Moscow conference on nuclear proliferation generates heated debate
In May, the 189 signatory states of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather in Washington to reaffirm their obligations to continue the fight against nuclear proliferation.
As a prelude to that conference, delegates have assembled in Moscow for a chance to review and discuss the issues of non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of the nuclear technology, which are sometimes referred to as the main pillars of the NPT.
The NPT was signed into force on March 5, 1970.
Four non-signatories to the treaty are known to possess nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan and North Korea have tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel, which refuses to go public with its nuclear status, is generally believed to have nuclear weapons.
“The conference that is going on now in Moscow is a non-governmental conference, but it has united a lot of important people who may influence decisions by governments and decisions by the conference in favor of non-proliferation and nuclear arms control,” Roland Timerbaev, Former Russian and Soviet Ambassador who took part in drafting of the NPT, told RT.
According to Timerbaev, there is no need to draft a new proliferation treaty. The current treaty has been successfully updated to meet the new realities, but there are some new challenges that should be taken into account.
“Overall, the world has become a safer place, but there are very many challenges to security both global and regional,” Timerbaev added.
William Potter, from the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies in the U.S, is also in Moscow as a participant in the conference. He believes that many countries have the potential to join the nuclear club, but the question is whether they have the will and the incentive to do it.
Potter stresses the importance of the NPT, which has proved to be a potent “disincentive for countries to translate their potential into reality.”
In this respect, the upcoming 2010 MPT review conference in May is extremely important, he added, especially as the question of Iran possibly acquiring nuclear weapons is of growing concern.
“If… the states-parties are able to reinvigorate the treaty and to demonstrate practical steps toward disarmament, [and demonstrate] that we can address the problems in the Middle East, that we can deal with peaceful use and compliance, then the treaty will be strengthened, that it will be less likely for more countries to pursue nuclear weapons,” Potter told RT.
Meanwhile, the greatest risk concerning nuclear technology comes from the danger of terrorists getting hold of the weapons, Potter adds.
In this respect, he sees two major threats. The first is that terrorists can acquire fissile material that can be converted into an improvised nuclear device; second, they may seize an operational nuclear weapon, such as a tactical nuclear weapon.
“It’s imperative for all countries to take steps to secure fissile material, particularly in the civilian nuclear sector,” Potter stresses. “But also for the nuclear weapon states, in particular for the US and Russia, to reduce their arsenals and particularly to make progress in reducing so-called tactical weapons, the smallest kinds of weapons that would be the nuclear weapons of choice for terrorists”
Finally, Potter concludes that the NPT has done a lot for global safety, but in order for it to continue to be successful requires will, commitment and flexibility on the part of all parties involved.
“The test of commitment and flexibility for states will come in May during the month-long MPT-review conference,” he concludes.
Pakistan has nuclear weapons, but is not a signatory to the NPT, and this fuels international concern, especially taking into account Pakistan’s long standoff with India.
In the opinion of Naeem Salik, advisor from Pakistan’s National Defense University, the NPT regime has been generally successful in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Naeem Salik says that Pakistan is fully aware of the consequences of nuclear war and there is absolutely no possibility of such a catastrophic event happening.
Salik told RT that fears from the international community that terrorists may seize nuclear weapons inside of Pakistan are “overblown and exaggerated” because all of the necessary security measures have been taken to prevent terrorists from getting hold of nuclear arms. He also said that people should not be afraid that the peaceful use of nuclear energy can pose any danger to the world’s security.
“Nuclear energy is making a come-back especially after people got concerned about the environmental issues,” Salik told RT. “I think, we should not prevent countries from seeking nuclear energy, and particularly countries like Pakistan who have plans to multiply their nuclear energy potential about 10 to 12 times and would definitely be looking for cooperation from more advanced nuclear countries."
In order to support the non proliferation of nuclear weapons, it is important US and Russia continue with their nuclear arms reduction, says Mark Smith, program director of Wilton Park conference forum.
”It is very important for two reasons,” Smith says. “The first reason is simply that there are more nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia than in the rest of the world put together and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is…based on the fact that nuclear arms states will reduce and eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”
“Another reason is simply the technological verification techniques that are developed between them can be applied elsewhere so there is transferable knowledge developed between this two that could be applicable in other cases,” Smith added.
Konstantin von Eggert, Royal Institute of International Relations agrees that the NPT played an important historic role during the Cold War, but now that it is possible to find the recipe for the nuclear bomb on-line, the NPT treaty needs to go further.
Indeed, the countries that present the greatest concern for the international community are outside of the non-proliferation regime. This is exactly the issue that is being discussed in Moscow with the Iranian representatives.
“Most experts here agree that it is probably the last chance to implement sanctions as an effective pressure tool,” Von Eggert says. “And probably after that we’ll be looking into a very uncertain future that does not exclude military action against Iran on the part of some states.”
Speaking about the future of the NPT, he told RT that one of the main points being discussed is how to make the treaty more binding, how to make leaving it more difficult and providing incentive for countries to stay within the regime.
“NPT is something that is, strictly speaking, voluntary, and when countries’ national interests perceive to clash with any treaty, countries leave the treaty and go their own way,” says Konstantin von Eggert.
“It’s always the question of national interests and national security that in the end prevails,” he concluded.