A Better Way to Reduce Nuclear Risks
By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
In 1977, when I served in President Jimmy Carter's State Department, I was sent to India to dissuade that country's leaders from developing a nuclear bomb. My hosts replied that they needed to keep up with China. I said that Pakistan would inevitably follow suit and the world would become less safe. India promised that it would not export its weapons technology. So far as we know, its leaders have kept their word. But revelations about the nuclear weapons smuggling network organized by A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's bomb, confirm the danger I predicted back then. Some call Khan's network an effort to spread an ?slamic bomb, but given that North Korea was on the list of recipients along with Libya and Iran, it might better be termed a corrupt bomb. As events in Pakistan illustrate, the spread of nuclear technology does not extend the stability that comes with mutual deterrence. Rather, it increases the prospects of corrupt leakage that may allow terrorist groups access to nuclear weapons. That makes everyone less safe. Any pathological group of extremists could destroy New Delhi, Tokyo, Paris, or any city they chose. Now the world's attention is focussed on Iran, one recipient of Pakistani technology, as the country seemingly keenest to create its own nuclear arsenal. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran began enriching uranium at a pilot centrifuge plant last August, and is constructing larger underground enrichment facilities. Iran proclaims that its programs are for peaceful generation of nuclear energy, but inspectors have already found traces of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium. Last October, Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the IAEA, announced that Iran had accepted enhanced inspection procedures.
In addition, after visits by the French, British, and German foreign ministers, Iran announced a temporary suspension of its enrichment program. Now it hints that it may resume enrichment, and recent press reports about the imports from Pakistan suggest Iran failed to disclose everything to the IAEA. Iran claims that as a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Correct, because the NPT was born with a loophole. Even if a country agrees to broad ranging IAEA inspections, it can legally accumulate enriched uranium (or reprocessed plutonium) under the guise of a peaceful energy program, and then suddenly declare that circumstances have changed and withdraw from the treaty with the ability to produce nuclear weapons on short notice. If Iran did this, it would not only add to the dangers in an unstable region, but would likely begin a process of unravelling the non-proliferation regime worldwide. Iran may ask what right others have to demand that it forego nuclear weapons. The answer lies both in the fact that it promised not to do so when it signed the NPT and in the consequences that it would impose on others. For these reasons, President Bush declared an Iranian nuclear weapon unacceptable. However, America's unilateral options are limited. Not only is the US military busy trying in Iraq, but the way the US went into Iraq which proved to have fewer nuclear capabilities than Iran undermined American credibility, making it difficult to recruit allies to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions. Fortunately, there is a multilateral option and an existing precedent. In the mid-1970's, many parties to the NPT planned to import and develop enrichment and reprocessing facilities. Realizing the threat to the non-proliferation regime, countries as diverse as the Soviet Union, France, Germany, and Japan formed a ?uclear Suppliers Group that restrained the export of enrichment and reprocessing facilities. That plugged part of the loophole in the treaty without amending it. Today, such countries should join together to offer Iran (and others) a deal. Countries that wish to develop nuclear energy but not nuclear bombs should be given international guarantees of fuel supply and disposal of spent fuel. For example, Russia, which is helping Iran construct a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, should offer Iran a guarantee of low enriched uranium fuel and reprocessing of the reactor's spent fuel by sending it back to Russia if Iran agrees to forego enrichment and reprocessing. This deal could then be given teeth by the UN Security Council. The Council would declare that further proliferation of nuclear weapons is a threat to peace, and that any country moving in that direction is subject to sanctions. Such a resolution would also include a carrot by guaranteeing Iran access to the non-dangerous parts of the nuclear energy fuel cycle. The pot could be further sweetened by offers to relax existing sanctions and provide a security guarantee if Iran remains non-nuclear. European foreign ministers have already expressed their concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Russia indicates that it is willing to provide such fuel services. It is time for the Security Council to try to internationalize the most dangerous parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. It is not too late to learn the lessons of the misadventures of A. Q. Khan.
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Dr. Joseph S. Nye Jr. is dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Univ. and a former US Assistant Secretary of Defense. He is author of the forthcoming book, "Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics." He also served in 3 government agencies including Defense and State departments.
He earned his BA from Princeton Univ. in 1958, MA from Oxford Univ. on a Rhodes Scholarship, and Ph.D. in political science from Harvard Univ., respectively. He became Harvard professor in 1964.