Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is now woefully inadequate as a tool to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is now woefully inadequate as a tool to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century

Two weeks ago, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear programme was agreed upon in Vienna. The agreement seeks to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, and commits Iran to destroying 98 per cent of its stockpile of enriched uranium. This is a hopeful development that should be welcomed by all peace-loving peoples.

Although, as President Obama correctly stated, the deal is not built on trust but on verification, and we must wait to see how all the commitments are adhered to, at the very least, the agreement has put off for now a potentially disastrous nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East.

The comprehensive nature of the Iran nuclear agreement, which took into account the overall security and economic interests of a potential nuclear-armed country, and which involved the active participation in negotiations of all the major powers, can also serve as a model for disarmament negotiations with nuclear-armed states such as North Korea.

Almost exactly 70 years ago, the only two atomic weapons ever used in wartime struck the urban centres of Hiroshima on August 6 then Nagasaki three days later. Over 160,000 people perished. Thankfully no nuclear weapon has been used in warfare since. However, the number of nuclear weapons in existence has risen tremendously since then, and the increase over the past 70 years in the number of countries that possess nuclear-weapon stockpiles, from one to nine, continues to cause concern.

In addition, according to the civil society watchdog Nuclear Threat Initiative, over two-dozen nations have weapons-grade nuclear material, and there is nearly 2,000 tonnes of it - enough to make thousands of bombs as powerful as the one used on Hiroshima. The dangerous materials are stored in hundreds of different sites around the world, both military and civilian locations, where security is sometimes minimal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has revealed that more than 100 incidents of theft are reported each year involving nuclear materials. In 2007, for example, gunmen broke into a nuclear research centre in South Africa that had enough weapons-grade uranium to build several nuclear bombs. The threat of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorist groups therefore remains very real.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT, has remained the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime since its inception in 1969. However, looking at the nuclear programmes in North Korea, in the Middle East, and in South Asia, the NPT is evidently woefully out of date.

At its inception, it represented a bargain between the five nuclear-armed states at the time - the US, UK, USSR, China and France - and the rest of the countries without nuclear weapons.

The non-nuclear-armed states promised not to build Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). In return, they would be given the complex and state-of-the-art technological capabilities, know-how and materials to freely build civilian nuclear programmes. The other side of the bargain was that the "Big Five" promised to dismantle their nuclear weapons at some time in the future.

Now, unfortunately, this original bargain has become out-of-date and irrelevant.

Non-nuclear-armed states have frequently sought to build WMDs in contravention of the NPT. Libya, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Israel, India and Pakistan never joined. Other countries stay within the bounds of the NPT by constructing the components for a nuclear weapon without assembling it. They are threshold states.

What is most clear is that the ever-expanding group of existing nuclear-armed states will not give up their capabilities under the current NPT, nor have sufficient energy-security technologies been transferred to discourage states from seeking nuclear capabilities.

Collectively we must reaffirm our efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear material and strive for a future free of nuclear weapons. How can we do this? First, we must keep alive the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the devastating human cost of the use of nuclear weapons, which is still felt today. The events of August 70 years ago must always be remembered so that they will never be repeated. This is the key task of civil society. At the state level, we must review the tools we are using to prevent nuclear proliferation, because they are out of date. The NPT needs to be updated to respond to the new challenges of the 21st century and provide benefits for all participating states. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), currently headed by Yukiya Amano of Japan, must be strengthened and its mandate enlarged.

We must be vigilant against rogue states and terrorist groups, and prevent them from acquiring nuclear materials. We must undertake counter-proliferation measures.

And we must continually remind the nine current nuclear-armed states that peace and security can exist without depending on nuclear capabilities. There must be concrete achievements at the Fourth Nuclear Security Summit, in the US next year, especially concerning measures for securing nuclear and radioactive materials.

It is a difficult task. We, the international community, have failed many times to reach agreements, but we must persevere. As the Japanese saying goes, though we may fall seven times, we can get up on the eighth.

SE Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone

In Southeast Asia, an initiative has been made to curb the spread and prevent the use of nuclear weapons. The Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty was signed in Bangkok in December 1995 by the 10 member states of Asean. The parties are obliged not to develop, manufacture or otherwise possess or have control over nuclear weapons, station nuclear weapons, or test or use them; not to seek or receive nuclear weapons; and to prevent the stationing of any nuclear device or dumping of radioactive waste in the region.

Over the past 20 years, the SEANWFZ Treaty has worked well among its signatories. However, the treaty contains an attached protocol open to signing by the five major nuclear powers. Thus far, none of the five has signed, although some individual countries have indicated willingness to do so. Some of the reservations concern two unique features of the Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone, namely, territorial coverage that includes continental shelves and exclusive economic zones, and the "negative security assurance" requirement not to use nuclear weapons against any other signatory. We see here the two outstanding issues: One, the continued refusal of nuclear-armed states to renounce the use of nuclear weapons, and two, the growing concern about related issues such as territorial seas and the right of maritime passage.

The application of SEANWFZ has now been made more complicated by the South China Sea issue, where China has reasserted its sovereign territorial claim to over 90 per cent of the sea area in which there are five other claimants, namely, Chinese Taipei, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. In turn, the reaction of the United States to the rise of China in the form of the pivot to Asia has served to raise tensions.

Rise of China

The rise or re-emergence of China as a world power has become the major issue in the global security debate. People in Asia are nervous about what kind of resident superpower China will become as its military and economy continue to grow.

The US will remain engaged with Asia but its relative influence will inevitably wane.

The big question is, who will set the rules of the game in Asia? The current rules were established by the United States after WWII, and then reinforced by Washington during its post-Cold War unipolar moment.

China has been a major beneficiary of the world order established by the US. Its GDP has risen from $202 billion in 1980 to $10.3 trillion in 2014.

As the world's major exporter and a huge consumer of raw materials, China has greatly benefited from the free and open international system which encourages trade, economic interdependence and open diplomatic interactions. According to the IMF, in 2014, China overtook the US as the world's largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. For the first time in nearly 150 years, the US economy is not the biggest in the world. China still has a long way to go to catch up with the developed world in terms of per-capita GDP, but its growing economy is paving the way for a bigger military and a more influential foreign policy.

As China rises, it will inevitably want to exert some of its newly earned clout in its own backyard. It will want to ensure its own security, engage and influence its neighbours, and change the rules of the international order to suit its own interests, just like the United States, Britain and the other great powers have done in the past.

The extent to which China is able to tweak or dramatically overhaul the rules of the international order is a matter of concern for all in the Asia-Pacific, and around the world. Will China be happy to take a leadership role in Asia, pushing new mechanisms like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Silk Roads for the benefit of the region? Or will it want to forge its own Monroe Doctrine, where it establishes itself as the sole resident superpower overseeing its exclusive sphere of influence, which may lead to conflict with the United States and its allies in the region and thus affect all of us?

Nevertheless, at the present time, all the indications are that China is well aware of and sensitive to the concerns of the other nation-states and other international stakeholders. The Chinese leadership has repeatedly assured that the rise of China will be peaceful, that China seeks win-win cooperation, that China will work towards an economically vibrant Asia that can serve as the engine of growth and a catalyst for economic development for the whole world.

We must work together with China and other like-minded countries, to maintain this positive trajectory for Asia and the world.

Surakiart Sathirathai, chairman of the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council, is a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister. This article is an excerpt of the speech he delivered for the 2015 International Symposium at Hiroshima University's Institute for Peace Science on Tuesday.

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