Overcoming International Hypocrisy On Non-Proliferation

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reminds us that “a world free of nuclear weapons would be a global public good of the highest order.”  Getting there is the challenge.  One prerequisite is accurate and balanced understanding of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which comes under its mandatory 5- year review this May. These are vital negotiations for the 200 countries involved; forty years after the treaty humanity faces a dangerous tipping point regarding nuclear proliferation.

The NPT is mostly known for its intent to “prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.”  But it has two other objectives. Rarely reported is its objective “to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.” And, most problematic and standing in the way of the other objectives yet rarely scrutinized, is its commitment to “promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”


The NPT Preamble highlights “the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war…”  The intention of all parties to the treaty is “to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.” This was agreed to in 1970, yet throughout this period the media largely ignored the continuing failure of the big nuclear weapons states – US, Russia, France, Britain and China – to move asap “in the direction of nuclear disarmament”.  Rather, most critical reporting has been about big power jockeying over small countries, like Iran, in their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Before today’s focus on Iran, the “free press” helped perpetuate the myth that Iraq had nuclear weapons, which then became justification for the invasion by the US and UK.  The media never mentioned that the NPT Preamble reiterates the principle of non-aggression from the UN Charter, saying “States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and independence of any State.” Nor has there been any ongoing mainstream reporting that the US and UK used radiological, depleted uranium (DU) weapons in the war on Iraq, in breach of the NPT.

This big-power bias perpetuates disinformation. If I asked which countries had signed the NPT, “Iran or Israel? North Korea or India?”, I bet most  Canadians would say “Israel and India”. And they’d be wrong. But, in view of the way proliferation is used and reported as a geo-political football, their mistake would be understandable.

There are both rights and obligations under the NPT and North Korea has clearly “lapsed” on the latter. Under Article IV, Iran has the “inalienable right…to develop, research, production (sic) and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”. However under Article III it has the responsibility to prevent the “diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or others explosive devices.” With its uranium enrichment program Iran must be held to the latter. But why such an exclusive focus on Iran, which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, when Israel has already developed nuclear weapons while completely ignoring the NPT? Or why isn’t there some soul-searching about why Canada, an early signatory to the NPT, supplied “weapons technology” to India, who still refuses to sign the NPT? Or what about the US and UK diverting depleted uranium from so-called “peaceful” nuclear power for “nuclear weapons or other explosive devices”? 


Such international hypocrisy makes it hard to progress towards nuclear disarmament.  To overcome the double standard we’ll have to understand how proliferation looks to smaller powers. Obama’s recent Nuclear Security Summit got widespread coverage in the western media; yet how many Canadians know about the Conference on nuclear disarmament held in Tehran this past April 17-18? While it was dismissed by the EU and the US, it had low-level delegates from China and Russia. Uganda, Turkey and Lebanon, all non-permanent UN Security Council members, also attended. As the Foreign Editor wrote for the April 19th The Independent, this conference took place “with some support from developing countries tired of the double standard, they claim (with some justification) that the West maintains.” The conference ended with the call for “complete overhaul of the 40 year old NPT and for Israel’s nuclear weapons to be brought under a UN inspection regime.”

The US was sometimes referred to as the “only atomic criminal”, which is clearly propaganda that may be part of Iran’s strategy to avoid further NPT sanctions. But it’s also true that the only country that has ever used an atomic bomb on another country is the US. We can’t expect to see serious progress towards non-proliferation and disarmament while western countries, including Canada, deny their complicity in the nuclear threat. Of course we don’t want Iran to join Israel as a nuclear weapons power and to see an arms race in the Middle East. But the way to prevent this is not by demonizing or threatening Iran, as was deceptively done with Iraq, while ignoring Israel’s role in proliferation.

Further, while the US targeted Iran it negotiated a unilateral agreement to share nuclear technology with non-NPT member India. And Canada is trying to cash-in on this with nuclear and uranium sales. In its 2009 report, “Eliminating Nuclear Threats” the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation says “the Indian agreement will make it considerably more difficult to extract stronger terms than those won by India.”  This US-India Agreement will make it harder to bring countries outside, or in non-compliance with, the NPT into binding non-nuclear weapons agreements, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. So how can the US ride its high-horse regarding non-proliferation?

Each special interest claims it needs nuclear weapons as deterrents; however we know that all of humanity is threatened by continued proliferation. So while Israel may try to justify its covert nuclear weapons program as a defensive act against those who want Israel destroyed, we can see how other Middle Eastern countries, who have already lost military conflicts with the regional military-superpower, Israel, might also want nuclear weapons as a deterrent. This became even truer after Israel unilaterally bombed the French-made Osirak reactor near Bagdad in 1981, and especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A similarly explosive dynamic exists between India and Pakistan, already nuclear weapons states refusing to sign the NPT, facing serious border disputes. But to begin to resolve such regional nuclear disputes we have to go further. The International Commission notes that Israel, India and Pakistan “… will not eliminate their nuclear deterrents unless and until China, the US and others have done so…”

If we want to see real progress towards non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, so that our children can work for a sustainable society with some basic international peace and security, we need to challenge the hypocrisy that plagues these negotiations. A good place to start is right here in Saskatchewan.

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