Shoring Up the NPT Regime

Will Obama-Biden administration national security policies look remarkably like Clinton-Gore’s? On the basis of the Obama-approved statement Hillary made to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at her confirmation hearings last week, it sure looks that way.

After noting that “the gravest threat that America faces is the danger that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of terrorists,” Obama-Biden-Hillary goes on to declare that

“The Non Proliferation Treaty is the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime, and the United States must exercise the leadership needed to shore up the [associated nuclear-weapons proliferation prevention] regime.”


“[W]hile defending against the threat of terrorism, we will also seize the parallel opportunity to get America back in the business of engaging other nations to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons…

“So, we will work with this committee and the Senate toward ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and reviving negotiations on a verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.”


“We will also work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian missiles off hair-trigger alert, [and] act with urgency to prevent [nuclear weapons] proliferation in North Korea and Iran.”

Lots of Luck, Obama-Biden-Hillary.

Because, the most important and enduring legacy of the Bush-Cheney-Bolton administrations may be the virtual destruction of the international nuclear-weapons proliferation-prevention regime, especially as it existed at the end of the second Clinton-Gore administration.

You see, it was a Clinton-Gore article of faith that the 21st Century would see the end of the nation-state. Believing that, Clinton-Gore proceeded to hand over to the United Nations – the presumptive world government for the 21st Century – every semi-international problem that arose, including gun control and women’s reproductive rights.

In particular, President Clinton had hoped to make his legacy the elimination of nuclear-weapons altogether, getting every nation – including India, Pakistan and Israel – to become a signatory to (a) the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and (b) the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

In September 1993, President Clinton called for a multilateral convention banning the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons, and in March 1995 the Conference on Disarmament established a committee to begin drafting the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty.

Next, at the 1995 NPT Review Conference Clinton got all signatories to agree to the NPT being extended indefinitely, rather than requiring renewal every five years.

Clinton also tried to get every nation-state on earth to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the enforcement of which would be entrusted to the UN.

The basic idea (since full-scale tests of new nuke designs were generally considered absolutely necessary) was that without testing, nation-states such as Pakistan – which had not then tested its nuke designs – could never develop nuke stockpiles. Neither could nation-states such as India – which had tested some of its nuke designs – upgrade their designs or test actual nukes.

Although President Clinton told Congress that our weapons labs could maintain the integrity of our stockpile without testing, the rest of the world was led to believe that – without full-scale testing – the reliability of existing nuke stock-piles would soon be so suspect, that all nuke nation-states would soon be effectively disarmed.

(Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recently argued before Congress that unless we are allowed to design and test a new generation of nuclear weapons, we, too, will soon be effectively disarmed.)

Finally, President Clinton approved the “action agenda” – which our Secretary of State played a significant role in the drafting, thereof – of the 2000 NPT Review Conference calling for “systematic and progressive efforts” to implement the NPT disarmament requirement.

Disarmament? Recall that the NPT has three “pillars”:

  • an affirmation of the inalienable right of all signatories to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy “without discrimination”
  • a mechanism for verifying to other signatories that nuclear energy was not being diverted from peaceful to military purposes
  • a promise by the weapons-states to eventually dispose of their nukes

The NPT required those signatories not yet having nukes to negotiate a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency – an existing United Nations agency already charged with facilitating the widest possible international transfer of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes – for the “exclusive purpose” of “verifying” that certain proscribed materials were not “diverted” to a military purpose.

The nuclear-weapons proliferation prevention regime which Obama-Biden-Hillary just declared we must “shore up” – as a consequence of the largely successful attempt by Bush-Cheney-Bolton to tear it down – is based upon what the IAEA Secretariat is required to do in the event it discovers that some nuclear materials subject to one of its Safeguards Agreements is “diverted to a military purpose.”

The IAEA Secretariat is required to report any such diversion to the IAEA Board of Governors and to the UN Security Council. If the IAEA Board – by a two-thirds vote – decides that the reported diversion appears to warrant it, it may recommend that the Security Council make a determination (under Chapter VII of the UN Charter) as to whether or not the reported diversion constitutes a threat to the peace in the region.

As of this writing, the Security Council has never determined that a reported diversion – including that alleged to have occurred in North Korea in the early 1990s – constituted a threat to the peace in the region.

And, as of this writing, the IAEA Secretariat has never reported to the IAEA Board or to the Security Council that any Iranian NPT-proscribed nuclear materials have ever been diverted to a military purpose. Not any; not ever.

Nevertheless, last September the Grand Pooh-Bahs of the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report that concluded Iran’s refusal to suspend, indefinitely, its IAEA Safeguarded programs “may pose the most significant strategic threat to the United States during the next administration.”

“We believe the only acceptable end state is the complete cessation of enrichment activities inside Iran. We foresee no combination of international inspections or co-ownership of enrichment facilities that would provide sufficient assurances that Iran is not producing weapons-grade fissile material.”

So, if Obama-Biden-Hillary really want to “shore up” the NPT and its associated nuclear-weapons proliferation-prevention regime, the first step is to begin to accept at face value – as the Bipartisan Grand Pooh-Bahs obviously do not – the reports made by the IAEA Secretariat.

In particular, accept those concerning the “diversion” – or lack thereof – of NPT-proscribed materials, subjected to Safeguards Agreements, entered into by NPT-signatories “for the exclusive purpose” of verifying that no such diversions have taken place.

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.