaty's credibility. But so, too, have certain actions on the part of the recognized nuclear weapon states. The United States deploys battlefield and theater nuclear weapons in Germany and other NATO countries, and Russia has leased a nuclear-powered submarine to India. These actions violate at least the spirit of the treaty.

Meanwhile, many nations maintain grievances about the NPT, whether or not they possess nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear weapon states surrendered their right to develop nuclear weapons when they joined the treaty; in return, their inalienable right to utilize peaceful nuclear technology was recognized, and they were promised assistance from nuclear powers in acquiring such technology. Nuclear weapon states, for their part, promised to enter into good-faith negotiations toward eventual nuclear disarmament. But non-nuclear weapon states complain at times that nuclear weapon states have neither provided adequate access to peaceful nuclear technology nor made sufficient progress toward disarmament. Nuclear weapon states, on the other hand, remain wary of potential misuse of peaceful nuclear technology by some non-nuclear weapon states.

To address the grievances of both types of states, an international consortium could be created under the IAEA that would assure countries a guaranteed supply of technology and fuel in return for two things: first, their arranging to return spent fuel and, second, their acceding to the Additional Protocol to the NPT Safeguards Agreement — which was drafted to enhance the IAEA's inspection regime after the extent of Iraq's nuclear-weapons activities was discovered following the 1991 Gulf War. (Many countries have not signed the protocol, or have failed to ratify it.) Under any such consortium, however, access to nuclear technology and fuel would have to be strictly criteria-based, and not subject to individual countries' political preferences.

Additionally, the IAEA's financial and human resources would have to be enhanced substantially. Enhancing these resources would in turn demand that member states share burdens equitably, so that major powers could not exert overbearing influence due to their larger financial contributions.

Another long-standing problem for the NPT has been that of three holdout states — India, Israel, and Pakistan, all of which have acquired nuclear weapons. (North Korea, the only country ever to join the nonproliferation regime and then leave it, has also acquired a nuclear capability). Under the treaty as it stands, the holdouts can join only as non-nuclear weapon states, which India and Pakistan find unacceptable. An amendment to the treaty might resolve this problem, but the amendment procedure is tedious and many fear that opening the NPT to amendment would be to open a Pandora's box. Therefore, the problem appears to many an intractable one.

However, without tinkering with the treaty unduly, it might be possible to formulate an additional protocol whereby the three outliers would take on the obligations accepted by other nuclear weapon states in return for acceptance of their status as nuclear weapon states. Eventually, the successful establishment of a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone would resolve both the Israeli and Iranian problems. The North Korean problem might be resolved in the future through the six-party process, or through a bilateral agreement between North Korea and the United States. At that point, the treaty would have achieved universality.

Now and later. These goals are ambitious and will not be achieved right away. In the meantime, the IAEA in collaboration with nuclear supplier states could take several steps that might enhance the global nonproliferation regime. One step would be the establishment of "nuclear power parks," an arrangement whereby a supplier or international consortium would build and operate nuclear power plants in space provided by host countries; the supplier or consortium would provide its own fuel and remove it once it was spent, without the involvement of local manpower. Another idea worth exploring might be ship-based power plants that would anchor in harbors and connect to local power grids. The agency could also commission studies aimed at developing proliferation-resistant nuclear technologies that could reduce the possibility of diversion and cheating. For this, the agency could utilize its own pool of experts, and advanced countries could be used to research  these systems. Meanwhile, the five recognized nuclear weapon states should demonstrate more urgency regarding the provision of negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states, alleviating their security concerns and reducing their incentives to seek nuclear weapons. (Negative security assurances are already on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament but have not yet been taken up for serious discussion).

Negotiations toward a convention that outlaws nuclear weapons should get under way as well. Such negotiations would stretch over many years; in the meantime, the steps outlined above might enhance the nonproliferation regime and eventually make it universal. This would help provide assurances to all.


