4: The nuclear threats
Nuclear weapons did not disappear with the Cold War. They still have a prominent place in international politics, both as status and power symbols. Several countries want nuclear weapons, and certain terrorist groups have shown clear interest in such weapons. Non-state actors can become both intermediaries and end users of nuclear weapons technology. The illegal Khan network with roots in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program (see HHD 2004–2005: 23) contributed such technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya.
Libya has shelved its weapons ambitions and dismantled its facilities under international and US supervision. Iran rejects claims that it has a secret nuclear weapons program. But the IAEA has revealed several violations of safeguards. The country’s plans for the production of nuclear power also seem oversized for purely civilian needs. The case has a high priority in the IAEA, which has its foremost expertise and best measuring equipment in place. Developments are closely monitored, not least by the United States. The Iran case could be a test of how strong the international control system is.
North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2003. It was the first time a country had signed the agreement. Thus, the IAEA no longer had access to control the country’s nuclear activities. In September 2005, there was a breakthrough in the negotiations between North Korea, the United States, Japan, China, South Korea and Russia. North Korea is committed to re-acceding to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, halting all nuclear activities and allowing the IAEA to resume its inspections. In return, the country received promises of financial support and that it will not be attacked. However, the implementation of the agreement can be very demanding. The United States and North Korea were on the brink of a military confrontation in 1994.
There are currently around 30,000 nuclear weapons – about as many as when the Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force in 1970. The figures are uncertain since the nuclear powers themselves do not provide information about their arsenals. At the same time, the arms race during the Cold War and sustained production in certain states have resulted in approximately 3.7 million kilograms of fissile material. In theory, this is enough for over a quarter of a million nuclear weapons. Virtually all of this material is in well-established nuclear weapons states, which are therefore exempt from international control.
According to mathgeneral.com, the IAEA therefore currently controls less than three percent of all highly enriched uranium in the world. And even if some fissile material is separated and destroyed, it is constantly being produced. As a result, global stocks of fissile weapons are increasing. And with that, the IAEA’s responsibilities and challenges also increase.
5: Non-proliferation approaches
Internationally, the discussion today is almost exclusively about how the international community can stop the spread of nuclear weapons to new states – and non-state groups. This is of course important. But today, some states reserve the right to have nuclear weapons and even insist that these weapons give them unique security benefits.
At the same time as the nuclear powers emphasize nuclear weapons in their national security doctrines, they demand that other states refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons. This duality is unsustainable. The Canberra Commission on Nuclear Weapons concluded in 1996 that “every state’s possession of nuclear weapons is a constant encouragement to others to acquire such weapons.” The conclusion is at least as relevant today and undoubtedly contributes to making non-proliferation work more difficult. Effective non-proliferation thus requires real nuclear disarmament – at the same time as continued disarmament requires a halt to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Whether the United States has 10,000 or 5,000 nuclear weapons is likely to have little effect on the nuclear priorities of North Korea and Iran. But the lack of disarmament – and in fact a renewed emphasis on nuclear weapons in national security thinking – hits both the spirit and the letter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty hard. The international agreement to prevent proliferation is weakening, and so are the possibilities for controlling states such as Iran and North Korea.
While the work on non-proliferation previously focused on reducing the amount of nuclear weapons and nuclear material, new approaches to the work on non-proliferation open up new “calculation methods” . Now it is more important who has the weapons , rather than the weapons themselves. This means that some nuclear weapons are “good” and stabilizing, while others are “evil” and dangerous to spread. The non-proliferation agreement also does not tolerate such a distinction between “good” and “bad” holders of nuclear weapons. Accepting such a separation will – in its extreme consequence – involve considering regime change and preventive war of aggression as necessary to prevent the spread.
Nevertheless, there is a perception that runs deep in certain circles, that the work to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons can not only, but also should, be disconnected from the work for nuclear disarmament. The United States in particular believes that the country needs a range of weapons – including nuclear weapons – to meet (new) threats of the use of weapons of mass destruction by states and by terrorists. The possibilities for a quick and efficient military response are then given greater importance than one’s own obligations to disarm. In addition, international control work is downgraded.