Saturday, June 13, 2009

North Korea And NPT

North Korea signed the Nulear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985. It withdrew from it in 2003 after declaring that its intention was not to make a nuclear bomb. Yet, it conducted its first nuclear explosion in 2006 followed by the second and even more powerful one in May 2009. These expose the shortcomings of the NPT and also throw a big challenge to the new US Administration. The six-country talks that include China, the United States, and Russia, were being held since the last decade to stop North Korea's nuclear program, but those proved to be inconclusive. As a result, North Korea became more defiant.

Violating International Norms
In April, North Korea promised to test-fire a satellite from a long-range missile. It threatened to conduct a nuclear explosion again if the UNSC tried to prevent it. The United Nations imposed sanctions on North Korea soon after its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, but these did not deter Pyongyang from the dangerous course it had opted for.

For a state looking to protect itself from the threat of aggression and externally-induced regime change, this continuous ridicule meant only one thing: keep testing your nuclear weapons and missiles till the world is ready to take you seriously.

At a time when nuclear explosions have been prohibited across the world by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), North Korea's conduct exposes the nuclear nonproliferation campaign of the United States and other big powers. This second explosion by North Korea proves that the concern of the United States and the Western countries is limited to certain areas, and that there are major loopholes in the NPT. Countries like North Korea can take advantage of these.

Discriminatory Treaty
In fact, the NPT is a discriminatory treaty by virtue of which the five permanent UNSC members can maintain their nuclear arsenal. The rest of the world has, however, been denied this privilege. Had these five powers been satisfied with their own nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation could perhaps been stopped? But countries like Pakistan received nuclear know-how and devices from the Western countries in the eighties. Later, China helped extensively in advancing Pakistan's nuclear program. Similarly, European countries contributed to nuclear proliferation.

The CIA maintained silence even after having information about the activities of Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. At that time the United States was interested in building up military pressure on the erstwhile Soviet Union and its ally India that was forced to maintain a distance from the NPT. It later declared itself as a country having nuclear weapons. The five major nuclear powers clandestinely helped the countries of their choices in their nuclear programme. This led other countries to think of their own military power, and they started their military programmes accordingly.

As for North Korea, it has never had any compunction about selling its missile technology and it could do the same for nuclear technology. It is no secret that in Benazir Bhutto’s time it bartered missile technology and missiles for Pakistani nuclear technology. Not long ago, Israel bombed an industrial plant in Syria that, it claimed, was really a nuclear facility being built with North Korean help.

Boosting Morale of Other Countries
The nuclear explosion by North Korea will also boost Iran's morale. Until now, it has been claiming that its programme is peaceful. Iran has been receiving help from Pakistan and North Korea to develop its nuclear expertise. North Korea has been receiving nuclear technology and equipment from China. Despite being one of the five major countries controlling the NPT, China has violated its sentiments to be involved in nuclear proliferation. In view of its military interests, China always vetoes any proposal against North Korea placed in the UN Security Council.

Moreover, China and Russia are unwilling to impose additional UN sanctions. The US, Japan and South Korea could unilaterally adopt commercial and other trade sanctions. But these countries’ leverage is limited due to their relative lack of interaction with the North. Then, while Pyongyang does not want to allow its people to suffer hardship, China would not allow the North to collapse.

Even in the case of the NPT, India supports the principle underlying the treaty, but objects to its form. It would do India well to publicly support the principle of the NPT while exhorting the treaty members to resolve the internal contradictions that weaken it. India need not be ruffled by calls to join the NPT that will be made every now and then. Instead of going on the defensive, India must spread the word that it supports the efforts of the NPT subscribers in dealing with the contemporary nuclear challenges.

Need of the Hour
There is a need for reviving the six-party dialogue process involving the US, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea that had led to good results. In October 2007 the talks resulted in the signing of a document committing Pyongyang to disabling its nuclear facilities in return for the energy and security guarantees it wanted. North Korea destroyed its heavy water cooling tower at the Yongbyong nuclear plant in October 2008. But it changed its mind after that and revived its nuclear programme. Its long-term nuclear programme apart, there is the possibility of North Korea improving its bargaining position. China, a close ally of North Korea in the region, can be again persuaded to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

In the first place, the NPT Review Conference is scheduled for 2010. North Korea would be the main item on the conference’s agenda. There might indeed be a concerted move to remove from the NPT the clause that allows the signatories to opt out of the treaty. American demands for an immediate expansion of non-proliferation measures such as universalisation of the NPT, enforcement of the CTBT and conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) would become more strident.

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