Round 2

Expanded powers, greater security

One thing on which all participants in this Roundtable agree is that certain elements of the noproliferation regime require fundamental strengthening. In order to achieve this, the Roundtable authors have proposed wide-ranging ideas such as altering the structure and expanding the powers of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); allowing some countries that stand outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to join the treaty as nuclear weapon states; and establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones in the Middle East and South Asia. Though all these proposals are intended to lay a solid foundation for multilateral action toward disarmament and nonproliferation, they have sparked significant disagreement among the authors.

Naeem Ahmad Salik writes in his second essay, in reference to my argument that the IAEA’s authority should be expanded and its mission redefined, that "the nonproliferation regime is not a panacea for all problems, nor should the agency’s role be expanded to the point that it cannot meet its obligations." But Salik himself noted in his first essay that the NPT suffers from inadequate institutional support structures — for instance, when it comes to the IAEA’s having no action at its disposal in cases of treaty noncompliance other than referral to the UN Security Council. Salik also urged in his first essay that an international consortium be set up under the aegis of the IAEA that would guarantee nations access to nuclear fuel and technology in return for their returning spent fuel and agreeing to the Additional Protocol to the NPT Safeguards Agreement. So it seems that Salik, to an extent greater than his second essay would indicate, agrees with me that the agency’s authority should be expanded. (But ultimately, of course, any expansion of the IAEA’s authority would depend on defining the scope of that expansion and on setting out a comprehensive agenda toward achieving it.)

Salik also takes issue with my assertion that "the threat of non-state actors' obtaining nuclear weapons has seemed more pressing since 9/11." Salik’s belief is that the threat of nuclear terrorism has not grown since 9/11; rather, it is awareness of the threat has grown. His statements and mine do not precisely contradict each other, but it is worth keeping in mind that the world’s increased focus on nuclear security since 9/11 has by no means eliminated terrorists’ interest in obtaining nuclear weapons. Indeed, high-ranking Al Qaeda figure Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his 2008 book Exoneration, strongly echoed a 2003 fatwa issued by Saudi cleric Nasir al Fahd that justified the use of nuclear weapons. In any case, nuclear terrorism remains a legitimate threat that deserves continued attention at the highest levels.

On a related note, I feel that my fellow Roundtable participants have paid insufficient attention to the 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington and its 2012 counterpart in Seoul. Nuclear security must be treated as an important element of the nonproliferation regime, and the summits have played a significant role in bringing nuclear security and by extension the NPT itself to the top of the world agenda. It may even be appropriate at this point to ascribe to nuclear security the same importance that is attached to the three existing pillars of the treaty — nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful nuclear cooperation.

Another positive initiative in nuclear security would be to involve more closely in nonproliferation efforts the private firms that supply nuclear materials and operate nuclear facilities. The most difficult part of producing a nuclear weapon is obtaining the nuclear materials for whose security these companies are partly responsible. It should be ensured that firms’ actions are in strict compliance with the NPT vis-à-vis securing, consolidating, and accounting for such materials, and this effort should be regarded as a key part of the global nonproliferation community’s project to achieve the security of all nuclear materials.

Toward a transformed treaty

Countries without nuclear weapons tend to focus much attention on nuclear weapon states’ failure to achieve the disarmament that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires them to pursue. Nuclear weapon states, meanwhile, focus on the fact that access to peaceful nuclear technology, which the treaty guarantees to all nations, carries with it the potential for weapons proliferation.

That such access might lead to proliferation is indeed a serious concern — but one should bear in mind that when states have illicitly acquired nuclear weapons in the past, they have not relied on civilian nuclear power facilities to do so. North Korea and Israel used research reactors to develop their weapons capabilities. Pakistan also developed its weapons capability apart from the civilian fuel cycle, while the fissile materials for India's nuclear weapons are believed not to have been derived from power production reactors.

