Toughen the treaties
An article in International Herald Tribune on The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
The multilateral system of binding international agreements designed to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons is under increasing pressure. We need to step up collective efforts to defend and strengthen these treaties.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the most universal arms control instrument. Now that Cuba and East Timor have joined, it comprises 188 contracting states. Only India, Israel and Pakistan are still outside the regime. We urge them to join the NPT unconditionally as non-nuclear-weapon states and to place all their nuclear facilities and activities under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The NPT regime was designed to strike a balance between three principal objectives: to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons; to foster nuclear disarmament; and to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. These aspects are mutually reinforcing and should be equally respected.
Reinforcing compliance with the obligations of the treaty is of paramount importance. North Korea has openly defied the NPT by expelling the IAEA inspectors and threatening to withdraw from the treaty. The possibility of Iran using its civilian nuclear program for the development of nuclear-weapon capabilities has raised serious concerns.
Noncompliance puts the entire non-proliferation regime at stake. In order to detect and prevent violations of the treaty, verification mechanisms need to be reinforced and further developed. Verification and confidence-building require full transparency. All weapons-usable material and facilities should be placed under effective multinational control. This is an example of something the EU should be discussing.
Nuclear disarmament is another integral and indispensable part of the NPT regime. The treaty represents the only binding commitment by the five nuclear-weapon states to the goal of nuclear disarmament.
In 2000, the NPT states agreed on 13 practical steps to pave the way to a world free of nuclear weapons. They consist of, inter alia, bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force, reducing strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons, and banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
The implementation of the action plan should continue with renewed vigor.
Disarmament measures can lead to a virtuous circle in the same manner as a weapons program can lead to an arms race. Similarly, the perception of a lukewarm attitude by nuclear-weapons states to their NPT commitments - or minimal efforts to reduce the existing nuclear arsenals - nourish security concerns and resentment. This, in turn, makes our appeal to the aspiring nuclear-weapon states less credible.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has already created an efficient monitoring system, and has been signed by 170 countries. But it has not yet entered into force because, regrettably, many of the key parties in the negotiations have not ratified the treaty so far. They should join the club without delay. We appreciate the current de facto moratorium on nuclear tests, but it is not enough. The objective must be a treaty-based ban on nuclear-weapon explosions.
The Moscow Treaty between Russia and the United States on reducing strategic nuclear arsenals was a welcome step in the right direction. Russia and the United States should maintain and reinforce the momentum of these efforts, make the treaty verifiable, irreversible and transparent, destroy surplus warheads and further reduce their operational forces..
Particular attention should be devoted to the reduction of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in a transparent and irreversible manner. A formal, legally binding and verifiable instrument on the reduction of these weapons should be negotiated.
Embarking on the development and building of a new generation of nuclear weapons - such as so-called "bunker-busters" or "mini-nukes" - would be dangerous. The same applies to any plans to increase the role of nuclear weapons in military planning. Such pursuits would only send a wrong message to the world and undermine the credibility of the NPT regime.
Furthermore, the NPT regime is not complete if the production of fissile material for nuclear devices is not banned. The efforts to start such negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva have not led to results so far. A new push is needed. Safeguarding the integrity and credibility of the NPT regime in its entirety is one of the most important tasks of the international community in the coming years.
The writers are foreign ministers: Laila Freivalds of Sweden, George A. Papandreou of Greece and Erkki Tuomioja of Finland.