11 May 2010, No. 7

Unsustainable asymmetry
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will

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As the second week started and Main Committees II and III took up their work, discussions mostly concerned issues of non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In Main Committee II, the discussions primarily focused on IAEA safeguards and compliance with non-proliferation obligations. Many western states argued that an additional protocol should be the new standard for the safeguard system that non-nuclear weapon states are obliged to accept under article III. While the widely accepted safeguard standard currently consists of a comprehensive safeguards agreement, Australia argued that the safeguard system is “evolutionary in character” and that an additional protocol is needed in order to address the problem of undeclared nuclear activities.

This view is contested by many states from the NAM. Venezuela's delegate argued, any additional requirements of the safeguard system will be a reinterpretation of the NPT and its obligations. Adding the additional protocol as the new standard is seen as unjust by many non-nuclear weapon states. The Brazilian delegation emphasized that it’s simply not fair to expect non-nuclear weapon states to implement stronger verification measures, while the international community has yet to be presented with a timeframe within which to expect the achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons. Iran's delegation argued that as long as nuclear weapon states have not fully complied with their obligations under article VI of the NPT, acceptance of additional legal obligations are unjustified.

In Main Committee III, aside from peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the issue of withdrawal was discussed. The delegations of Japan, the EU, Canada, and the US all discussed appropriate actions to take when faced with withdrawal “and its consequences”.  However, the Egyptian delegation expressed concern with attempts to restrict the right to withdraw from the treaty, noting that calls to impose selective considerations as a precondition for nuclear cooperation and calls to restrict the right of withdrawal emanate from the same sources.

These tensions are illustrative of the broader concern many non-nuclear weapon states have about the NPT: that it is imbalanced and unjust. Many of the challenges facing the NPT today arise from double standards applied in implementing the Treaty. While enhancing safeguards would be a useful contribution to preventing new states from acquiring nuclear weapons, the lack of concrete and measurable disarmament from nuclear weapon states, instances of the major powers and allies engaging in nuclear technology trade with non-parties to the NPT, continued reliance on nuclear weapons for national security as well as nuclear sharing within NATO and extended nuclear deterrence, create the perception of imbalance of both obligations and implementation of those obligations.

In Main Committee III, France's delegation talked about civil nuclear energy as potential “cement of a new international solidarity” and argued that the NPT, “a vector of a shared project for peace, mutual development and shared prosperity, is the cornerstone of this nuclear solidarity”. But at the same time, in Main Committee II, France's delegation argued that civil nuclear cooperation with countries who do not comply with their obligations should be suspended. The Iranian delegation pointed out that such obligations did not seem to matter in nuclear cooperation deals with non-NPT states. It argued, “the growth of US-Israeli nuclear cooperation and a recent decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have shown being a non-party to the NPT is more privileged and even being awarded by western countries.” These double standard do not only affect the willingness of non-nuclear weapon states to strengthen non-proliferation commitments in the NPT context: the NSG exception for India is currently used by Pakistan in the Conference on Disarmament as an argument to prevent the start of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.

Proliferation of nuclear weapons is a serious threat to international peace and security and an obstacle to our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. However, increased inspections cannot be the sole method of preventing such threats. Without addressing the reason for states seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, we can never guarantee that they would not try. By continuing to rely on nuclear weapons for national security, nuclear weapon states effectively emphasize that such weapons are useful tools in international politics. And by continuing to provide nuclear technologies to India and Israel, they implicitly emphasize that it is more advantageous to remain outside the NPT than under increasing obligations as a non-nuclear weapon state.

Brazil noted that the inherent asymmetry is dangerous and unsustainable in the long run. These are serious issues and states parties must adequately address such double standards and restore confidence in the NPT.


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