Still, some — including Naeem Ahmad Salik in this Roundtable — have proposed that multilateral arrangements be established to manage the nuclear fuel cycle. But these proposals suffer from serious flaws. First, multilateral arrangements for the fuel cycle may simply fail to address true proliferation risks — as indicated above, past cases of proliferation have not grown out of the civilian use of nuclear energy. Second, uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing are not proscribed under the NPT. A non-nuclear weapon state does nothing illicit merely by possessing enrichment or reprocessing technologies or even by possessing weapons-grade nuclear material.

Therefore, if multilateral approaches to the fuel cycle are to be implemented, they must be structured so as not to infringe on any state’s right to reach its own decisions regarding the fuel cycle. And crucially, no supplier country should be able to hamper or interrupt for political reasons any nation’s peaceful nuclear undertakings.

Universally recognized. If it is true that multilateral arrangements for the fuel cycle cannot ultimately prevent proliferation, these arrangements’ primary function would seem to be enhancing the nonproliferation regime. But if that is the goal, better means to do so exist. For example, non-member states could be brought into the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states through the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in the Middle East and South Asia, and on the Korean peninsula. Salik objects to this idea, saying that "Israel would be offered something in return for disarming — recognition of its right to exist, security assurances — [but] no such quid pro quo is in the offing where India and Pakistan are concerned." Such objections could be addressed if the treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones were structured along the lines of Africa’s Treaty of Pelindaba. That treaty’s first and second protocols are designed to prevent the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against signatories; that and other assurances included in the protocols would contribute meaningfully to security if applied in South Asia.

Salik, however, proposes establishing an additional protocol to the NPT whereby India, Israel, and Pakistan would take on the obligations accepted by other nuclear weapon states in return for acceptance of their status as nuclear weapon states. My view is that such an approach would, first, run counter to the 2010 NPT Review Conference, which called on all states that are not parties to the treaty to accede as non-nuclear weapon states. Second, it would contradict the spirit of the treaty itself, which after all is intended to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to states that do not have them, while achieving disarmament in the states that do have them. Third, it would weaken and could even bring about the end of the NPT regime. States outside the regime must be convinced that their entry into the treaty is the only hope of stopping further proliferation; their remaining outliers, or insisting on acceptance as nuclear weapon states, not only invites further proliferation but ultimately threatens the collapse of the treaty regime itself.

Among the most notable characteristics of today’s nonproliferation regime is that different levels of effort are expended toward nonproliferation and disarmament. Indeed, many non-nuclear weapon states are convinced that the only way to stop proliferation is to address disarmament and nonproliferation with equal vigor. When in 2000 the parties to the treaty committed themselves to an "unequivocal undertaking" to rid the world of nuclear weapons, their intent was to transform the NPT into a treaty truly focused on disarmament and nonproliferation. That transformation must now proceed.

Solutions must not create new problems

My fellow participants in this Roundtable, Sunday Jonah and Adel M. Ali, have correctly pointed out a number of weaknesses and anomalies in the global nonproliferation regime. One may disagree, however, with certain aspects of their diagnoses and remedies.

Jonah has raised the issue of nuclear security, suggesting that the threat of nuclear terrorism has grown stronger since 9/11. Threats to nuclear installations have always existed, but I believe that since 9/11 it is awareness of the threat that has increased — not the threat per se. To the contrary, I would argue that security at nuclear installations has been enhanced since 2001, and many countries have made a strong effort to augment their nuclear security by adopting a defence-in-depth approach at nuclear power plants.

The UN Security Council has taken action as well, passing Resolution 1540 in 2004. This resolution obliges member states to establish effective export controls, border controls, and legislative and enforcement mechanisms regarding not only nuclear but also chemical and biological weapons. The resolution specifically calls for strengthened measures to deny non-state actors access to nuclear materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meanwhile, has carried out studies and conducted workshops in member countries regarding design basis threat — which the agency defines as "a description of the attributes and characteristics of potential insider and/or external adversaries who might attempt unauthorized removal of nuclear material or sabotage against which a physical protection system is designed and evaluated." This is an issue that had never been addressed at such a high level before, and the IAEA's actions will, at future nuclear reactors, translate into enhanced capacity to withstand attacks similar to those carried out on 9/11 — attacks of a sort that were never considered when reactor domes were designed and constructed in the past.

