There could have been no more fitting and symbolic backdrop for the opening of the UN 2005 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) than the messages sent in recent days to its participants by Iran and North Korea. (The NPT came into force in 1970, and the Review Conference convenes every five years.)
Representatives of the 188 countries that are signatories to the treaty convened on Monday in the glass building in New York to discuss its future, under the shadow of the flagrant disregard by these two countries of everything it represents. On Saturday, Iran threatened to renew its enrichment of uranium once again, whereas North Korea explained its negative attitude toward U.S. President George W. Bush by stating that he was an "uncultured" man. Thus Iran and North Korea have become the most concrete proof of the bankruptcy of the treaty.
The NPT was originally designed to freeze the nuclear situation as it was in the late 1960s. Only five countries (the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and China) would have nuclear weapons, and all the others would join the treaty and thus declare that they were giving up the development of nuclear weapons. Ostensibly, it was a huge success.
No other international treaty was embraced by so many countries. But as time passed, it turned out the treaty was useful only as long as a member country had no intention of developing nuclear weapons. Countries that were determined to march on the nuclear path did so with impressive success, under the umbrella of the NPT. Iraq in the late 1970s, North Korea in the 1980s, Libya in the 1990s and Iran in recent years are all signatories to the treaty, and all of them were vigorously engaged, or are still engaged, in the development of nuclear weapons (North Korea, which two years ago announced its departure from the NPT, has apparently concluded the development as well).
Three countries (India, Pakistan and Israel) refused to join the NPT. Since then, two of them have carried out nuclear tests and have in effect joined the nuclear club, but not the NPT, and one retains the status of an "unclear" nation, which everyone agrees - as has been publicized - has in its possession impressive stockpiles of nuclear weapons. In other words, even in these two cases, the treaty did not have the power to prevent the nuclear armament of those who chose not to play by its rules. To these should be added South Africa, which developed nuclear bombs, and only in 1991 joined the treaty.
Three and a half decades after the NPT went into effect, there are still over 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Atomic bombs continue to be a central component of the military doctrine of the nuclear nations. These countries have no intention of carrying out the decision of the previous conference, in 2000, that called for a vigorous effort at total elimination of all the stockpiles of atomic weapons. The nuclear policy of the Bush administration actually reduces the possibility of promoting the attempt to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. The U.S. president refused to join the treaty to ban nuclear tests, abandoned the treaty for preventing the development of anti-missile defense systems, and called for the development of new and advanced types of nuclear weapons once again.
In light of these steps by the United States, it is clear that the chances of success for the month-long conference are not great. Its participants are so frustrated about the policy of the United States, and there is so much despair in this area, that the conference does not even have an agenda. However, the aggressive attitude of the U.S. administration, which while placing an emphasis on its own nuclear weapons, is simultaneously trying to put a stop to the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, is actually very convenient for Israel.
As a country that did not join the treaty, Israel will not be officially represented at the talks, but there is no question that its nuclear spirit will hover over the participants. Prior to the 1995 conference, Egypt tried to organize international pressure on Israel in order to force it to join the treaty, but, at the time, U.S. president Bill Clinton prevented Egypt from doing so.
Since then, the international community has come to terms with Israel's nuclear status, and therefore, we can assume that this time as well, the call on Israel, India and Pakistan to join the treaty will be a meaningless ritual. On the other hand, specialists on the subject of arms proliferation have been increasingly insistent about calling for an end to ignoring the nuclear reality, for a change in policy, and for having the three countries join the nuclear club officially. They understand that the three will not join the NPT, and therefore it is better to reach understandings with them to the effect that they will behave according to the rules of the treaty, act to improve the security arrangements for their nuclear stockpiles and participate in attempts to prevent the gradual spread of nuclear technology and equipment.
Next month, the fate of the NPT will be decided. Quite a number of those participating in the conference are convinced that the treaty in its present form has outlived its usefulness and that the time has come to formulate new rules, which will enable the international community to carry out proper supervision, to impose punishments and even to prevent additional countries from arming themselves with nuclear weapons.
Israel hopes these rules will be accepted before Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. Here they are not relying on the fact that it will be the NPT that prevents Iran from completing the development of its nuclear weapons.
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