Thursday, October 19, 2006

Our approach to nuclear non-proliferation must change

The detonation of a nuclear bomb by North Korea could be the beginning of a new arms race around the world by medium and small states. The instability created by the potential of state-on-state nuclear warfare is bad enough but there is also the possibility of non-state actors gaining access to small and crude explosive nuclear devices to terrorize civilian populations of targeted nations.

The current nuclear non-proliferation treaty is inadequate. The United Nations has again proven itself ineffective. The United States has abandoned its world leadership responsibilities in Korea. China, the natural successor to that role, has its own reasons not to be too harsh with North Korea.

Off on the sidelines, Iran and other nations are watching this ineffective response and making their own calculations on how to proceed with their own programs. The international response to Iran’s declaration to proceed with their nuclear program is equally unencouraging.

Joschka Fischer was Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005. He offers some thoughts on the current situation in today’s Guardian:
First, international pressure, led by the US, China, Russia, and Japan
was not enough to prevent North Korea from taking this fateful step. A terrible
dictatorship, a regime without a future and a dwarf in terms of power-politics
defied the international giants. There is now justifiable outrage, and a call
for sanctions is heard everywhere.

But what will be the effect of sanctions against a regime whose
goal is survival through self-isolation - a regime that will have no qualms in
ruthlessly sacrificing its people? Also, can China really permit strong
sanctions against its neighbour, a regime fighting for survival, one equipped
with nuclear arms and missiles, and a humanitarian disaster of the highest order
among its population? Just how credible and effective can sanctions be?

Second, the security council now looks like a paper tiger because
its authority was successfully challenged by a worn-out regime. This fact will
be noted everywhere, particularly in Tehran. If the boundaries between nuclear
haves and have-nots becomes more permeable, or even dissolves altogether, the
entire multilateral security system could be called into question. On October 9,
the gate leading down this path was thrown open.

Third, the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) regime, which was on the
brink of toppling even before North Korea's actions, is threatening to
disintegrate. A number of small and mid-sized powers will now ask themselves a
radically new question: if North Korea can be a nuclear power, why not us? If in
these times of militarily accomplished regime change real sovereignty can only
be guaranteed by nuclear arms, why not go down this route? A collapse of the
non-proliferation regime will increase not only the risk of regional nuclear
arms races, but also of a transfer of nuclear know-how and technology,
increasing the risk of nuclear confrontation.

Fourth, the nuclear crisis triggered by North Korea demonstrates
that the US - for the first time since the Cold War's end - is no longer the
main player on the international scene and that its options are both limited and
problematic. Following the hand-over from Clinton to Bush, the US gave up its
strategy of engaging the North Korean regime to moderate its behaviour and thus
unnecessarily reduced its own options. China has now become the main player in
the North Korean crisis, and in the region as a whole. This will have a serious
impact across the Pacific and cause America to focus its strategic attention
there. Europe might thus be called on to take up the slack in the eastern
Mediterranean and the Middle East, both sooner and on a much larger scale than
Europeans suspect.

So what is to be done? There is no way around a strategy of
engagement and containment with regard to North Korea or the crisis will
escalate. The US will have to enter talks - direct and bilateral if necessary.
Indeed, it looks like that is what will be needed. China, humiliated by Kim Jong
Il, will for the first time have to assume leadership in the region and resolve,
or at least contain, the crisis.

Looking to the future, the whole approach to nuclear
non-proliferation must change. It is no use lamenting the real danger of nuclear
proliferation, while in practice standing idle as the non-proliferation treaty
falls apart.

If the world is not one day to consist of a few big nuclear powers
and many mid-sized and small ones, then the big nuclear powers must now
undertake a serious disarmament and non-proliferation initiative. Part of this
initiative must be to provide, as a corollary to new disarmament requirements
and control mechanisms, the assurance of non-discriminatory access to nuclear
know-how, research, and technology.

This will require an international institutional solution to the
problem of enrichment, with participation in the enrichment process entailing
new obligations - above all, the willingness to assure transparency through
verification and intensive inspections. Moreover, only new strides towards
disarmament by the big nuclear powers, and a guarantee of access to technology
and know-how under international control, can stop the trend toward "nuclear

Now North Korea seems to have the Bomb. Iran is intensively working
toward the same end, while continuing to expand its hegemonic position in the
region. If to the "axis of evil," we add Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria,
Israel and the Palestinians, along with terrorism, the resulting picture is
anything but hopeful. Should the US be tempted now, in response to the failure
of its policy, to consider a military "option" against Iran, the nuclearisation
of the international system will not be arrested. Indeed, such a step will only
push the Middle East into an explosive mega-conflict with unpredictable and
uncontrollable consequences.

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