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Home > News > The Gulf War II > Report

NPT falling apart, warns non-proliferation expert

Ramananda Sengupta in Mumbai | March 17, 2003 20:23 IST

While India, Pakistan and Israelgoing nuclearwas regrettable, it did not have the same consequences for world order as similar acts by Iraq's Saddam Hussein and North Korea's KimJong Il would, non-proliferation expert Scott D Sagan said.

Sagan,professor of political science and co-director of the Centre for International Security and Cooperation in Stanford University, was addressing a round-table conference at the American Centre in Mumbailast week.

According toSagan (no relation of the late astronomer Carl Sagan), the two main problems on the nuclear non-proliferation agenda are the unravelling ofthe Non-Proliferation Treaty and the increasing risk of nuclear terrorism.

When the NPT came into forcein 1970, two huge bargains were made, he explained. The firstwas among non-nuclear states."Believing that they would be worse off if they and their neigbours acquired nuclear weapons, but fearing that they wouldn't know whether their neighbours were getting such weapons, they signed an agreement that constrained them in exchange for constraints ontheir neighbours," he said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's role was to provide verification so that non-nuclear states knewtheir neighbours were not getting nuclear weapons.

"The second part of that deal," he continued, "was an agreement between the nuclear states and the non-nuclear states. Under article 6 of the NPT, the nuclear states agreed to work in good faith towards the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons."

Boththese bargains, hesaid, are in "grave danger" ofunravelling today.

In 1995, when the NPT was extended in perpetuity,the US government agreed that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treatywould be a legitimate piece of evidence that the nuclear states were workingtowards the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. "Unfortunately theSenate did not ratify the agreement that the executive arm of the admimistration had passed," Sagan noted."We set a standard for that goal, but we have not kept our side of that bargain."

He warned that if the US does indeed resume nuclear testing,"it would violate the spirit of the NPT andencourage a number of other states to start their testing programmes, this country [India] included."

"The other part of the [NPT] bargain, that non-nuclear states agree that they willlet inspectors in, that they will not build nuclear weapons,is also unravelling in front of our eyes," hepointed out.

This is where the fundamental difference betweenIsrael, Indian and Pakistan on one side and Iraq, Iran and North Korea on the other lies. The nuclear programmes of the first three, he pointed out, did not violate the NPT because none of themhad signed the treaty. So whilenon-proliferationists regrettedthose acts, there was nothing illegal about them.

But the nuclearprogrammes of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea,Iraq and Iran constitute violations of a treaty that they have signed, and therefore have a far worse impact in terms of setting a precedent for others.

"DPRK was caught [in 1994] taking nuclear materials out of the reactor at Pyongyang,"Sagan pointed out, "and they were caught, in my judgement, in a very difficult and clever set of diplomatic carrots and military sticks.DPRK then agreed to the so-called Agreed Framework, saying that it would freeze its programmes in Pyongyang, and they would not take further rods out."

Experts believe that spent fuel enough for at least twoweapons hadbeen taken outby then, but there was no sign thatNorth Korea had weaponised, or tested. "They agreed to freeze itin exchange for a long-term commitment from the US and its partners in South Korea and elsewhere that we would supply light-water reactors and an energy grid," he explained.

But that dealalso fell through. "Moreover, they were caught cheating yet one more time with a different programme. They put in place a uranium enrichment programme, rather than a plutonium programme, using centrifuges thatUS intelligence agencies believe were acquired from Pakistan in exchange for missiles."

The Bush administration, Sagan said, had not handled the situation well."Rather than providing carrots, and if the carrots don't work, the threat of sticks, the administration threatened sticks way too early." Bush calling North Korea a part of the 'axis of evil', saying that he personally loathes Kim Jong Il, "poured cold water on the South Korean efforts to have a sunshine policy to improve relations," he said.

Such statements, while understandable, only hardened the position of the North Koreans.

The goal, Sagan said, must be to keepNorth Korea nuclear-free. Otherwise, the more hawkish elements inSouth Korea, Japan, and maybe Taiwan willbe encouraged to follow suit.

In West Asia,Iraq was caught cheating on the NPT after the 1991 war. But there, the UN inspections regimeworked quite wellon the nuclear side,though not so well with respect to the biological and chemical weapons programmes. Sagan said there is "limited controversial evidence" that the Iraqis have resumed their nuclear programme, and stronger evidence on the chemical and biological weapons programmes.

