Well, now that the United Nations Security Council last week passed its latest sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program let us take a moment to ponder the wonderfully wacky world of nuclear proliferation. In this world the letter of the law matters less than the power of the sheriff enforcing it.
Consider the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force in 1970, which both the United States and Iran constantly refer to in the back and forth over Iran’s nuclear program, which the United States says is cover for a program to acquire nuclear weapons.
The NPT obligates the five acknowledged nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, and China) not to transfer nuclear weapons, other nuclear explosive devices, or their technology to any non-nuclear-weapon state. Non-nuclear-weapon States Parties undertake not to acquire or produce nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. They are required also to accept safeguards to detect diversions of nuclear materials from peaceful activities, such as power generation, to the production of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
To vastly simplify things the United States says Iran violates the NPT, given its history of not declaring all its facilities and activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran says its nuclear program started back in the 1970s under the Shah, with the U.S. blessing, when Westinghouse was eagerly trying to sell Iran nuclear reactors and despite numerous IAEA inspections no proof has been found that Iran is embarked on a nuclear weapons program.
One really interesting thing about this is that the United States is not really in the position it should be to point the finger of J’ accuse at Iran. And why is that? Because the United States itself historically has not done a good job of complying with the treaty. Take the NPT’s Article 6, for example. It says, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
The truth is that the United States continues to rely on nuclear weapons as a mainstay of its military defense, even though almost no one can come up with a real life scenario for using them, other than for deterrence. And if that is the only justification, that we have many thousands more than are required.
But, is the U.S. downsizing its reliance on nukes, per the treaty, not to mention its own national interest? Of course not; instead it is full steam ahead with programs like the Stockpile Stewardship program, the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which is jargon for a new nuclear bomb, or Complex 2030, the nuclear weapons making infrastructure of the future. The Bush administration’s spending plan for fiscal 2008 includes a more than three-fold increase in funds for the development of a next-generation nuclear warhead.
In fact, on March 2 the U.S. Energy Department announced a contract to develop the nation’s first new hydrogen bomb in two decades, involving collaboration between three national weapons laboratories.
Is there a compelling reason to do this? No. Experts assembled by American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific organization declined in a report February 18 to endorse a Bush administration plan for redesigning all U.S. nuclear weapons, citing a lack of reliable cost estimates and of proven methods for verifying whether the new hydrogen bombs will work without test explosions. A similar double standard can be found in Great Britain, where on March 14 the House of Commons approved the government’s plans to begin the process of replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system.
So, at least for some countries, their policies on nuclear proliferation can be summarized thusly; do as I say, not as I do.