Jonah has suggested that the agency's jurisdiction be expanded so that it can carry out inspections to evaluate security arrangements in signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Such an expansion would be difficult to arrange — and would require a substantial increase in the agency's budget and the size of its technical workforce. Experience shows that it is never easy to persuade nations to make higher financial contributions to international organizations.

In any case, the IAEA already finds it difficult to cope with its existing responsibilities to implement safeguards, especially since the introduction of the Additional Protocol to the NPT Safeguards Agreement. Given all this, one must recognize that the nonproliferation regime is not a panacea for all problems, nor should the agency's role be expanded to the point that it cannot meet its obligations (or, alternately, until the agency becomes a sort of supranational government).

Ali, on the other hand, argues that Israel should join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state or that a nuclear-weapon-free zone should be established in the Middle East. While it is understandable that many in the Arab world would like for Israel to give up its presumed nuclear arsenal, proposals to achieve this usually advocate, problematically, that India and Pakistan also join the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. Such proposals overlook the fact that while Israel would be offered something in return for disarming — recognition of its right to exist, security assurances — no such quid pro quo is in the offing where India and Pakistan are concerned.

Indeed, US President Barack Obama has promised to facilitate India's entry into the global export control regimes — especially the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which already in 2008 granted India a waiver allowing it to participate in nuclear trade despite its status as a nuclear weapon state outside the NPT regime. Now a number of countries, taking their cue from the United States, are rushing in to sell nuclear materials and equipment to India, even at the cost of violating their obligations with regard to the nuclear-weapon-free zones to which they are signatories. A case in point is Australia; many argue that its decision to sell uranium to India contravenes its obligations under the Treaty of Raratonga. This environment of exceptionalism, in which commercial interests trump nonproliferation ideals, neither encourages treaty outliers to join the regime nor promotes the regime's equitable implementation.


Round 3

Real threats, real solutions

The authors in this Roundtable have all argued, albeit in different ways, that significant changes should be made to the global nonproliferation regime in order to achieve the goals set out in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Changes seem necessary partly because the world in recent years has witnessed a broad diffusion of technology, which has allowed many nations, including developing countries, to harbor ambitions for nuclear power. That has led to the possibility of a global nuclear renaissance — and also to renewed concerns about nuclear proliferation.

But another reason that the nonproliferation regime seems in need of reworking is that, as I have argued, nuclear terrorism has emerged in recent years as a greater security threat. Naeem Ahmad Salik takes issue with my views, arguing in his third essay that the threat of nuclear terrorism is sometimes exaggerated for political reasons. Yet even if the threat is occasionally exaggerated, the fact remains that non-state actors have repeatedly made pronouncements about their ultimate intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

Salik argues that terrorists are unlikely to gain access to nuclear weapons because of "the technical difficulty of constructing a usable device.” But though it may be difficult for terrorist groups to construct a sophisticated nuclear weapon, it is certainly plausible that they could build a crude one. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez once wrote that if terrorists possessed modern weapons-grade uranium, they "would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half." It remains my view that the most difficult part of making a nuclear bomb is gaining access to fissile material; therefore, the key element in preventing nuclear terrorism is controlling access to such material. As Harvard security analyst Graham Allison has written, "As a fact of physics: no highly enriched uranium and plutonium, no fission nuclear explosion, no nuclear terrorism.”

However, constructing a nuclear device is not the only way to carry out nuclear terrorism. Terrorists might also attempt to sabotage safety systems at nuclear facilities in order to create a disaster of the same magnitude as that which occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. To highlight the threat of nuclear terrorism is not to engage in some political gimmick, as Salik suggests. To the contrary, nuclear terrorism is a legitimate threat that deserves the attention it is currently being accorded in a series of nuclear security summits.

