K.M Seethi | June 17th, 2018 | Kerala
The strategic fulcrum of global politics still hinges on an unadulterated ‘non-proliferation credo’ (NPC). It avowedly applies to newcomers or threshold states like Iran, North Korea etc but surreptitiously shields countries like Israel, India, and Pakistan.
This discriminatory application of non-proliferation regime seldom became a subject of discussion when the US-led imperialist powers unleashed campaigns and wars against Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea. The front office of the nuclear club—premised upon a ‘vertical’ logic of anarchy—profusely offers ethics of NPC with very little room for self-introspection.
Consequently, the nuclear logic of anarchy has a one-dimensional concern with hardly any ideological contestations within the regime. This consensual realm of ‘nukes’ has a history going back to the cold war days when the US, USSR, UK, China, and France settled themselves within the club of NPC. The scenario is still perpetuated in the post-cold war milieu of what the IR scholar Morton Kaplan had crudely formulated—an ‘Incomplete Nuclear Diffusion System’ (Kaplan 1969:232-33).
The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that opened for signature at London, Moscow, and Washington on 1 July 1968 (entered into force on 5 March 1970) sought to keep a check on the proliferation as well as the acquisition of nuclear weapons. It was brought in with a view to promoting cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
The Treaty was seen as the only binding obligation in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. On 11 May 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 191 States joined the NPT, including the five nuclear-weapon States.
Several countries also ratified the treaty (United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs 1968). Iran was one of the first signatories in 1968 itself. China acceded to the Treaty only in March 1992. North Korea (DPRK) joined the NPT in December 1985 but announced its withdrawal on 10 January 2003. India, Israel, and Pakistan refused to join the treaty putting across different arguments.
The Article VIII (paragraph 3) of the NPT calls for a review of the operation of the Treaty every five years, a provision which was reaffirmed by the States parties at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. To promote the objective of non-proliferation and as a confidence-building measure between States parties, the NPT put in place a safeguards system under the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Safeguards are meant to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the IAEA. The NPT, however, promotes cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear technology and equal access to this technology for all States parties, while safeguards prevent the diversion of fissile material for weapons use (IAEA 2018).
The 2015 Review Conference held in New York in April-May ended without the adoption of a consensus. After a successful 2010 Review Conference at which States parties agreed to a final document which included conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions, including the implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East, the 2015 Conference became a setback for the strengthened review process instituted to ensure accountability with respect to activities under the three pillars of the Treaty as part of the package in support of the indefinite extension of the Treaty in 1995 (for details see United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs 2000).
Countries like India, which maintained a huge infrastructure for nuclear development even two decades before the actual entry into force of NPT—argued that the NPT regime was basically ‘discriminatory’ and hence it did not address the problem of ‘vertical proliferation’ of nuclear weapons. This enabled India to undertake nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 at Pokhran. Though India became the object of widespread criticism in the West following the first blast, the 1998 tests invited sanctions from the major powers, howsoever short-lived they were. In 2004 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated that India would not sign the Treaty which was consistent with the position held by the country all along. India noted that it
…had come under tremendous pressure following the nuclear blasts in May 1998 but did not budge from its principled stand that the NPT was unequal and discriminatory. Its prejudices have become all the more blatant of late. India has been put through the wringer despite the fact that it has been acting responsibly and fulfilling all commitments of the treaty. In sharp contrast, Pakistan’s role in the proliferation of nuclear weapons is well documented and yet the US is wary of taking any action against it. Not only that, it has been rewarded handsomely for betraying its Taliban allies and joining the American ranks when it came to crunch. That is proof enough that the NPT is only a stick to beat those who do not fall in American line” (India, Ministry of External Affairs 2004).
India used the same kind of arguments to desist from signing the comprehensive test ban regime (Seethi 2009).
The term vertical proliferation was deployed by countries like India to mean the advancement and stockpiling of nuclear weapons by the ‘prestigious’ nuclear club powers. Though it was considered as one of the major challenges of the cold war era, it seldom got into the disarmament agenda of the major powers-sponsored conferences. On the contrary, the ‘horizontal proliferation’— the spread of nuclear weapons to new states—was seen as the greatest threat to humanity.
The goal of NPT, in effect, became an instrument to monitor the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) only. The aim was essential to prevent the possible chances of new states developing nuclear weapons or acquiring the nuclear weapons from the nuclear weapon states (NWS). This is basically the task and the very focus of the treaty. Naturally, the NPT regime generated criticisms from the NNWS that such a methodology is patently discriminatory and limited in the scope.
Questions have been asked why the five ‘recognized’ NWS are exempted from IAEA scrutiny. Likewise, though the NPT acknowledges ‘peaceful’ use of nuclear technology, it doesn’t have any instrument to find out if that the States who possess it will only be using it for peaceful purposes. The classic example is Israel, a country which avowedly opposed the NPT regime, yet it has been shielded by the West for obvious strategic reasons. Pakistan has also been given ‘exemptions’ during the cold war era, even relaxing the US regulations.
