Leading article: We should aim at tighter nuclear inspection

Share
Related Topics

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), whose future will be discussed at a 189-country conference for the rest of this month at the United Nations in New York, is commonly hailed as the cornerstone of international efforts to curb nuclear weapons.

Supporters point out that since the NPT came into force in 1970 – and contrary to widespread fears at the time – only four states have joined the five original members of the nuclear club. For this relative success, the Treaty is given much credit. But is this true? And if it is not, what purpose does this five yearly, and usually acrimonious, exercise in multinational diplomacy any longer serve?

The first question is whether the NPT has prevented a country that wanted to acquire nuclear weapons from doing so. The answer is: no. States that have given up weapons programmes – Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and most recently Libya – have acted on the basis of a calculation of national interest, concluding in each case that the project was more trouble than it was worth. Two dozen or more other countries which have the technology to build nuclear weapons have long since decided likewise.

The four post-1970 entrants to the nuclear club either never were NPT signatories (India, Pakistan, and Israel) or withdrew, as North Korea did in 2003. Each concluded, after its own hard-nosed calculation of national interest, that it was indeed worth going nuclear. None has paid any meaningful price for their choice, under any provision of the treaty.

The same story seems set to repeat itself over Iran and its advancing uranium enrichment programme. Maybe Tehran is actually seeking to build a nuclear weapon, as many of its actions suggest. Maybe it just wants to put itself in a position to be able to build one at short notice – a position that would yield many of the same perceived benefits as actually possessing a bomb.

Either way, one thing though is certain. The NPT conference per se will have little bearing on the resolution of the crisis. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may make headlines with their rhetorical battles, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon may publicly scold Tehran, and there will be much intricate manoeuvring over the notion of declaring the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.

But the reality is that Iran, like North Korea, has been able to act with impunity, and any sanctions that emerge from the UN Security Council will almost certainly make scant difference. Like it or not, the outcome of the confrontation will be determined by power politics, in practice almost exclusively by decisions taken by the US, Iran, and Israel – as always on the basis of perceived national self-interest.

The NPT is a relic from the Cold War. If it has a function today, it is to strengthen the security of existing nuclear materials, by tightening the inspection regimes imposed upon on its members.

Today, the most determined and dangerous would-be proliferators are not sovereign states like Iran but al-Q'aida and other terrorist groups, for whom the niceties of the NPT are never going to stand in the way of their ambition to get hold of weapons-grade uranium. Anyone who doubts that proposition should consider what might have happened if the car parked the other night in Times Square (just a dozen blocks from the UN headquarters) had contained not fireworks, propane and fertilizers, but a device using stolen, uncounted nuclear material.

Seen from that perspective, kicking Iran out of the NPT, as some advocate, would be self-defeating. Iran's defiance, and its refusal to submit itself to more intrusive inspection, may infuriate. But the inspections it does undergo are far better than none. Strengthening them should now be the main goal of a post-Cold War NPT.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Manager - SAS - Data Warehouse - Banking

£350 - £365 per day: Orgtel: Manager, SAS, Data Warehouse, Banking, Bristol - ...

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Internal Project Manager - Business Analyst, Financial Services

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the best known and most pr...

SQL DBA/Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer
 SQL, C#, VBA, Linux, SQL Se...

Day In a Page

Read Next
There are now half a million self-service checkouts in operation across Britain's leading supermarkets  

What's the point of paying for service if you then have to do the work yourself?

Jane Merrick
 

Our limited generosity is being wasted on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Tom Peck
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment