How bad is the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Military analysis.
May 3 2005 5:57 PM

The Real Nuclear Option

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is a mess. We have to save it anyway.

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Some wannabes will not be bought off, of course; they simply want nukes. In those cases, the treaty must be amended to provide an enforcement clause—and, harder still, an enforcement agency. Some have proposed eliminating Article X, which allows a country to abrogate the treaty. The problem is, all treaties have an exit clause; it's an acknowledgement that the countries haven't signed away their sovereignty.

Yet this dilemma forms the core of the problem. It may well be that, in order to stop or seriously curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons, countries must sacrifice a little bit of sovereignty.

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This has already taken place, to a small extent, with the NPT's "Additional Protocol," a measure that allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct short-notice inspections of any site where it believes nuclear activity might be going on. (Before the Additional Protocol, the IAEA could inspect only sites that the host country had "declared" to be nuclear facilities.) This measure went into effect in 1997, and since then 65 countries have signed it.

The signatories should discuss extending this principle. It's time to discuss, for instance, forming a multinational expeditionary force equipped and empowered to invade or bomb the nuclear facilities of a country that has either clearly violated the NPT or abrogated it without a reason of legitimate self-defense.

And to get the bold gestures going, President Bush should attend the review-conference and announce that he is canceling all U.S. programs for new nuclear weapons.

But now we're plunging into fantasy. The dreadful thing is that, without such plunges, we're likely to see more nuclear-armed countries—some of them led by terrible people—in the years to come.

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