The New York Times
February 12, 2004, Thursday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Page 37; Column 1; Editorial Desk
LENGTH: 946 words
HEADLINE: Saving Ourselves From Self-Destruction
BYLINE: By Mohamed ElBaradei; Mohamed ElBaradei is director general of the
International Atomic Energy Agency.
Nuclear proliferation is on the rise. Equipment, material and training were
once largely inaccessible. Today, however, there is a sophisticated worldwide
network that can deliver systems for producing material usable in weapons. The
demand clearly exists: countries remain interested in the illicit acquisition of
weapons of mass destruction.
If we sit idly by, this trend will continue. Countries that perceive
themselves to be vulnerable can be expected to try to redress that vulnerability
-- and in some cases they will pursue clandestine weapons programs. The supply
network will grow, making it easier to acquire nuclear weapon expertise and
materials. Eventually, inevitably, terrorists will gain access to such materials
and technology, if not actual weapons.
If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction.
Common sense and recent experience make clear that the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, which has served us well since 1970, must be tailored
to fit 21st-century realities. Without threatening national sovereignty, we can
toughen the nonproliferation regime.
The first step is to tighten controls over the export of nuclear material, a
priority President Bush identified yesterday in his speech on nuclear
nonproliferation. The current system relies on a gentlemen's agreement that is
not only nonbinding, but also limited in its membership: it does not include
many countries with growing industrial capacity. And even some members fail to
control the exports of companies unaffiliated with government enterprise.
We must universalize the export control system, remove these loopholes, and
enact binding, treaty-based controls -- while preserving the rights of all
states to peaceful nuclear technology. We should also criminalize the acts of
people who seek to assist others in proliferation.
In parallel, inspectors must be empowered. Much effort was recently expended
-- and rightly so -- in persuading Iran and Libya to give the International
Atomic Energy Agency much broader rights of inspection. But the agency should
have the right to conduct such inspections in all countries. Verification of
nonproliferation treaty obligations requires more stringent measures, but to
date, fewer than 20 percent of the 191 United Nations members have approved a
protocol allowing broader inspection rights. Again, as President Bush suggested
yesterday, it should be in force for all countries.
In addition, no country should be allowed to withdraw from the treaty. The
treaty now allows any member to do so with three months' notice. Any nation
invoking this escape clause is almost certainly a threat to international peace
This provision of the treaty should be curtailed. At a minimum, withdrawal
should prompt an automatic review by the United Nations Security Council.
The international community must do a better job of controlling the risks of
nuclear proliferation. Sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle -- the
production of new fuel, the processing of weapon-usable material, the disposal
of spent fuel and radioactive waste -- would be less vulnerable to proliferation
if brought under multinational control. Appropriate checks and balances could be
used to preserve commercial competitiveness and assure a supply of nuclear
material to legitimate would-be users.
Toward this end, negotiations on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty must be
revived. The treaty, which would put an end to the production of fissionable
material for weapons, has been stalled in the Conference on Disarmament in
Geneva for nearly eight years. For the material that already exists, including
in some countries of the former Soviet Union, security measures must be
Of course, a fundamental part of the nonproliferation bargain is the
commitment of the five nuclear states recognized under the nonproliferation
treaty -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- to move toward
disarmament. Recent agreements between Russia and the United States are
commendable, but they should be verifiable and irreversible. A clear road map
for nuclear disarmament should be established -- starting with a major reduction
in the 30,000 nuclear warheads still in existence, and bringing into force the
long-awaited Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
If the global community is serious about bringing nuclear proliferation to a
halt, these measures and others should be considered at the nonproliferation
treaty review conference next year.
We must also begin to address the root causes of insecurity. In areas of
longstanding conflict like the Middle East, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula,
the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction -- while never justified -- can be
expected as long as we fail to introduce alternatives that redress the security
deficit. We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible
for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable
for others to rely on them for security -- and indeed to continue to refine
their capacities and postulate plans for their use.
Similarly, we must abandon the traditional approach of defining security in
terms of boundaries -- city walls, border patrols, racial and religious
groupings. The global community has become irreversibly interdependent, with the
constant movement of people, ideas, goods and resources. In such a world, we
must combat terrorism with an infectious security culture that crosses borders
-- an inclusive approach to security based on solidarity and the value of human
life. In such a world, weapons of mass destruction have no place.