Column  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2010.09.16

A House of Cards

President Obama launched a positive initiative for disarmament, bringing a new era to the world. Recently, however, a series of incidents have discredited the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

For example, there is China's nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. What is the problem with this deal? Pakistan, in competition with India, conducted a nuclear test in 1998 and, in so doing, joined the nuclear club. This act blatantly discredits the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. Although neither Pakistan nor India had signed the NPT, and, therefore, their nuclear tests did not per se violate an international treaty, given that it is an international objective to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, they both had a responsibility to work towards that goal, as members of the international community. As such, they were not at liberty to possess nuclear weapons.

The fact that there are countries that are not bound by the NPT is a major defect in the nuclear non-proliferation regime and it has caused a headache for the international community. Other countries had been trying to convince Pakistan and India to join the NPT but, before they could succeed, these two countries developed nuclear weapons. Their act had the effect of propagating the inefficacy of the nuclear non-proliferation regime to the rest of the world.

The NPT is an unequal treaty that, in fact, divides countries into "nuclear weapon states" and "non-nuclear weapon states." This division results in threatening the national security of the latter and, for that reason, they could not have supported the treaty. As a result, the treaty allows non-nuclear states to obtain cooperation from nuclear powers as to their peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It is beneficial for non-nuclear states to get cooperation from nuclear powers with regard to advanced nuclear technology for such peaceful use. The NPT allows non-nuclear states to enjoy peaceful nuclear uses so that they will put up with the unequal obligation of their having to forsake nuclear option while cooperating in nuclear non-proliferation efforts. This was a compromise necessary for the successful conclusion of the NPT. President Obama calls this the "basic bargain" and it is also known as the "grand bargain."

China is totally ignoring this basic bargain that is the foundation of the NPT. This eviscerates the NPT. In fact, however, before China, such nuclear cooperation by a NPT member to a non-NPT signatory had been provided by the United States. In the case of the Unites States, it was extended to India; one may argue that this is a different circumstance from China and Pakistan but it may be just a matter of time before the United States extends such nuclear cooperation to Pakistan as well.

After the United States offered to provide nuclear cooperation to India, France and Russia also entered into nuclear cooperation agreements with India, which were followed by recent negotiations by Japan. Now, Pakistan will be the beneficiary of nuclear cooperation from China. I am concerned that the basic tenets of the NPT are now becoming very porous.

For environmental reasons and in light of the rapid development of populous countries, such as China and India, the demand for nuclear power is expected to increase significantly. It is estimated that in 2050, China will need 770 and India will need 270 nuclear power facilities, dozens of times the number that exist today. To complicate the matter, both Pakistan and India are important partners in the international community and the rest of the world cannot simply cut off relations with them just because they have developed nuclear weapons and are now nuclear powers. This is not only based on the commercial view, of selling nuclear reactors, but also because we need to further advance a positive relationship with Pakistan and India.

Some are concerned that such cooperation has a negative impact on the NPT, with the NPT becoming ineffective and resulting in a worldwide dangerous race for nuclear weapons. There is another view, however, that the NPT is actually a club of those who have decided not to have nuclear weapons. In this view, countries such as Pakistan, India and Israel, which have had nuclear ambitions, never joined the NPT. Those that joined at a later stage only did so when they decided to abandon their nuclear ambitions. South Africa, as well as Brazil and Argentina, fit into this category. By contrast, North Korea was a member of the NPT and then quit to develop and possess nuclear weapons.

It is true that the NPT has such an aspect, but can we permit acts that further destabilize it? North Korea is currently ostracized because it was an NPT member and then left the treaty to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea may believe that, after a few years, it will once again be accepted back into the world community, just like India and Pakistan. Is the NPT just a house of cards? This is a nightmare. One hopes that when the hot summer is over, one can have sweeter dreams.