2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a sharp reminder of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the imminent danger to humanity posed by some 17300 bombs in the world today, irrespective of the legally binding obligation of the five (officially-recognized) nuclear weapons states (U.S., Russia, China, France, and England) to take practical steps toward a total elimination of nuclear weapons, i.e., disarmament.
The failure of disarmament and the problem of spread of nuclear weapons, i.e., proliferation, will once again top the agenda of the upcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May, 2015, and it remains to be seen if any tangible progress on the pressing NPT issues will be achieved at this conference? Judging by the outcome of the three preparatory meetings since the last review conference in 2010, it is wishful thinking to expect a major breakthrough on the key issues such as disarmament, universal adherence to NPT, non-discriminatory peaceful use of nuclear energy, security assurance of nuclear-weapon states to non-nuclear weapon states, non-transfer of nuclear material to states not party to NPT, and a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
Concerning the latter, Iran and many other Middle East nations are eager to push forward the 1995 resolution that was also adopted in the Final Document of the 2000 review conference that “calls upon all states in the Middle East that have not yet do so, without exception, to accede to the Treaty as soon as possible and to place their nuclear facilities under full-scope IAEA safeguards.” This resolution is essential to the denuclearization status of the Middle East as a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ), in light of Israel’s clandestine nuclear arsenal and its stubborn refusal to join the NPT and allow the slightest nuclear transparency. A nuclear weapon-free zone strengthens the NPT and is generally regarded as a major contributor to the disarmament cause, as clearly stated by Iran’s report to the 2010 review conference (NPT/CONF2010/33).
Unfortunately, there is no indication that Israel, enjoying its nuclear monopoly in the region, will heed the call by the international community to adhere to the NPT and its safeguard IAEA requirements, which in turn raises the question of how the 2015 Review Conference can compensate for the recent derailment of the 2012 UN-sponsored Helsinki conference on a Middle East NWFZ? Lest we forget, that conference was cancelled under US pressure, with the lame excuse, given by the US official, Victoria Nuland, citing “a deep conceptual gap that persists in the region on approaches towards regional security and arms control arrangements,” and because “states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions” for the meeting. Clearly, a more constructive and flexible US approach at the coming review conference is called for, otherwise the expectation of convening the Helsinki conference any time soon will not materialize.
One way to pressure Israel to join the NPT, as a cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime, is to follow the Non-Aligned Movement’s call on all NPT states to disclose all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israel’s nuclear capabilities. Another way is to intensify the efforts to prohibit the transfer of nuclear knowledge and material to Israel as long as it remains a non-party to the NPT.
In steering the 2015 NPT Review Conference toward an iron-clad commitment to hold an international conference on a Middle East NWFZ, the Non-Aligned Movement currently chaired by Iran has a crucial role to play. In addition to its NAM position, Iran’s contribution to the conference and its outcome is underscored by the nuclear talks that have yielded an interim agreement within the framework of NPT and regulations of IAEA. In turn, this has disarmed the supporters of Israel who seek to deflect the pressures on Israel, which has been manifested at the NPT review conferences for the past 20 years. As a result, the US and other Western powers will be hard pressed to find a justification for their reluctance to back the cancelled conference on a Middle Eat NWFZ; should these powers persist in their approach by refusing to set a definite date for the conference, then a major split at the Review Conference will be inevitable.
Of course, Iran’s purpose at the upcoming NPT review conference is not to sow divisions, but rather to exert leadership and play a constructive role in building bridges, while simultaneously highlighting its own contributions to the strengthening of NPT and the importance of non-discriminatory use and access to nuclear technology. Managing the agenda of such important international conferences is an important benchmark of “global governance” that should not be “the preserve of a small group of countries,” to paraphrase the Final Declaration of the NAM Summit in Tehran in 2012. With the world divided between the nuclear haves and nuclear have-not, there is a fundamental disparity of interest and orientation that needs to be bridged if the NPT is going to have a robust prospect in the long run.
Unfortunately, since it came into existence 45 years ago, NPT has witnessed a near doubling of nuclear-armed states, even though all the current documents of NPT and its review conferences continue to limit themselves to the five original states when referring to the “nuclear-weapon states.” This malady is even apparent in the NAM statements and ‘working papers’ at the review conferences, e.g., calling on the five nuclear states to refrain from attacks or threats of attacks on the peaceful nuclear facilities of other countries, deemed contrary to international law, UN Charter, and NPT principles. This call must now be realistically extended as well to all the other four nuclear-armed states of India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, which are not NPT member states. These states should not be exempted from the demands leveled against the other five members of the ‘nuclear club’ simply by virtue of standing above the NPT’s purview. Israel in particular, given its history of war with its neighbors and threats against Iran, should be brought within the NPT’s radar and forced to comply with its legally-binding pledges and commitments.
In addition to the above-said, Iran with its example of the recent Geneva “Joint Plan of Action” which recognizes Iran’s right to a nuclear fuel cycle, has an important role in terms of pushing the NAM-led idea that concerns related to proliferation should not be used as an excuse to impose undue restrictions on the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology and the related rights enjoyed by the states under Article 4 of the NPT. Thus, the 2015 NPT Review Conference can be an important forum to highlight the importance of the Iran nuclear agreement for the broader community of developing nations, whose representatives at the review conferences are often heard lamenting such restrictions under the excuse of “sensitive technology.”
The only way to ensure the proper (peaceful) use of “dual-track” nuclear technology is by strengthening the IAEA, as the sole legitimate authority for verifying compliance of member states with their NPT obligations. As is well-known however, IAEA is not immune from ‘politicization’ and one of its problems has been selective attention to cases of “non-compliance” and also failure to protect the confidentiality of all information given to the agency by the member states about their nuclear activities. The 2015 NPT Review Conference is another occasion to re-affirm the importance of IAEA’s objectivity and confidentiality of its access to sensitive country information.
Finally, at a time when the US Congress is plotting further unilateral sanctions against Iran, both Iran and other NAM countries should seize the moment at the 2015 NPT Review Conference to campaign against unilateral sanctions, particularly those that are invoked in the name of strengthening the NPT yet in fact undercut the NPT-based approaches to counter-proliferation, e.g., by adding to the vulnerabilities of a target state that may resort to a ‘nuclear shield’ to defend itself. There is a fundamental incompatibility between unilateral sanctions and the NPT that has so far remained hidden and needs to be fleshed out at the coming conference.