Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Same Double Standards from Obama
By David Morrison
ccun.org, May 21, 2009
President Obama made a speech in Prague on 5 April 2009
, the main theme of which was “the future of nuclear weapons in the
21st century”. In it, he proclaimed “America's commitment to seek the
peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.
seriousness about pursuing this commitment can be judged by the fact that he
singled out two states – North Korea and Iran – as malefactors with regard
to nuclear weapons, neither of which, it is generally agreed, is a major
nuclear weapons power.
Indeed, to be fair to him, he admitted that
Iran isn’t a nuclear weapons power at all, saying that “Iran has yet to
build a nuclear weapon”. As for North Korea, nobody really knows.
To add a little perspective to this subject, here are the current
estimates by the Federation of American Scientists of the number of warheads
possessed by the real nuclear weapons powers in the world
These numbers are, of course, only approximate, since the exact number of
nuclear warheads in each state's possession, and their degree of readiness
for delivery, is a closely guarded national secret. But, according to
these estimates, there are well over 20,000 nuclear warheads in this world,
of which around 8,000 are operational – and, as the President admits, not
one of them belongs to Iran.
Breaking the “rules”
President would say, Iran and North Korea are breaking the “rules” about
possessing nuclear weapons. That’s why he singled them out as nuclear
According to the President, the “rules” are laid down
in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
 (which came into force in March 1970). It needs to be
“strengthened”, he said, so that it is more effective at detecting and
punishing states that break the “rules”. Here’s what he said:
“The basic bargain [in the NPT] is sound: countries with nuclear weapons
will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not
acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. To
strengthen the Treaty, we should embrace several principles. We need more
resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We need
real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or
trying to leave the Treaty without cause.”
There, the President
admits the reality that there are two very different sets of “rules”
enshrined in the NPT itself, one for “countries with nuclear weapons”
(“nuclear-weapon” states, in the language of the NPT) and another for
“countries without nuclear weapons” (“non-nuclear-weapon” states).
Some states were permitted under the NPT to sign it as “nuclear weapon”
states and keep their nuclear weapons; others had to sign as
“non-nuclear-weapon” states and were forbidden from developing them.
But, how did certain states acquire the
extraordinary privilege of being a “nuclear-weapon” state? The answer
is that it’s written into the NPT itself, Article IX(3) of which says:
“For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has
manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device
prior to 1 January, 1967.”
Five states – China, France, Russia, the
UK and the US – passed that test and were eligible to sign the NPT as
“nuclear-weapon” states (though China and France didn’t sign until the
The NPT was devised by states that possessed nuclear weapons
to preserve their monopoly over the possession of nuclear weapons, to
prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states. This
monopoly was written into the NPT itself and cannot be removed or amended
without the consent of all five states – under Article VIII(2) of the NPT,
amendment to the Treaty requires the approval of “a majority of the votes of
all the Parties to the Treaty, including the votes of all nuclear-weapon
States Party to the Treaty [my emphasis]”.
Just as each of these
five powers has a right of veto over Security Council decisions, each has a
veto over any amendment to the NPT seeking to take away its right under the
NPT to possess nuclear weapons.
It is true that the NPT pays lip
service to the notion of all round nuclear disarmament. Article VI
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue
negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of
the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament … .”
But that doesn’t require “nuclear-weapon” states to get rid of their
nuclear weapons, nor even to negotiate in good faith about getting rid of
them, merely to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures
relating … to nuclear disarmament”. And no “nuclear-weapon” state as
defined by the Treaty has ceased to be one since the Treaty came into force.
The five states that possessed nuclear weapons on 1 January 1967 still
possess them today.
Since these states are also veto-wielding
permanent members of the Security Council, their right to possess nuclear
weapons is untouchable.
A world without nuclear weapons?
Prague speech, President Obama set out to give the impression that, under
his leadership, the US took its responsibilities under Article VI seriously
and was embarking on an historic initiative towards universal nuclear
disarmament. He proclaimed “America's commitment to seek the peace and
security of a world without nuclear weapons” and declared that the US will
take “concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons”. However,
“Make no mistake: as long as these weapons exist, we will
maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and
guarantee that defense to our allies, including the Czech Republic.”
The “concrete steps” he announced were the negotiation of a new strategic
nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia to replace the Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty (START I), which expires in December 2009. START I
was signed in July 1991 just before the breakup of the Soviet Union.
As a result of it, by December 2001, the number of strategic nuclear
warheads on both sides was reduced to about 6,000 (from about 10,000) and
delivery vehicles to about 1,600.
It remains to be seen what
reductions if any the START 1 replacement treaty will actually bring.
It can be guaranteed that after its implementation, the US and Russia will
both possess an “effective arsenal to deter any adversary”.