Salik and Adel M. Ali have disagreed about whether or not India, Pakistan, and Israel should be allowed to join the NPT as nuclear weapon states. I will only mention that, as things stand now, it seems unlikely that these countries will join as non-nuclear weapon states. Among other obstacles, the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement that was concluded in 2008, and the waiver extended to India the same year by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, have provided India the benefits of nuclear cooperation, as promised under the NPT, without India's having acceded to the treaty. Such an arrangement provides treaty outliers little incentive to join the nonproliferation regime.

In conclusion, only a few states have developed a nuclear weapons capacity since the NPT came into force. Though the treaty is not the only reason for this, a greater number of states would surely have developed a nuclear capability in the treaty's absence. So that the NPT can continue making the world a safer place than it would otherwise be, I reiterate my support for expanding the role and powers of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and for ascribing to nuclear security the same importance that is attached to the treaty's existing pillars of nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful nuclear cooperation.

Universality for the NPT’s objectives and principles

Naeem Ahmad Salik notes that participants in this spirited debate have largely maintained the positions that they espoused when the discussion began. Salik did not deviate from that pattern in his final essay and neither will I. Instead, I will offer a few new observations to buttress my earlier arguments and challenge those of my colleagues.

Sunday Jonah in his first Roundtable essay suggested that the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) be expanded so that the agency is empowered to evaluate nuclear security arrangements in nations that are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Jonah and Salik have debated this point extensively, and Salik has correctly noted that expanding the agency’s mandate would require amending the treaty, which is no small matter. But it is my view in any case that nuclear security issues within each state are properly state responsibilities. To my mind, the greatest risks associated with nuclear security emanate not from parties to the treaty — the IAEA knows a great deal about these countries’ nuclear facilities and materials — but rather from outlier states, about which the international community knows relatively little.

Just as Salik and Jonah have disagreed on expansion of the IAEA’s authority, Salik and I have disagreed about how to bring India, Pakistan, and Israel into the nonproliferation regime. I have argued that these countries should, as called for in the 2010 NPT Review Conference, join the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states. (By the way, to forestall any possible misunderstanding of the introduction to Jonah’s second essay, I have never argued that these countries should be allowed to join as nuclear weapon states.) Salik, meanwhile, has advocated that they should be allowed to join as nuclear weapon states. In his third essay, Salik argues that these treaty outliers cannot be accused of violating the NPT’s stipulations or spirit, precisely because they have never joined the treaty. But it is my belief that the principles and objectives expressed in the NPT should be seen as applying to all states, even those that are not parties to it — just as the UN Charter stipulates that all states, not only UN members, are expected to act in accordance with certain principles governing international relations.

Salik also mentions that Egypt acceded to the NPT even though Israel's nuclear weapons program predated the establishment of the treaty. This is true, but it should be pointed out that, at the time of Egypt’s accession in 1981, Egypt and Israel had already concluded a peace agreement foreswearing the use of force or the threat of force against one another. It should also be noted that when Egypt agreed to the treaty's indefinite extension in 1995, it did so only after winning the adoption of a resolution on the Middle East, which, among other things, called for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region and called on all states in the region to accede to the treaty. The bottom line, however, is that Egypt deserves praise rather than criticism for fully participating in the global nonproliferation regime.

Earlier in the Roundtable, Salik alluded to the Obama administration’s intention to facilitate membership for India in global export control regimes including the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); and to the fact that India has received a waiver from the NSG allowing it to participate in nuclear trade despite its not being a party to the treaty. Salik argued that these developments, along with a number of countries’ eagerness to engage in nuclear business with India, have created an atmosphere of exceptionalism that neither encourages NPT outliers to join the regime nor promotes the treaty’s equitable implementation. I entirely concur.

