North Korea, Iran not the only culprits
By SAMUEL M. MAKINDA
The recent general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna reminded the world that nuclear weapons remain a major danger to human survival.
Unfortunately, the debate on the threat these weapons continue to pose has focused on some countries while ignoring others which are equally dangerous.
The limelight has been on Iran and North Korea, and for a good reason. There is no doubt these two states have ambitions to become nuclear powers, and their compliance with the IAEA safeguards system is less than exemplary.
In relation to Iran, the IAEA director, Dr Mohammed el Baradei, told the conference on September 15: "It is essential and urgent that all outstanding issues, particularly involving high enriched uranium, be brought to closure as soon as possible."
On North Korea, Dr El Baradei said: "The situation continued to pose a serious and immediate challenge to the non-proliferation regime".
But while disarming these two may satisfy powerful interests in the West, it would not eliminate the danger of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, north-east Asia or globally.
There are eight other nuclear weapons states, namely Britain, China, France, Russia, the US, India, Israel and Pakistan. The nuclear weapons of these countries are as dangerous to the world as those that might be developed by Iran and North Korea.
The first five of these are acknowledged as nuclear weapons states and are also permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Israel has had nuclear weapons for decades, but Western governments are not particularly concerned about them. Indeed, drawing attention to Israel's nuclear weapons is considered unacceptable.
India and Pakistan, which openly tested their nuclear weapons in 1998, have had them for decades. Given the tension between these two neighbours, it is plausible to argue that any deterioration in their conflict over Kashmir could trigger a nuclear exchange.
However, analysts believe that countries that possess nuclear weapons tend to be less radical in their dealings with other nuclear-armed states.
India, Israel and Pakistan are not members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so they did not violate international rules by developing nuclear weapons. However, their weapons have undermined global security.
The fact that these three countries became nuclear powers is an indication of a weakness in the existing international nuclear safeguards system.
The IAEA found North Korea to be in breach of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations in 2002, before it decided to pull out of the NPT earlier this year, but several countries are not convinced that it met the requirements for withdrawal.
According the NPT rules, any country may withdraw after giving a three months' notice. It also needs to provide a statement of reasons, detailing the extraordinary events that might jeopardise its security if it did not withdraw.
In the early 1990s, North Korea gave notice to quit the NPT, but it changed its position one day before the notice was due to expire. However, this time, it gave one day's notice, claiming that it had reactivated the earlier withdrawal notice. It is for this reason that several countries believe North Korea did not meet the requirements.
There is also concern about the precedent North Korea has set. The fact that it could quit the NPT easily in order to develop nuclear weapons demonstrates the weakness in the anti-proliferation regimes, and this might be addressed in the forthcoming NPT review conference in 2005.
It is not clear whether North Korea possesses nuclear weapons or not. Its government claims it has several nuclear bombs, but several countries in the Asia-Pacific region remain sceptical about the claim.
Unlike North Korea, Iran is still an NPT member, so if it develops nuclear weapons clandestinely, it violates international law. Iran's nuclear ambitions go back to the 1970s. Undeclared sites Iran has not been found to be non-compliant with its NPT obligations, but the IAEA has been monitoring only its declared facilities. Given the suspicion that it might be pursuing nuclear weapons clandestinely, the IAEA has requested Iran to sign the additional protocol, which would give the IAEA authority to inspect undeclared sites, but Iran is unwilling to do so.
The additional protocol was developed in the early 1990s after serious shortcomings were discovered in the previous system, which Iraq had exploited to develop weapons programmes in undeclared sites, while appearing to comply with the IAEA safeguards system in the declared sites.
While it is important that North Korea, Iran and other states should be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, the US has been sending conflicting signals about the efficacy of these weapons. For example, Washington has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was concluded in the 1990s.
Moreover, after withdrawing from the 29-year old Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia in 2001, the US indicated it was willing to use nuclear weapons against countries that have no such weapons.
If the US finds the use of nuclear weapons attractive, it is not likely to persuade other countries that they are bad. Disarmament efforts should target all countries that have nuclear weapons. That is the only way we can build a safer world. http://www.nationaudio.com/News/DailyNation/Today/Comment/Comment300920031.html