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US Wants Changes to Non-Proliferation Regime

The NYT reported on March 15 on President Bush’s efforts to modify the current nuclear non-proliferation regime. He would not change the language of the treaty, but would change how it operates. This is either timely or untimely, depending on how the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference goes in May. An NPT Review Conference is held every five years according to the terms of the treaty.

In essence Bush’s plan would bar any country from making nuclear fuel that doesn’t already make it, i.e., major world powers, although it might also exempt the backdoor nuclear powers, Israel, India and Pakistan, who are not signatories of the NPT. The article quoted the President’s statement on March 7 regarding the NPT Review Conference:

We cannot allow rogue states that violate their commitments and defy the international community to undermine the NPT’s fundamental role in strengthening international security. We must therefore close the loopholes that allow states to produce nuclear materials that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programs.

The question is whether NPT signatories will accept this change in interpretation. I doubt it. As is so often said, nations do what is in their self interest. The NPT looks the way it does, because it had to deal with a lot of trade-offs to gain acceptance, and it has gained wide acceptance — 189 signers. Bush says he is concerned about countries that might legally develop low enrichment fuel cycles for power reactors under the treaty, and then withdraw from the treaty and use their facilities to produce high enriched uranium for bombs, as the US claims North Korea has. One problem is that we don’t have good intelligence that North Korea has done this. The person who probably knows the most about it is A.Q. Khan in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government will not let us talk to him. We know he sold them some erichment equipment, but what exactly did North Korea do with it. It doesn’t help that we apparently lied to a number of countries, claiming that North Korea sold uranium to Libya, when in fact it was Pakistan that sold the uranium to them.

Bush and company say the NPT is useless as it is, because it won’t permanently prevent bad countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. But that is probably too much to ask of it. It currently serves to slow down bad countries, forces them to open up their activities to IAEA inspectors, and in the worse case, it provides a trip-wire when a country like North Korea withdraws from the treaty, thereby saying publicly that it intends to develop nuclear weapons.

What the non-proliferation regime really needs, rather than a re-interpretation of the NPT is a way to deal with the new nuclear powers that are not members of the NPT: Israel, India and Pakistan. If Iran sees that Israel has the bomb and nobody cares, why shouldn’t Iran decide that it should have the bomb, too. We need to show that we care about what happened within the non-proliferation regime that allowed these countries to develop nuclear weapons. For the US to sell F-16s to Pakistan without demanding anything in return on the nuclear side sets a very bad example. Pakistan may be helping on the terrorism issue, but in the long term, the nuclear issue may be more important, especially if terrorists get nuclear weapons.

Bush implicitly says the Pakistanis are moral giants when it comes to nuclear activities and deserve F-16s, while the Iranians are despicable devils. President Bush claims to love some Iranians, apparently the faceless men and women in the street who are believed to be struggling to overthrow the government of the mullahs. However, Bush hates the Iranians he knows, the men running the Iranian government. Nevertheless, he wants them to trust him to supply them with nuclear fuel, to provide the energy to run the country of Iran, its factories, its homes, its military facilities, one of whose missions is no doubt to repulse an American invasion like the one against their next door neighbor, Iraq. Bush’s reply to this argument is that Iran doesn’t need nuclear power, because it has all that oil. But currently, although Bush says “trust me” to sell Iran nuclear fuel for its reactors, if I were Iran, I wouldn’t trust him. It’s lack of such mutual trust that makes the NPT look like it does. Smaller countries like Iran also follow President Reagan’s dictum: “Trust but verify.”

We’ve already been down this road with Brazil, 30 years ago, when we sold Brazil and Westinghouse reactor, and then refused to sell the fuel for it. Brazil ended up buying, or trying its best to buy, a complete uranium fuel cycle from Germany.

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