Forty-two years since the conclusion of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the world has changed substantially. Nuclear power generation has provided enormous quantities of electricity, fueling growth over decades and clarifying challenges that were dimly understood in the 1960s. Germany, for example, may be changing course away from indefinite reliance on nuclear power while even the United States may be as much as a generation away from a permanent solution for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste. In light of these changes, state practice in compliance with NPT Article IV commitments related to peaceful uses of nuclear energy has changed as well, and could change still further, potentially to the benefit of the NPT regime and international peace and security.
Clearly, the peaceful benefits -- and challenges -- of nuclear energy have become more diffuse and complex than they were in 1967. These peaceful benefits today include the advantage of historical perspective on varied international experiences with nuclear power generation and the more informed policy choices this perspective enables.
Nuclear power may not be suitable for every state, particularly in the context of increasing Non-Nuclear Weapon State sensitivity to each state’s own responsibility to comply with Article VI, as Professor Scott Sagan recently suggested at an event sponsored by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
In this context, Non-Nuclear Weapon States should have the option to embrace assistance in the research, development, and deployment of renewable energy resources, distributed generation capacity, and energy efficiency as constitutive of Nuclear Weapon State compliance with Article IV. In some cases, these technologies may be more appropriate to the needs of Non-Nuclear Weapon States than nuclear power generation; assessment of this possibility should specifically include plans for future global growth in these technologies.
A view of Article IV compliance inclusive of non-power generation cooperation has a substantial history in the NPT regime. In the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s January 1995 publication NPT Article IV: The Human Dimension, non-power cooperation is emphasized specifically as constitutive of U.S. compliance with Article IV (p.2):
“U.S. support for the technical assistance programs administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has enabled many nations to make great strides in the application of nuclear techniques to a wide range of non-nuclear power disciplines. These techniques are used for such purposes as diagnosing and treating human and animal disease, optimizing soil fertility and crop production, reducing industrial pollution and improving the efficiency of industrial operations, to name just some. Many of the Agency’s programs are tailored to the needs of individual countries. Others are undertaken on a region-wide, or international basis. A closer look at some of them reveals the enormous benefits that many nations have realized in terms of an improved quality of life for their citizens.”and (p. 18):
“The United States’ wide-ranging bilateral and multilateral technical assistance activities underscore its firm commitment to the goal enshrined in Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of promoting ‘the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials, and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy…with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.’”The arguments – and this specific document – were an organic part of the global discussion leading up to the successful indefinite extension of the Treaty in 1995.
One danger of moves in this direction is that they could be seen by some Non-Nuclear Weapon States as an attempt to buy out an “inalienable right.” This is a legitimate concern as a key objective of the process of strengthening the NPT is increasing the perception of universal equity among its states parties. However, careful alignment of efforts at “renewable” Article IV compliance with “the needs of the developing areas of the world;” efforts to strengthen global compliance with other Articles – particularly I, II, and III; and the responsibility of aid recipient states to comply with Article VI could mitigate and balance these concerns. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution – but neither are the other proposed solutions, including internationalization of the fuel cycle or the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. We may be years away from the right idea about the future of Article IV compliance, so we should definitely keep an open mind about the future of the benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and potential linkages to renewable energy, distributed generation, and energy efficiency.