This article will be carried in the March edition of Peacework.
"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." -- Article VI - Nuclear Nonproliferation
Reports about the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation increasingly dominate our daily news. We are barraged with press reports on the dangers of nuclear weapons falling into "irresponsible hands," told that we need to face "the North Korean challenge," and warned that it is time for "military rumblings on Iran." So it is remarkable that most US people know next to nothing about what is driving proliferation or about what world leaders and disarmament movements are urging to stem the tide.
It is far more difficult to find reports about the fundamentally important - if not excitingly named - Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), whose implementation will be evaluated and pressed at a conference to begin this May at the United Nations. For instance, did you hear or read press reports about the United Nations General Assembly voting overwhelmingly for a Maylasian resolution calling for the nuclear powers to fulfill their NPT commitments to negotiate the elimination of their nuclear arsenals? While the alarm is repeatedly sounded about Iran and North Korea, few news outlets told us when the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency denounced the nuclear powers' hypocrisy as a major force for proliferation of nuclear weapons in more and more countries.
Who Is the Nuclear Terrorist?
During our recent presidential election campaign, both George Bush and John Kerry warned that the greatest potential threat to our security is non-state terrorists gaining access to nuclear weapons. This is not what the rest of the world believes. Over the past decade, people of other nations have witnessed repeated US threats to initiate nuclear war against Iraq, North Korea, and Libya. They know that the Bush Administration's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review named seven nations as primary US nuclear targets: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, Libya, and Syria. They remember that President Clinton reaffirmed that nuclear weapons will remain "the cornerstone of US policy" for the next 50 years, and they know that John Deutsch, Clinton's second CIA Director, was not breaking new ground when he said that "The US never intended nor does it now intend to implement Article VI of the NPT. That's just something that you say to get what you want out of a conference." Similarly, after popular and Congressional pressure forced the removal of much of the funding for research and development of new nuclear weapons, the Bush Administration is again seeking funds for a new "bunker buster" seventy times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb in its FY 2006 budget.
The current US administration's counter-proliferation policy is an extension of its first-strike unilateralism. During her recent visit to Europe, Secretary Rice reiterated US refusal to participate in European-led diplomacy with Iran. While her Administration continues to bolster dictatorships as diverse as those in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan - all of which practice torture - she labeled the repressive clerical regime "totalitarian" and "something to be loathed." The double standard was not lost on her European hosts. Nor could they avoid thinking of the catastrophic invasion of Iraq when Rice urged "unity on Iran" and - while the Pentagon was conducting not-so-covert operations in and over Iran - told the world that "an attack is not on the agenda at this point."
Defending the NPT
Another and more secure world is possible. It was described and agreed to in one of the most important bargains of the 20th century - the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - negotiated in 1968. The essence of the deal was that the non-nuclear nations would forswear development of nuclear weapons, while the nuclear powers agreed to negotiate the elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to provide the nuclear "have-nots" with nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Since then, the nuclear powers, led by Washington, have refused to fulfill their part of the bargain. Instead, they have increased the size and destructive capabilities of their nuclear arsenals. Worse, the US has prepared for and repeatedly threatened first strike nuclear attacks during crises and wars in the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere, and it has pursued nuclear "superiority" to ensure "Full Spectrum Dominance." Predictably, while the majority of the world's nations have sought to rectify the imbalance of terror by holding the nuclear powers accountable to their NPT commitments, others (Israel, India, and Pakistan) have joined the nuclear club. South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, and Chile have developed and then forsworn nuclear weapons programs. Some, including Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya have made serious efforts to develop deterrent nuclear arsenals. Still others, like Japan, have become "near-nuclear powers." With their vast stores of plutonium and advanced technologies, they could inflict nuclear devastation within weeks or months of policy changes being made at the highest levels of their governments. And, it appears that "non-state actors" from Chechen rebels to al Qaeda have given thought to obtaining or developing nuclear weapons.
The NPT was scheduled to expire in 1995. That deadline and the subsequent five-year "Review Conferences" have provided unique opportunities for the non-nuclear states to challenge the nuclear powers on their non-compliance with Article VI. However, at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the nuclear powers simply dictated the indefinite extension of the NPT. As Mexican ambassador Miguel Marin Bosch (whose country first proposed Article VI) and others have since explained, this was "what the five permanent members of the Security Council wanted and secured in order to continue being the nuclear haves in a world of overwhelmingly nuclear have-nots." The one concession extracted by the non-nuclear nations - led by the precursor of what became the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden) - was a commitment to holding a Review Conference every five years.
Five years later, in the closing months of the Clinton Administration, the first Review Conference was held. The nuclear powers had made scant - if any - progress in fulfilling their Article VI commitments. India and Pakistan had joined the nuclear club, in part rationalizing their decisions with rhetoric about the moral imperatives of equality and the refusal of nuclear powers to fulfill their Article VI commitments. As the Review Conference approached collapse, the New Agenda Coalition wrested from the nuclear powers an "unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." The nuclear club agreed to take thirteen "practical steps" as part of this agreement, including ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT,) strengthening the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, reducing their arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons, and halting production of weapons-grade nuclear materials. But, US Ambassador Grey was clear: The declaration "will have no more impact than it's had in the past."
Ambassador Grey was correct. The Bush Administration has since refused to ratify the CTBT. It has abrogated the ABM; it has launched a reckless program to develop more tactical nuclear weapons; and it is developing and deploying new first-strike nuclear weapons systems.
Making matters still worse, the Bush Administration has been attempting to dictate the agenda and outcome of this May's NPT Review Conference. The Preparatory Conference, held almost a year ago, collapsed when no agreement could be reached on the relative weight to be given to disarmament and to counter-proliferation at this year's NPT Review Conference. At this writing, there is still no agreed-on agenda. The Bush Administration may be willing to see the NPT go the way of the ABM, and the CTBT, preferring to rely on its own strategy of counter-proliferation through cruise missile attacks, invasion, and regime change.
Preparing for May
Diplomatic hallways and conferences are full of plans being made and maneuvers being put in place in the lead-up to May's seminally important Review Conference. Among the most interesting is the initiative by Luis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico's Ambassador to the UN Disarmament Committee. He is organizing a conference of African, Latin American, South Pacific, and Southeast Asian nations that belong to nuclear weapons free zones, to be held immediately prior to the NPT Review Conference. Among the proposals Ambassador de Alba will be promoting is building on the models of the Land Mines Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol. The idea is to negotiate a nuclear weapons elimination treaty (drafts already exist) which would apply to all its signatories, leaving those who refuse to sign exposed as immoral nuclear terrorists and under pressure to join the treaty.
Another major initiative is the Mayors for Peace Campaign launched by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Seeking to demonstrate popular demands for security that can only be achieved by completely eliminating the danger of nuclear war and by funding community needs, they have been winning the endorsements of mayors around the world and plan to bring 100 mayors to New York in May, to press demands for nuclear weapons abolition.
Finally, and most important for those of us who are neither ambassadors nor mayors, is the massive May 1 demonstration in New York City. Just as the February 15, 2002 global protests demonstrated that Washington must contend with the "world's second superpower" - popular opinion - a mass march and rally are being organized by United for Peace and Justice, Abolition 2000, and other organizations in New York on May 1, the day before the NPT Review Conference begins. Thousands of activists will be journeying to New York from Japan and elsewhere in Asia, and the World Social Forum has now joined the call to come to New York.
Gerson is a Director of Programs at the American Friends Service Committee in New England. His books include With Hiroshima Eyes and The Deadly Connection.
For information about the demonstration, contact United for Peace and Justice at www.unitedforpeace.org.