But "regardless of what you think about the mix of diplomacy vs force that should be used against Iraq", if Iraq is permitted to keep its weapons of mass destruction, it will fuel an arms race in the region, he warned. "The spread of nuclear weapons occurs when one state fears that its neighbours might have them... at least that's one primary motive... and you already have that in Iran, increased nuclear activity... they fear that if they fought a war with Iraq, it would use chemical weapons against them. They have no illusions that an Iraq with nuclear weapons will pose a grave threat to Teheran."

"Think about other states in the region," he continued. "Saudi Arabia, which was threatened with an invasion in '91; Syria, which has great rivalries. Neitherhas an active nuclear programme today, but unless there's a resolution to the current crisis that disarms Iraq in a credible way, those states too will have to consider nuclear programmes."

Then there's the related issue of nuclear terrorism. Until September 11, many American specialists on terrorism believed in the theory that terrorists just want a lot of people watching, they don't want a lot of people killed. "Today," Sagan said, "I think we know that there are some terrorists who'd be happy to have a lot of people killed."

In this context, there are twoworrisome typesof terrorist groups. One isthe so-called millennarian terrorist organisations,who think the world is going to end and it is their job to hasten the process, like the Aum Shinrikyo sect thatreleasedSarin gas in a Tokyo subway.

"The second group that I am worried about isthose who want a lot of people killed and a lot of people watching, the jihadi terrorists. Who would like to see revolutions occur in a number of states in South Asia and the Middle East, and they think that revolutions are more likely if American troops are involved in killing a lot of Muslims."

Saganbelieves Osama bin Laden anticipated the American attack on Afghanistan after September 11."As former national security adviser Sandy Berger put it in an article,the real twin towers Osama bin Laden was trying to bring down were the governments in Riyadh and Islamabad. And bringing down the American twin towers was a way to achieve that end."

Laden's plans were derailed, however, because the war in Afghanistan has gone quite well for the Americans. Sagan hopes the suspected terrorist mastermindwill similarly be wrong about the effects of a war in Iraq."If there are large-scale Iraqi citizens killed by the United States, I think it would have a devastating effect in a number of Muslim and even non-Muslim countries. So it's crucial that this war, if it occurs, be conductedin a way that reduces collateral damage."

What can we do to reduce the risks of terrorism? The first thingis to reduce the likelihood ofweapons of mass destruction instates that have the potential togive them to terrorists, orthepotential tobe seized by terrorists. Second,to dedicate ourselves as nuclear statestoeven more stringent measures to secureour weapons.

"September 11 was way beyond the criteriawe had set," Sagan said. "So the US is redesigning its threat criteria, spending enormous amounts of money to figure out how to ensure that trucks taking nuclear material from one place to anotherdo not get hijacked, to ensure that a nuclear weapons storage site or a nuclear weapons dismantling plant is not attacked, to reduce the likelihood that insiders -- that's somebody with responsibilities in this area -- does not harbour jihadi sympathies or very far-rightChristian militia tendencies, or someone who is so desperate personally that they think they can sell it without getting caught."

On Iraq, hispreferred solution would be similar to the one used during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. "We thought we saw someone doing something that was a grave problem to our security and threatened to use military force. We said you have to get rid of all those weapons, because if you don't we will invade."

It came perilously close to war. But a last-minutesolution was worked out,there was an agreement to withdraw all the missiles, andan inspections regime,not too intrusive, was put in place."In exchange,though we didn't like Fidel Castro, we said we will promise that we won't invade and remove you from office."

But for such a solution to be possible, the US will have to reconcile itself to the ideaofseeing Saddam remainin power.

Only if this option fails, andthe effort todisarm Iraqthrough UN inspections alsofails,should force be used, Sagan said. "But my view of the last resort is further down and bit more last than the current president's assessment."

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Number of User Comments: 6

Sub: NPT

The main issue is Old imperial POwers wanted to retain Nuclear Weapons as a status symbol. NPT was a cleverly invented subterfuge in the name ...

Posted by cs Rangaraj

Sub: Failure of NPT and CTBT

I feel the failure of NPT and CTBT is due the one main reason that is the hypocracy of powerful countries. They want to be ...

Posted by mohanty

Sub: NPT

what about the third terrorist group led by Bush??? It is the most dangerous group for the world at present.

Posted by Shabi Hashmi

Sub: Arms race in middle east

M.Sagan, The arms race is mid-east is due to the continuous pumping of arms and money into Israel from your country. If that stops, mid-east ...

Posted by Ravi

Sub: Good assesment and sensible.

I feel the assesment of Mr.Sagan is pretty accurate and sensible. The present President of the U.S. is much too rash and trigger-happy. He has ...

Posted by Prasad



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