I would add an important point, however. Not only does a country such as Australia arguably violate its obligations under the Treaty of Raratonga by engaging in nuclear trade with India, as Salik points out. It is also the case, from my perspective, that Articles I, II, and III of the NPT, along with the treaty’s preamble, prohibit nuclear trade with India, as these sections of the treaty are intended in part to ensure that nuclear weapons capability is not transferred, either directly or indirectly, to countries not recognized as nuclear weapon states under the treaty. Preventing nuclear proliferation requires, among other things, discipline from nations that supply nuclear material and technology.


Critical issues provoke enduring disagreements

Throughout this Roundtable's lively debate, the participants have vigorously contested one another's positions and largely stuck to their own. I will not deviate from that pattern now. Indeed, I would like to revisit some of my earlier arguments, trying to articulate them in a way that is perhaps more understandable and persuasive.

Sunday Jonah and I have engaged in a discussion about expanding the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) so that it can better implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); Jonah has urged significant expansion, an idea that I have treated skeptically. Commenting on this disagreement, Jonah in his second essay wrote that "Salik himself [has] noted… that the NPT suffers from inadequate institutional support structures…. [I]t seems that Salik, to an extent greater than his second essay would indicate, agrees with me that the agency's authority should be expanded."

This is not quite correct. I do recognize, however, that the NPT lacks an organization dedicated to its effective implementation, along the lines of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization. Because the IAEA's founding predated the NPT, and because the agency's primary purpose was to support US President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program, overseeing the treaty is a task that was not originally foreseen and for which the agency is inadequately equipped.

Still, those who argue for strengthening the treaty's institutional support and oversight system should remember that, precisely because such structures were not part of the treaty regime as it was approved by signatories, these structures cannot easily be added now. Adding them would require an amendment to the treaty, and such an amendment would not necessarily be accepted by member states. After all, a majority of IAEA members have not ratified the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, despite the passage of seven years.

A second point on which Jonah and I have diverged is nuclear terrorism. At the risk of sounding complacent, I would contend that this threat is sometimes exaggerated for political reasons. Certainly, an expert like Jonah understands that, even if a terrorist organization were to acquire the materials needed to construct a nuclear device — itself a huge challenge — the technical difficulty of constructing a usable device would remain enormous. And any device that a terrorist organization produced would be large, heavy, and not suitable for delivery by any currently available delivery system. Thus, in the unlikely event that a terrorist outfit were to acquire a nuclear device, the device would in all probability be used in the country where the nuclear materials were obtained. This reality tends to undermine alarmist arguments about nuclear terrorism's importance as a threat to international security. Still, every country in possession of nuclear materials bears equal responsibility for nuclear security, and the communiques of both the Washington and Seoul nuclear security summits have stressed that states bear a "fundamental responsibility" to maintain security over their nuclear materials and facilities.

Adel M. Ali and I have disagreed over his insistence that India, Pakistan, and Israel should join the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states. Ali correctly points out that the treaty's purpose is to prevent states that do not have nuclear weapons from acquiring them, while achieving disarmament in states that do have them. The fact remains, however, that India, Pakistan, and Israel have never joined the treaty, and therefore cannot be accused of violating the treaty's stipulations or spirit. (Countries like Egypt, meanwhile, acceded to the treaty despite the fact that Israel's nuclear weapons program predated the NPT, and then agreed to the treaty's indefinite extension in 1995, losing leverage that might have been exercised later.) I stand by my earlier proposal that India, Pakistan, and Israel join the treaty as nuclear weapon states, accepting the obligation to enter into good-faith negotiations toward eventual nuclear disarmament.

As for Ali's proposed nuclear-weapon-free zone in South Asia, it should be remembered that Pakistan in 1975 mooted precisely this idea through a resolution in the UN General Assembly — but the zone never materialized because of Indian opposition. At this point, the idea of a South Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone has been overtaken by events, and barring general and complete nuclear disarmament, nuclear weapons are in South Asia to stay.


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