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A Complex Negotiation for the Global Nuclear Order 

Diario La Nación, ArgentinaUN Security Council
Irma Arguello

14 June 2010 I Link to the article (Spanish)

The Weapons of the Final War

The Complex Negotiation of the Global Nuclear Order While the crisis in the Eurozone, the conflict between the two Koreas and other high-profile news attracted international attention, a few days ago, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, one hundred and eighty-nine states parties to the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) review, as every five years, the foundations of the global nuclear order in its three aspects: disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses.

By original design, the NPT is based on a delicate balance between progressive disarmament commitments by the five recognized nuclear weapons states: the United States, Russia, France, United Kingdom and China (also permanent members of UN Security Council) and other States, committed to never develop such weapons. In the latter case, the obvious asymmetry is intended to be softened by the recognition the "inalienable right" to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including the development of sensitive dual technologies, such as the uranium enrichment (which is also used to produce material for nuclear weapons).

In this security architecture, called the regime of disarmament and nonproliferation, intrinsic vulnerabilities have increased over time, in parallel with the increase in global nuclear risks. Overcoming these vulnerabilities is now the real challenge. Although described as flawed and discriminatory, and in the absence of an instrument that could overcome such its weaknesses, the NPT provides the main framework for further nuclear predictability and, therefore, offers more security than other scenario with absence of rules.

A critical vulnerability of the system is the lack of universality, with three States who never joined: India, Pakistan and Israel, and one, North Korea, who withdrew in 2003. All these nations are known to possess nuclear weapons (though Israel has refused to confirm or deny it). In order to join the Treaty, and because of its nature, these states should give up their nuclear weapons, something very unlikely to happen, at least, in the geopolitical conditions expected in the short- and medium-term.

The fact that these nations do not need to follow the international rules of the game generates almost insurmountable difficulties. A recent example is Israel's immediate refusal to the decision for convening a conference in 2012 to set groundwork to make Middle East a nuclear weapons free zone (as the Tlatelolco Treaty does for Latin America and the Caribbean), thereby, the advances of such significant proposal seems remote.

It is a priority to develop negotiation mechanisms to include, somehow, the states outside the NPT into the collective efforts to reduce nuclear risks. In this sense, the international community needs to find alternative forums to integrate into the discussion all relevant actors' interests, without distinction, such as the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, where a treaty banning the production of fissile materials (uranium and plutonium) for weapons purposes is being negotiated.

Harmonizing and balancing efforts in disarmament and nonproliferation is another important challenge. And at this point there are no innocents. Both nuclear and non nuclear weapon states claim the other group debts on their commitments. The almost moral dilemma for states is whether they may indulge themselves with proliferating attitudes because they perceive others’ poor compliance, when it is desirable that every part do right, rising above mutual distrust that leads to the arms race, and therefore, achieving an equitable system based on cooperation and reciprocity.

In recent times world leaders -with President Obama heading the list- used much rhetoric to give their support for the goal of progressive nuclear disarmament, and admitting the complexity of the process. Now, it is time to turn ideas into facts. Nevertheless, there exists a great controversy and a hard negotiation in the nuclear weapons states, as the "nuclear weapons establishment" refuses to lose ground. For that reason, and although having been announced repeatedly, Obama administration has not yet achieved the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the US Senate. Even so, the new START agreement between the United States and Russia to secure further reductions in strategic nuclear arsenals, is an encouraging sign.

Regarding the nonproliferation side, there is still much to do. Some nations are still reluctant to accept the comprehensive safeguards regime, in other words, to put their facilities under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Other nations refuse to admit more intrusive mechanisms of verification derived from the adherence to the Additional Protocol. Such is the case of Argentina and Brazil. And both countries, tied by strong bilateral links and an excellent relation in nuclear matters, should give themselves the opportunity for a conscious joint debate, with the participation of the societies, about the reasons and implications of the non-adherence to this tool that the Agency assesses as key to offer reasonable guarantees of non peaceful activities.

The key is, then, to achieve effective mechanisms from the international community to prevent proliferation. A complex issue is Iran's uranium enrichment program where transgressions have been duly proven. And here there is a clash between two substantially different approaches: the diplomacy of sanctions of increasing severity, including the explicit ban on continuing the enrichment activities. This line is supported by the five permanent members of the Security Council and its allies. On the other hand, the diplomacy of persuasion promoted by countries like Brazil and Turkey, both non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, who seek to open alternative paths for the conflict resolution.

Up to now, neither the first approach (as from 2006 four sanctions were imposed with no positive result) nor the second one (at least as was applied in the Brazil, Turkey and Iran’s Tripartite Agreement, by the way a political victory of the latter that may be even favorable to its plans) have been effective to stop the advance of the Islamic State toward the nuclear weapon option. This lack of diplomacy resources to stop and prevent proliferating ambitions may result catastrophic regarding the increase of regional and global risks.

In order to prevent proliferation and to promote disarmament, we should try to counteract their root causes, creating the security conditions for this to be possible.

Therefore, it is crucial the evolution of the NPT toward a new equitable and binding framework, a Nuclear Weapons Convention (like the ones for chemical and for biological weapons) able to include all parties, to put nuclear weapons out of international law for all, without any exception, and consequently to mark a clear path towards their abolition. It is important to work in that direction from now, without delay.

The perception of nuclear weapons as decisive in the strengthening of power and as a source of global prestige, shared by both nuclear-armed countries and those considering the possibility of possessing such weapons, is a typical Cold War logic, put into trial by the advent of non-state actors, and the changes in the value of deterrence. The idea of geopolitical balance achieved through new and varied nuclear-armed countries results in an intolerable global risk situation. We should become aware of these facts before a nuclear incident takes place. Hence, for everybody's interest, we need to take the opposite path.

The new paradigm to achieve a new global order without nuclear weapons should be based on transparency, on the effectiveness of verification, and on the irreversibility of progresses in both, disarmament and nonproliferation.

However, it is important to recognize that the nuclear threat will always be present, since the "knowledge" to produce nuclear weapons, because of its very nature, will never be suppressed, and we will have to live with it. © LA NACION


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