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July 25, 2005

Emasculating Nonproliferation


by Gordon Prather

Perhaps President Bush had decided even before taking office to replace the existing nuke-proliferation-prevention regime – largely our creation – because the regime no longer automatically did our bidding.

In particular, when the Security Council discovered in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War that Iraq had been attempting to enrich uranium for use in nukes, the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) Action Team on Iraq – which reported directly to the Security Council – was asked to develop and execute a plan "for the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless as appropriate of all nuclear-weapons-usable material or any subsystems or components or any research, development, support, or manufacturing facilities related to the above."

To the consternation of President Clinton – who was determined to effect "regime change" on Iraq – IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported to the Security Council in 1998 that there "were no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material of any practical significance."

You see, the key to preventing nuke proliferation is the international control of the production, processing, transformation, and disposition of certain nuclear materials. A principal function of the IAEA – established in 1957 – is

"To establish and administer safeguards designed to ensure that special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, facilities, and information made available by the Agency or at its request or under its supervision or control are not used in such a way as to further any military purpose."

When the IAEA's inspectors report noncompliance with a safeguards agreement, the IAEA Board of Directors can then decide – by a two-thirds majority – whether or not the "noncompliance" furthers "any military purpose" and should be reported to the UN Security Council for possible action.

The Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970 took advantage of the existing IAEA verification and reporting mechanism, requiring each no-nuke signatory to the treaty to enter into a bilateral safeguards agreement with the IAEA "with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons."

So the IAEA verifies nonproliferation by importers of special nuclear materials, services, equipment, facilities, and information. What about exporters?

Enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Established in 1974, the 40-plus member NSG was created because the 1974 test by India – not then, or now, an NPT signatory – of a nuclear device demonstrated that "especially designed or prepared" nuclear technology as identified by the NPT, transferred for peaceful purposes to non-NPT signatories, could be misused.

NSG "Guidelines for Nuclear Transfer" have long required the acceptance by the recipient state – NPT signatory or not – of IAEA safeguards on certain imported items.

But, as a consequence of what the IAEA found in Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, the NSG soon promulgated new guidelines.

Since 1992, if India or Pakistan or Israel, for example, seek to acquire "special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, and facilities" – such as nuclear power plants or fuel therefor – from any NSG member, NSG guidelines require that the member require them to subject all of their nuclear programs – not just their civilian nuclear programs – to a full-scope intrusive IAEA safeguards agreement.

All Indian nuclear programs – civilian or otherwise!

Hence, the enforcement mechanism for preventing nuke proliferation by importers is provided by the IAEA statute, and the enforcement mechanism for preventing nuke proliferation by exporters is provided by the coordinated export controls of NSG members themselves.

President Bush is proposing to emasculate the IAEA-NPT-NSG nuke-proliferation-prevention regime.

Bush announced this week that "as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states."

Translation? Even though India has refused to sign the NPT, India should nevertheless "acquire the same benefits and advantages" that the IAEA-NPT-NSG regime bestows on the U.S., UK, France, Russia, and China!

Since current U.S. law specifically prohibits that, Bush said he would ask Congress to "adjust" those laws, repealing among other things the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1994 and certain provisions of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

Bush also promised to work to "adjust international regimes" to enable – among other things – the "expeditious consideration of fuel supplies for safeguarded nuclear reactors at Tarapur."

Until this week, Bush had done everything in his power to prevent the Russians from supplying that fuel.

Now Bush is going to supply it himself, and will not require – as NSG guidelines do – India to subject all its nuclear programs to the IAEA-NPT-NSG nuke-proliferation-prevention regime.

Will Pakistan be next?

Or Israel?


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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.

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