During the 2000 Review Conference, many countries called for the universality of the Treaty, stressing the need to reinforce its implementation. The States that had remained on the fringes of the NPT should accede to the Treaty and renounce the use of nuclear weapons, they said. The Syrian representative said that now that all the Middle Eastern States were parties to the NPT, it was alarming that Israel still stood alone in its continued non-compliance with the Treaty. Syria had been the first state to call for an area free of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Critics said that it
…was no longer a secret that the Treaty had never been the ideal non-discriminatory document hoped for at its drafting. The articles of the NPT did not even slow the proliferation of nuclear weapons, let alone put an end to it. While it was a legitimate right of both nuclear and non-nuclear States to have access to nuclear power for peaceful uses, double standards were clearly being applied. The Exporter States of nuclear power placed many obstacles in the way of non-nuclear States. At the same time, they supplied advanced technology to Israel, enabling that country to develop and possess sophisticated military equipment. Such practices were in violation of the NPT (United Nations 2000).
Even a small state like the Maldives said that all States parties had a moral obligation to make sure that each and every article of the Treaty was observed unconditionally and without any exceptions. The Treaty could not achieve its objectives without the firm and unwavering commitment of all the nuclear-weapon States, which should provide unconditional and legally binding security assurances to the non-nuclear-weapon States.
It was necessary to refrain from nuclear sharing for military purposes, under any kind of security arrangements (United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs 2000). Concerns of the NNWS are quite genuine. According to the UN estimates, there are nearly 22,000 nuclear weapons in the world today stockpiled by the NWS as well as undeclared countries like Israel (United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs 2018).
According to Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,
At the beginning of 2018, the US Defense Department maintained an estimated stockpile of 4,000 nuclear warheads for delivery by more than 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft. Since September 2009, when the United States announced that the nuclear arsenal contained 5,113 warheads, the stockpile has decreased by 1,113. The most recent cut was announced in January 2017 by Joe Biden, then the vice president, who said the stockpile as of September 2016 had included 4,018 warheads (Kristensen and Norris 2018a).
As of early 2018, Kristensen and Norris estimated that,
“Russia has a stockpile of roughly 4,350 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces. Of these, roughly 1,600 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases, while another 920 strategic warheads are in storage along with about 1,830 non-strategic warheads. In addition to the military stockpile for operational forces, a large number – perhaps almost 2,500 – of retired but still largely intact warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total inventory of more than 6,850 warheads (Kristensen and Norris 2018b).
If one adds the number of weapons in the hands of the other NWS, including non-compliant states like Israel, India, and Pakistan, it will reach 22,000 or even more. How safe is the world in the post-Trump-Kim Summit!
The scenario of the nuclear madness is not limited to the ‘horizontal’ sphere of the world. The issue of legitimacy of countries (the so-called NPT-compliant states) that continue to possess and modernize nuclear weapons also needs to be reviewed. The ‘vertical’ proliferation is as important as the ‘horizontal’ spread.
Even the withdrawal provision of NPT makes the Treaty a weak instrument. While the Treaty makes it mandatory for the NNWS to refrain from developing and acquiring the nuclear weapons, it also allows the signatories to withdraw if the treaty is somehow undermining their strategic interest. North Korean experience is a case in point.
All these ambiguities and patently prejudiced methodology of NPT call for a serious review and amendment of its provisions. This has been the demand of many NWS and NNWS as well. The existing regime only reflects (and tends to serve) the imperialists’ interests. The US and European powers are basically afraid of losing their hegemony with a new Asian century setting to herald. The NPT regime can make a positive impact if only it stands on its commitment to universal disarmament. If it still sustains a discriminatory regime, the ideals of a peaceful world free from arms race will remain a distant dream.
- IAEA (2018): “Basics of IAEA Safeguards,” International Atomic Energy Agency, (accessed on 17 June 2018).
India, Ministry of External Affairs (2004): “Unequal NPT, 9 October,” Kaplan, Morton (1969): Macropolitics, Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.
- Kristensen, Hans M. and Robert S. Norris (2018a): “Nuclear Notebook, United States nuclear forces, 2018,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 5 March.
- Kristensen, Hans M. and Robert S. Norris (2018b): “Nuclear Notebook, Russian nuclear forces, 2018,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 30 April.
- Seethi, K.M. (2005/2009): “India’s CTBT Policy: From the Text to the Testing Times,” in Rajen Harshe and K.M. Seethi (eds.), Engaging with the World: Critical Reflections on India’s Foreign Policy, New Delhi: Orient Longman/Orient Blackswan.
- United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs (2018): “Nuclear Weapons”
- United Nations (2000): “NPT ‘not the ideal non-discriminatory document hoped for, Syria asserts as review conference continues,” 26 April.
- United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs (2000): Final Report of the 2000 Review Conference, (accessed on 17 June 2018).
- United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs (1968): “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” (accessed on 17 June 2018).