Friday, November 6, 2009

The Contribution of the Global South to Nuclear Nonproliferation

A talk I gave at a FLACSO Conference on “The Nuclear Challenge” Santiago, Chile on September 4, 2008:

I would like to begin by thanking FLACSO and the organizers of this conference for the opportunity to address you here today; as I will discuss in some detail, I believe the inclusion of the global south and Latin America in particular is a vital step toward a more stable nuclear nonproliferation regime and the ultimate goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons. I am also grateful to Dr. Bonnie Jenkins and the Ford Foundation for her ongoing support of innovation and global inclusion in the field of nuclear nonproliferation. I would also like to thank my fellow panelists and conference participants for your effort in service of global human security. The views I express today are mine alone.

I am pleased to speak with you today about the contribution of the global south to nuclear nonproliferation. The history of this contribution is both long and characterized by innovation, but the recognition of this rich tradition is often undermined by the differences of context in which nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states consider security and stability as well as technological and commercial issues. Today I will briefly discuss the global south’s tradition of contribution, the challenge of today, and the future potential of a more inclusive global conversation on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

A Tradition of Contribution

The global south has contributed significantly and innovatively to the cause of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. An international legal commitment to a nuclear weapon-free zone was first incorporated into the Antarctica Treaty in 1959 and the Treaty of Tlatelolco established the first nuclear weapon-free zone in a densely populated region in 1967. The states of Latin America and the Caribbean established a model for subsequent nuclear weapon-free zones in the South Pacific, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia; created a unique regional implementing body in the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean; and in overcoming significant challenges to the full implementation of the Zone through the Quadripartite Agreement and unprecedented cooperation between potential nuclear rivals.

Four decades since its inception, the spirit of Tlatelolco has contributed significantly to global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Mun acknowledged in Mexico City last month:
Today, the regional or territorial approach to disarmament covers most of our planet. Virtually the entire southern hemisphere is now nuclear-weapons free…[and]…two thirds of the world’s States are signatories to nuclear weapon-free zone treaties… [1]
The Secretary-General went on to observe contrast with the global north, where “the majority of the world’s population still lives in countries that possess nuclear weapons.” What challenges stand in the way of translating the positive nuclear nonproliferation experience of the global south into the northern hemisphere?

The Challenge of Today

Many of the arguments that may alienate states of the global south from more active participation in the nuclear nonproliferation regime are focused on Articles IV and VI of the NPT – understood by many to constitute “half” of a “bargain” between the non-nuclear weapons states and the nuclear weapons states parties to the NPT. The idea is simple – the NPT includes an obligation undertaken by non-nuclear weapons states not to acquire nuclear weapons which can be understood to be “balanced” by obligations undertaken by the nuclear weapons states to share the peaceful benefits of nuclear technology consistent with Article IV and to work toward the ultimate goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons under Article VI. This way of understanding the NPT as a “balance of obligations” or a “bargain” is simple, but not stable.

Each side can view the absence of shared understanding of what constitutes compliance as an obstacle to cooperation imposed by the other – the examples of this phenomenon I am most prepared to describe come from my country, the United States. One expert observer has referred to the perennial clash over the meaning of nuclear weapons state compliance in the NPT Review Process as a “dialogue of the deaf.” Another has lamented the futility of communicating the substantial efforts undertaken by the U.S. Government to establish and communicate a strong record of compliance to the non-nuclear weapons states who, in that expert’s opinion, cannot be satisfied. A third expert has suggested that there are “two NPTs,” one that functions to identify clandestine efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and rally international opposition to stop these clear and present threats to international peace and security, and another, second NPT, that functions as a periodic and ineffectual international debating society about marginal and ephemeral issues. While I am less familiar with the state of political discourse about the future of the nuclear nonproliferation regime in the global south, I suspect that that similar arguments may surface here. Without assigning blame or attempting to adjudicate the validity of accusations on either side, I would argue that the past performance of the NPT as a mechanism to promote shared meaning and a stable, shared appreciation of what constitutes compliance and “good” nuclear nonproliferation behavior is constrained by these mutually exclusive perspectives.

The NPT is unequal in its obligations, but it did not create two classes of states, it recognized that two classes of states existed in an effort to slow the translation of scores of nuclear weapons “have nots” into “haves.” While this international legal rule has helped maintain this disparity, the diffusion of technology and political challenges including the dissolution of a nuclear weapon state and the emergence of “proliferation rings” and “second-tier” suppliers of nuclear or dual-use materiel have eroded the context that gave rise to this difference. Others have very ably observed that it is increasingly difficult to prevent a determined nuclear proliferator.

At the same time, globalization has widened the group of nuclear weapons stakeholders. Those who feel threatened or who believe they have been adversely affected by nuclear weapons testing, development, and production and more able to communicate with each other. Independent studies suggest the potential for global climate effects of the use of multiple nuclear weapons. Ease of transportation and communication make the suffering of people anywhere difficult to ignore for people everywhere as greater awareness of global poverty and challenges to health and sanitation underscore.

