Interdicting Proliferation Potential

The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons involves three principal undertakings on the part of the signatories:

  • to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons
  • to pursue negotiations on a treaty of general and complete disarmament
  • to facilitate the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials, and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

To prevent further proliferation of nukes, signatories not already having nukes agreed to make all "source" and "special nuclear materials" – and all activities involving their physical or chemical transformation – subject to the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the exclusive purpose of verifying for other NPT signatories that no safeguarded materials have been used to further any military purpose.

The rationale for focusing on the purposes to which "source" and "special nuclear materials" is that no one can make a nuclear weapon without possessing tens of kilograms of fissile material – almost pure uranium-235, uranium-233, or plutonium-239.

Hence, the NPT not only allows, it even encourages the fullest possible transfer – and use, subject to IAEA Safeguards – of equipment that can be used to produce fissile material.

However, President Bush refuses to abide by the letter or spirit of the NPT.

In particular, he has no intention of ever entering into negotiations leading to nuke disarmament.

Furthermore, according to his National Security Strategy, "the best way to block aspiring nuclear [weapons] states or nuclear terrorists" is to prevent their acquiring even the capability to produce fissile material.

Therefore, Bush set out to close what he calls a "loophole" in the NPT that not only allows Iran (for example) to acquire such a capability but requires him to facilitate that acquisition.

Alas, the attendees at the 2005 NPT Review Conference not only refused to modify the NPT to suit Bush, but castigated the "nuclear weapons states" for refusing to pursue the "practical steps" to nuke disarmament they committed themselves to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference.

What to do? Scrap the NPT and replace it with the Proliferation Security Initiative [.pdf] – developed by Bonkers Bolton from Bush’s National Security Strategy. Quoth Bonkers;

"We aim ultimately not just to prevent the spread of WMD, but also to eliminate or ‘roll back’ such weapons from rogue states and terrorist groups that already possess them or are close to doing so.

"While we stress peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the proliferation threat, as President Bush has said repeatedly, we rule out no options.

"While we pursue diplomatic dialogue wherever possible, the United States and its allies must be willing to employ more robust techniques, such as (1) economic sanctions, (2) interdiction and seizure, and (3) as the case of Iraq demonstrates, preemptive military force where required."

Great Zot!

Interdiction and seizure?

Preemptive military force?

As "solutions" to what dire "proliferation threat"?

Well, according to Bolton, the principal proliferation threat we’re facing now is Iran.

"We now know that Iran is developing a uranium mine, a uranium conversion facility, a massive uranium enrichment facility designed to house tens of thousands of centrifuges, and a heavy water production plant.

"This costly infrastructure would support the production of both highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons.

"While Iran claims that its nuclear program is peaceful and transparent, we are convinced it is otherwise."

Never mind that under the NPT, Iran has an "inalienable right" to acquire, develop, and employ everything that so alarms Bolton. Never mind that all these facilities are safeguarded. And in the case of the facility built to ultimately house gas-centrifuges, the Iranians weren’t even required to tell the IAEA about the existence of the centrifuges and facility until six months prior to their introducing "source" or "special nuclear materials" into them.

Well, last week, PSI "partners" all met in Warsaw, Poland, to receive a few atta-boys from Bush.

"The PSI is dedicated to stopping all aspects of the proliferation trade and to denying terrorists, rogue states, and their supplier networks access to WMD-related materials and delivery systems.

"Together, we are working to disrupt the financial activities of networks that support proliferation, as called for in United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673.

"Together, we are shutting down front companies and proliferation networks and interdicting cargo carrying these dangerous materials, whether transported by land, air, or sea."

The principal PSI success claimed? The illegal (under international law) confiscation back in 2003 of a shipment of equipment that potentially could have been used to illegally (under the NPT) physically transform Libyan undeclared "source" material.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.