Is a Key Element of the NPT Dead?

Jul 13, 2010

 

By Oliver Bloom
 
A key element of the nuclear bargain enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (and supplemented by the policies of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group) concerns the NPT’s Article IV provisions that permit the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology to signatories, providing that they are in line with their treaty obligations. The Article IV provisions are an obvious carrot offered by the nuclear states to the non-nuclear states to reward them for not pursuing nuclear weapons program of their own. As Marvin Miller and Lawrence Scheinman explained back in 2003,
 
permitting the transfer of nuclear technology on this basis [to non-NPT states], even if coupled with their endorsement and implementation of rigorous export control arrangements such as the NSG guidelines, as some advocate, would blur the distinction between NPT parties and nonparties and thus undermine the treaty. In the case of the United States (and other major nuclear suppliers), such a trade-off would contradict national law and the NSG guidelines that require acceptance of full-scope safeguards as a condition for nuclear technology transfer. For this reason, such a trade-off is not prudent.
 
Recent events, however, begin to call into question the viability of this bargain. As the Council on Foreign Relations detailed following the 2005 Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, the exchange of civilian nuclear technology from a NPT-signatory to a non-NPT state could
 
gut the agreement, some experts say. Article I of the treaty says nations that possess nuclear weapons agree not to help states that do not possess weapons to acquire them. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says without additional measures to ensure a real barrier exists between India's military and civilian nuclear programs, the agreement "could pose serious risks to the security of the United States" by potentially allowing Indian companies to proliferate banned nuclear technology around the world. In addition, it could lead other suppliers-including Russia and China-to bend the international rules so they can sell their own nuclear technology to other countries, some of them hostile to the United States.
 
The New York Times described how
 
many experts on proliferation have been critical of the arrangement, saying it rewards India for defying the basic underlying philosophy of the treaty, which is that only countries that forswear nuclear arms can get help with their nuclear energy needs.
 
William Potter at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies has a excellent, more detailed piece explaining how the deal reverses decades of U.S. nonproliferation policy and suggests that the United States now
 
            Regards nuclear proliferation to be both inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing.
 
While the IAEA Board of Governors approved the safeguards agreements, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group ultimately granted India a waiver, as the Acronym Institute explains,
 
The US-India deal attracted enormous criticism internationally and within both countries after it was announced on 18 July 2005….Spearheaded by the United States, the NSG developed at this time to establish rules for nuclear commerce that would encourage the peaceful uses of nuclear energy but restrict access to countries that held open military nuclear options and did not join the NPT.
 
While critics warned that the U.S.-India nuclear deal could undermine the fragile bargain of the NPT and lead to further nuclear technology transfers between NPT and non-NPT states, proponents argued that it was more essential to bring India into the nonproliferation and inspection fold. Such arguments may be meaningless, however, if such circumvention of the NPT bargain to strengthen oversight and nonproliferation ultimately leads only to further proliferation.
 
And while there was no immediate degradation of NPT norms following the U.S.-India deal, it appears there are more and more cracks in the wall. As Anna Newby and Sarah Bulley detailed on the PONI blog, China has recently agreed to help Pakistan construct two nuclear reactors, despite Pakistan’s position outside the NPT. While China has sought a NSG exemption for the deal, just like that the United States sought for India a few years ago, nothing emerged from last month’s Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting. Although the NSG hasn’t given Pakistan an exemption, there are no signs that the China-Pakistan has halted.
 
As for the future of the NPT bargain, Howard LaBranchi at the Christian Science Monitor noted how U.S. opposition to the China-Pakistan deal would certainly be hypocritical. He elaborates:
 
But some nuclear nonproliferation experts say the US opened the door to deals like China’s by pursuing a deal with India that will provide nuclear materials and technology to a country that is a non-signatory of the NPT and thus outside international inspection requirements. “Two wrongs make a wrong, but it was to be expected once we made the case for an exemption [for the US-India deal],” says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington….But Sokolski says that sooner or later the US, which wants China’s cooperation on other issues like Iran, will still be faced with the repercussions of the US-India nuclear agreement. “The Chinese will back off for the moment to prevent embarrassment,” he says. “But in the long run the problem will persist, and when it comes back around I fear we will roll.”
 
What’s more, Canada, Australia and now Japan have all followed in the United States’ footsteps, each planning their own nuclear cooperation agreements with India. While these agreements haven’t come with any moves by India to expand its nuclear weapons program, it goes without saying that the more international support India garner’s for its civilian nuclear enterprise, the more domestic resources are freed up that could be diverted to nuclear weapons programs. 
 
Not to be left out in the cold, Israel seems equally interested in expanding its civilian nuclear sector as well. In largely ignored reports last week, Ha’aretz cited Israeli Army Radio reports that
 
the United States has sent Israel a secret document committing to nuclear cooperation between the two countries
 
that
 
could put Israel on a par with India, another NPT holdout which is openly nuclear-armed but in 2008 secured a U.S.-led deal granting it civilian nuclear imports.  
 
Although the United States has denied such reports, Eurasia Review reports that
 
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced the agreement calling it a "breakthrough" and includes a "clear recognition of Israel as very, very responsible and reliable with regard to nuclear technologies."
 
Regardless of the particular details of any secret U.S.-Israel nuclear deal, the carrot of the NPT seems to have rotted. Countries no longer need to be signatories of the NPT to enjoy the benefits for their civilian nuclear programs. While parties to any nuclear agreement between NPT and non-NPT states will be sure to elaborate on the strong historical record of the non-NPT state, it nevertheless remains obvious that as long as would-be proliferators are willing to endure a certain period of international isolation for their nuclear programs, ultimately the financial and strategic interests of NPT member states trump any desire to enforce NPT norms.
 
While there are no more likely non-NPT signatories that could enjoy civilian nuclear deals in the future (now that India, Pakistan and Israel all have them, only North Korea remains out in the cold—and surely isn’t likely to sign a civilian nuclear agreement anytime soon), one still must wonder whether states currently without nuclear weapons programs but with civilian nuclear energy programs may decide in the near future that they’d rather have both. In the case of India, Pakistan and Israel, apparently they can.