Monday, May 09, 2005

Nuclear Nonsense:

The Wall Street Journal, Opinion Journal:
The 188 signatory countries to the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty are meeting this month to review the accord, and they certainly have enough to talk about.

North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003, recently tested a ballistic missile that reportedly could be fitted with a nuclear warhead. And Iran, an NPT signatory, says it plans to restart at least some of its nuclear-related programs following the stalemate of talks with Britain, France and Germany. The so-called E-3 have been trying to get Tehran to agree to a permanent halt to its nuclear programs in exchange for political and commercial concessions.

But enough about events on planet Earth. The NPT conference is taking place at the United Nations. So instead of a meeting devoted to curbing the atomic ambitions of terrorism-sponsoring regimes, what we have instead is another bout of issue-avoidance and moral posturing, most of it at America's expense. READ MORE

Kofi Annan set the tone in his keynote address. "States that wish to exercise their undoubted right to develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," he said, "must not insist that they can only do so by developing capacities that might be used to create nuclear weapons." In this, at least, the Secretary-General is right: As nonproliferation experts Henry Sokolski and George Perkovich noted in The Wall Street Journal last week, surely the purpose of the NPT is not to allow countries to develop "civilian" nuclear power to within a screw's twist of an actual bomb.

But then Mr. Annan went on to urge drastic cuts in the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, beyond the two-thirds reductions already agreed to.

Exactly what this has to do with the serious issues that now confront the NPT is anybody's guess. It is precisely America's nuclear deterrent that has been the single greatest stabilizing force in world affairs in the past 60 years. What is truly strange about Mr. Annan's remarks is the way they recast the present danger as something akin to global warming, in which all states have responsibilities--disarmament in the case of the U.S., nonproliferation in the case of Iran--that exist on a shared moral plane.

And no sooner had Mr. Annan spoken than the moral equivalence choir chimed in. New Zealand representative Marian Hobbs, speaking for a disarmament coalition that includes Egypt, Mexico, Sweden and Brazil, professed to be "greatly disappointed" by the "unsatisfactory progress of the nuclear states." Jimmy Carter also piled on, calling the U.S. "the major culprit in the erosion of the NPT."

"While claiming to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea," Mr. Carter wrote recently, "American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but also have asserted plans to test and develop new weapons."

We would not quote the Nobel Peace Prize winner at such length, except that his words nicely capture the zeitgeist of the NPT conference. Even more remarkable is how closely they track with the Iranian view. "The major sources of threat to global peace and security," Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi told the conference, are the arsenals of existing nuclear powers. "Unilateral nuclear disarmament measures," he adds, "should be pursued vigorously."

That's a bold statement, coming as it does from a country that pursued a secret nuclear-weapons program for 18 years, set aside an estimated $3 billion to purchase nuclear warheads on the black market, repeatedly violated its commitments not to enrich uranium, and built redundant facilities and a vast underground infrastructure to house its "civilian" nuclear program. Yet it is also a measure of Tehran's diplomatic skill that it has been able to use the NPT to divert the world's attention from its own behavior to a variety of irrelevances.

One such irrelevance is a proposal from Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would impose a global moratorium on new nuclear fuel-cycle facilities until a new convention governing their controls can be negotiated. As it happens, the U.S. voluntarily suspended fuel-cycle activities years ago, as part of a Carter Administration initiative in good-example setting that was followed by no one.

But now President Bush wants to resume nuclear reprocessing as part of his broader energy strategy, and he sees no reason to hamper America in order to indulge a U.N. fiction that the U.S. and Iran have similar nonproliferation obligations. Still, we can expect to hear more about U.S. "obstructionism" as Iran and the New Zealands of the world change the subject.

All of this serves Iran's purposes as it plays for time to develop its nuclear programs in secret. Yet it cannot distract from the fact that Iran will now move in the direction of openly enriching uranium, as it now claims is its "right" under the NPT. This will pose some interesting difficulties for the E-3. The IAEA Board of Governors meets again in June, and a decision will have to be made whether to refer Iran's breaches of the NPT to the Security Council.

Given the European record, the Iranians doubtlessly expect yet another EU reprieve. So frankly do we: It has long been apparent that the E-3's efforts had more to do with stalling the U.S. than with dealing seriously with Iran. For the Bush Administration, however, the IAEA meeting will present an opportunity--both to escape the U.N. hall of mirrors into which the Iranian issue has now fallen, and to call Europe's bluff. This will surely be a moment of clarity. We hope it will be a moment of resolution as well.