West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 2)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

(Read Part 1.)

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Imperfect Arbiter

The drafters of the NPT, as with any treaty, sought to balance the needs of different parties. In this case it was between NWS — states with nuclear weapons — and non-NWS — those without. Signatories (or the treaty’s signers) among the latter forfeited their rights to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. The former, meanwhile, promised to roll back the numbers of their weapons with an eye toward total disarmament. In addition, they would assist non-NWS to establish their nuclear-energy programs and use their own possession of nuclear weapons to extend an umbrella of deterrence to certain non-NWS.

Ideally, the NPT bestows equal benefits on all parties. But, like many treaties, it’s riddled with loopholes and gray areas. For example, Article VI — debated nigh unto death — is chock full of them. It reads:

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.

Where there should be key words are noncommittal terms. For example, preceding “to pursue” with “undertakes” adds a preliminary step that almost seems designed to allow parties with nuclear weapons to stall. “Good faith” may be inherent to contracts, but in the context of a nuclear treaty it sounds Polyanna-ish. “Effective measures” and “early date” are much too open to interpretation.

With regards to disarmament, a recent report that the Obama administration may be considering reducing the total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to as low as 300 generated a flurry of excitement — and a blizzard of overwrought reactions from conservatives. Whether or not the leaked news was just red meat for conservatives, no weapon reductions will be enacted until after the election.

In fact, even though President Obama assumed office with an apparent personal investment in disarmament, his administration seems to have suffered few qualms about letting it, if not exactly die, wither on the vine. When push came to shove over the New START treaty, it bet the farm to secure Republican ratification of a treaty that guaranteed little more than verification and confidence building. The administration proposed to increase funding for nuclear-weapon modernization to $88 billion during the next decade — 20 percent more than the Bush administration sought. Even the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee balked at such exorbitance in the current economic climate and allocated $500 million less than the administration’s $7.6 billion request for fiscal year 2013.

As Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine: “Obama has let the bureaucracy suffocate his plan to move step by step toward, as he said in Prague, ‘the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.’” He explained that “there are far more entrenched officials and contractors that benefit from the sprawling nuclear complex than officials who believe in the president’s stated vision.”

The apparent intention on the part of the United States to fund, at however fluctuating levels, its own program into perpetuity likely isn’t lost on non-NWS. This realization has finally begun to rear its head in established media such as the London Review of Books. In the February issue, national-security specialists Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka write of the vast sums that the Obama administration committed to nuclear-weapon modernization.

What clearer demonstration could there be that the US government is not serious about reducing its stockpiles? Central to the idea of nonproliferation is the presumption that if smaller states are to be discouraged from acquiring a bomb, nuclear states will need to take real steps towards disarmament. Otherwise, non-nuclear states will regard their demands as self-serving and hypocritical — reason enough to think about creating an arsenal of their own.

Extending this line of thinking one step further, New START may not only seem perfunctory to non-NWS, but a smokescreen for continued nuclear-weapons funding.