In this context, it is easy to understand the traditional role some governments of the global south have adopted – as an advocate for those who, having no nuclear weapons themselves, are merely potential victims. From this perspective, consistent pressure for greater nuclear weapon state compliance with Articles IV and VI may seem sufficient. This criticism of the nuclear weapons states may be argued to have a legal basis and has been offered consistently in demands for a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a fissile material control regime, strong negative security assurances, a time-bound framework for nuclear disarmament, and greater cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

While it may not be possible for the nuclear weapons states to meet any of these demands at a given moment in time, it is possible at any time for the nuclear weapons states to respond to each of the concerns that underlie these demands working toward a more inclusive global conversation on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. This was, to some degree, achieved during the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. However, this possibility can be easily derailed and legitimate expressions of concern marginalized by strident rhetoric or reluctance to acknowledge progress and legitimate obstacles and constraints to earnest compliance efforts. The result can be measured not only in failure to achieve incremental progress toward the objectives identified by the non-nuclear weapons states but also in their greater alienation from the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. This is an unnecessary risk at a moment in which the nuclear nonproliferation regime faces grave challenges, not the least of which is the fact that the presumed “leverage” of the non-nuclear weapons states does not seem likely to generate compliance “concessions” from the nuclear weapons states. The “leverage” model is not working.

The Potential of the Future

While it is reasonable to ask what the non-nuclear weapons states parties to the NPT receive in exchange for giving up their sovereign “right” to nuclear weapons through the NPT “bargain,” it is also reasonable to recognize that international leadership is itself a significant benefit with significant attendant global prestige. Just as China benefits from hosting the Olympics and the World’s Fair, Japan benefits from Director General Koichiro Matsura’s leadership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and Canada derived prestige from its sponsorship of the “Ottawa Process” culminating in the ban on anti-personnel landmines, states in the global south aspiring to regional and international leadership can garner prestige by building on their tradition of introducing innovative and constructive ideas into global diplomatic discourse on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, by testing these ideas and the processes and technologies they will require regionally to demonstrate their feasibility, and exploring the constraints and obstacles the nuclear weapon states will face in the application of these new ideas in ways that foster cooperation and sidestep the difficulties inherent in arms reductions negotiations among the nuclear weapon states. This is a future worthy of the spirit of Tlatelolco.

I have referred to this approach elsewhere as a “fusion of obligations” in which all states parties consider themselves equal partners in the fulfillment of shared obligations to prevent nuclear proliferation, share in peaceful benefits, and move toward the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. This approach has a basis in the text of the NPT which clearly specifies that Articles IV and VI are not merely half a bargain but shared obligations among all states parties. Articles I, II, and III, while directed alternatively at nuclear weapon states parties and non-nuclear weapons states parties, are each increasingly relevant to the other type of states parties in ways hard to imagine in 1968 as the diffusion of technology makes the cooperation of non-nuclear weapons states more relevant in preventing the transfer of nuclear or dual-use materiel and as nuclear weapons states increasingly accept international safeguards over their non-weapons activities. In this way, the apparent structural flaw of inequality in the NPT can be mitigated, leveling this foundation document to allow for increasingly equal obligations to be built upon it. While the NPT is for all practical purposes formally unamendable, state practice can render it more equitable just as state practice has been understood to nullify the Article V endorsement of peaceful nuclear explosions.

What specific contributions could the global south make to leveling the NPT playing field in this way? From the other hemisphere, it is hard to imagine the specific potential of the experience of the global south to contribute to this “fusion of obligations.” It is easy, however, to imagine areas in which action by the global south would reinforce the compliance efforts of the nuclear weapon states and I will list a few of these as examples:

Taking careful note of what the nuclear weapons states are able to do and acknowledging when the nuclear weapons states change their behavior is crucial to promoting an effective and inclusive global dialogue about what constitutes compliance with the NPT. This need not mean being satisfied with less, but rather showing greater sensitivity to obstacles and helping to overcome them.

By identifying particularly difficult political obstacles that constrain cooperation among the nuclear weapon states, the governments of the global south could work to imagine the technologies and procedures that would be necessary to move forward once these obstacles are overcome. For example, while political circumstances have not yet allowed for warhead-level verification of nuclear arms reductions between the United States and Russia, this is likely to be an important step on any realistic path toward deeper reductions and the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. Cooperation among the governments of the global south and perhaps in separate, parallel tracks with the nuclear weapons states could make this path easier to follow when political circumstances allow. In truth, this approach could be seen simply as an attempt to extend the model of preferred behavior offered by the Tlatelolco parties into new areas.

The post-Soviet transition created unimagined opportunities for cooperation in nuclear threat reduction. The work led by the United States in this area has been impressive, but has also encountered significant challenges. It might be constructive for the governments of the global south to pay explicit attention to this work to imagine what a future global standard for cooperative efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation might require in terms of domestic laws and bureaucratic structure. The ABACC experience of Argentina and Brazil may prove valuable in this regard.

In the wake of revelations regarding the AQ Khan network, it seems possible that future nuclear nonproliferation success will increasingly depend on a combination of traditional diplomatic tools with law enforcement tools such as criminal prosecutions and alternative legal instruments, possibly including civil lawsuits. These challenges overlap with other challenges faced in the global south including trafficking in drugs, arms, and human beings. Creating responsive laws and modes of international cooperation is another area of potential leadership for the global south.

International networking of legislators, prosecutors and judges to prepare them for their role in addressing emerging nuclear proliferation challenges might be accomplished, for example, through OPANAL with efficiencies impossible in regions that do not have their own nuclear weapons-free zone implementing body.

These are just a few examples of areas where the global south might choose to innovate in support of universal compliance with the NPT. These may not be the right suggestions and no one expects that these proactive compliance measures by non-nuclear weapons states will reduce the obligation for compliance by the nuclear weapon states. But the global south’s tradition of nuclear nonproliferation leadership suggests that innovative ideas and exemplary behavior can strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.
[1] Ban Ki Mun,

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