Non-nuclear states challenge US on proliferation

The US defended itself May 20 against charges from states without nuclear weapons that it is failing to fulfill its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). At a month-long conference reviewing the NPT, non-nuclear states dismissed U.S. diplomats’ recitation of warhead and missile reductions. “Most of these measures date from before 2000,” Mexico’s Luis Alfonso de Alba complained to delegates, referring to the 2000 NPT conference, when the U.S. and other nuclear powers committed to “13 practical steps” to meet the treaty’s goal of eliminating atomic arms. Those steps included activation of the 1996 treaty banning all nuclear tests—a pact since rejected by the Bush administration. U.S. delegate Jackie Sanders pointed to current “alarming examples” of proliferation, referring to North Korea’s declared weapons program and U.S. allegations that Iran also plans to build atomic arms. Confronting such threats—not focusing on US—”must be the primary objective of the 2005 Review Conference,” the ambassador said.

Under the 188-nation 1970 treaty, which is reviewed every five years, those without nuclear weapons pledge not to pursue them, in exchange for a commitment by the five major nuclear powers—the US, Russia, Britain, France and China—to work towards eliminating them. A third “pillar” of the treaty is its guarantee that non-weapons states have access to peaceful nuclear technology. Iran cites this as the legal basis for its program to enrich uranium, which Bush cites as evidence of plans to produce nuclear bombs.

Sanders cited 25 disarmament “accomplishments,” including reduction of thousands of US and Russian warheads under the START treaty process since 1991. Under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, signed by the first President Bush, warheads will be reduced to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012, she noted. “The United States balances its obligations under Article VI [the NPT article on eventual disarmament] with our obligations to maintain our own security and the security of those who depend on us,” Sanders said. But Washington “is in full compliance with Article VI,” she insisted.

Others expressed skepticism, citing the steps endorsed by the 2000 conference, which also included negotiating a verifiable treaty ending production of nuclear weapons material worldwide, and reducing arms in an “irreversible” way. The Bush administration opposes verification of a bomb-material cutoff, and critics note that the Moscow Treaty is reversible, since warheads need not be destroyed, just stored away. “Unfortunately, today we see that no progress has been made in the area of those practical steps,” said Algeria’s Hamza Khelif. (AP, May 20)

See our special report by Sarah Ferguson on the NPT meeting, and the new nuclear disarmament campaign.