Obama administration is determined to make it up with Russia (see my article
The US “forgets” about Georgia and makes up with Russia
The signing of a START 1 replacement, when Obama goes to Moscow in July, is
going to provide concrete evidence of their new relationship.
No disapproval of India, Israel and Pakistan
President Obama hadn’t a
word of disapproval for the three states – India, Israel and Pakistan – that
never signed the NPT and secretly developed nuclear weapons. Nuclear
proliferation on this grand scale didn’t get a mention in his speech –
perhaps because these states are US allies.
These states chose to
remain outside the NPT and therefore didn’t break any NPT “rules” by
developing nuclear weapons. But, if the President’s goal is a “world
without nuclear weapons”, one might have thought that these states which
actually possess nuclear weapons were more worthy of his disapproval that
Iran, which he admits has none.
It used to be the case that these
three states were in the international nuclear doghouse, in the sense that
they were unable to purchase nuclear material and equipment from the rest of
the world, which made it difficult for them to expand their civil nuclear
programmes. But, in July 2005, the Bush administration signed the
US-India nuclear agreement, an initiative which has lead to India being
taken out of the doghouse. It is now free to engage in international
nuclear commerce (see my article India & Iran: US double standards on
India: a natural strategic partner for the US
Barack Obama voted for the legislation required to enact that agreement.
In July 2008, he explained his actions to the Indian magazine Outlook:
“I voted for the US-India nuclear agreement because India is a strong
democracy and a natural strategic partner for the US in the 21st century.”
There you have it: the Bush administration, allegedly a determined
opponent of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, has rewarded India, a
state that has engaged in proliferation to the extent of acquiring around 60
nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them. Obama, an equally
determined opponent of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, approves
wholeheartedly on the grounds that India is “a natural strategic partner for
There, Obama was speaking during his election campaign.
Now that he is in office, his administration has embraced the US-India
agreement. On 23 March 2009, his Deputy Secretary of State, James
Steinburg, told a conference at the Brookings Institution:
is committed to working directly with India as a robust partner on civilian
nuclear energy. Our governments have taken some of the steps needed to
realize the one, two, three agreement [with India on nuclear commerce], but
we both need to do more.”
It appears that there are special “rules” for “a natural
strategic partner for the US”.
Steinburg went on:
United States and India have a responsibility to help work, to craft a
strengthened NPT regime that fosters safe, affordable nuclear power, to help
the globe’s energy and environment needs while assuring against the spread
of nuclear weapons.”
Think about it: here the US is saying that
India, a state that remained outside the NPT so that it was free to develop
nuclear weapons, should help “strengthen” the NPT in order to prevent the
proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states. You couldn’t make it up.
It is not as if India is going to sign the NPT. Since it isn’t
one of the five privileged “nuclear-weapon” states as defined by the NPT, it
would have to give up its nuclear weapons and sign as a “non-nuclear-weapon”
state. It is safe to say that India will not do that – but
nevertheless the US wants it to help “strengthen” the NPT in order to
prevent other states acquiring nuclear weapons.
Iran a pariah state
By contrast, the US treats Iran as a pariah state because of its nuclear
activities. Unlike India, Iran has been a signatory to the NPT since
July 1968, as a “non-nuclear-weapon” state. By Obama’s own admission,
it doesn’t possess any nuclear weapons. It says that its uranium
enrichment facilities are not for military purposes and the International
Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) has found no evidence to the contrary.
Yet Iran has had economic sanctions imposed upon it in order to force it to
cease uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities, which are its right
under the NPT so long as they are for “peaceful purposes”. Article
IV(1) of the NPT says:
“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted
as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to
develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes
Clearly, Iran made the wrong choice in 1968 by signing the
NPT. Had it taken the same route as India (and Israel and Pakistan)
and refused to sign, it would have been free to engage in any nuclear
activities it liked in secret, including activities for military purposes,
without breaking any of the “rules” of the NPT. If it had kept on the
right side of the US, it might have been invited by the US to help
“strengthen” the NPT in order to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to
Withdrawal from NPT
Under Article IX of the NPT,
Iran would be within its rights to withdraw from the Treaty and remove the
constraints upon it due to NPT membership. Article IX says:
“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to
withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to
the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of
its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to
the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in
advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events
it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”
objective standard, Iran (and other neighbours of Israel) has good grounds
for withdrawal, because of the build up over the past 40 years of an Israeli
nuclear arsenal directed at them. There could hardly be a better
example of “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this
Treaty”, which “have jeopardized [their] supreme interests”.
might not be wise for Iran to withdraw from the NPT at the present time,
since it would risk terrible havoc from the US and/or Israel. But,
there is no doubt that such an action would be within the “rules” of the
NPT, that President Obama puts so much store by.