A Different Approach to Nonproliferation (2005)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



The U.S. commenced nonproliferation activities at the dawn of the nuclear era; and preventing proliferation has been a major element of our foreign policy ever since.  In the 1960s, at which time there were five declared nuclear-weapon states (U.S.,Russia,China,U.K., andFrance), the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was negotiated.  It went into effect in 1970, with 43 signatories including theU.S.  The original objective of the NPT was crystal clear.  It was to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by limiting them to the five existing “nuclear-weapon states” (NWS).  All other signatories would agree to sign as “non-nuclear-weapon states” (NNWS).  During the NPT negotiations of the 1960s the nuclear weapons states insisted that the treaty place no restrictions on these five states’ developing, testing, producing, and deploying new nuclear weapons in any variety or numbers.  The NNWS agreed, as did all other signatories over the following decades.  Currently 188 states have signed the NPT; and this treaty is, without question, the cornerstone of global nonproliferation.

For the U.S., preventing proliferation has always been an important national objective.  And the recent emergence of terrorism as an active worldwide threat, coupled with the vastly increased global black market network in nuclear weapons materials and information, have raised preventing proliferation to an even higher priority in U.S. foreign policy.

At the international level, however–under the leadership of the UN General Assembly–the term “nonproliferation” has, over the years, lost its original focused meaning.  This term has evolved into a monolithic force, onto which groups of states have hitched or piggybacked their individual objectives (test bans, nuclear-weapon-free zones, the concept of vertical proliferation, redefinition of the nuclear threshold, distortion of the meaning of NPT Article VI, etc.) .  However, this giant international enterprise has done little or nothing to prevent threatening states or regimes (e.g.,Iraq,North Korea,Iran) from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Instead, “nonproliferation”–in the international sense–has become synonymous with “nuclear disarmament” (starting with the five NWS).  Principal international efforts have focused on pressuring the U.S. to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability.  To understand how complete this change in international objective from proliferation prevention to nuclear disarmament has become, one has only to read the “Principles and Objectives” statement of the 1995 NPT RevCon, and the “Final Document” of the 2000 NPT RevCon (the 13 steps).  As a result of this international change in objective, the term “nonproliferation” has been warped beyond usefulness.  Communications on this topic can only be meaningful by use of the more awkward “preventing proliferation.”

The basis on which the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) has virtually abandoned the prevention of nuclear proliferation and focused on nuclear disarmament is Article VI of the NPT.  It states, in entirety:  “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Considering the global conflicts and threats during the NPT’s 35-year existence, most reasonable individuals would have little difficulty in assessing Article VI as a long-term goal, to be approached as feasible.  Similarly, most reasonable individuals would judge the U.S. record in meeting its Article VI obligations to be quite remarkable:  We have terminated the Cold War, ended the nuclear arms race, dismantled some 13,000 nuclear weapons, signed the Moscow Treaty to reduce our stockpile by many thousands more, dismantled many entire classes of nuclear weapons, committed billions of dollars to assist Russia in dismantlement of ex-Soviet nuclear weapons, cut our nuclear infrastructure to bare bones, and taken hundreds of other actions to reduce nuclear weapons activities worldwide.

Please Share: