Obama’s UNSC nuclear agenda

The UN Security Council is to meet on September 24 in a session to be chaired by President Obama. The focus will be on arms control and disarmament, specifically within the nuclear context. The Obama Administration has already put forward a draft for a UNSC resolution on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament. Ironically, the Obama draft has many crucial elements reflecting the thinking of the Bush Administration. This should not come as a total surprise given how many of the emerging foreign and security policies of the Obama Administration are seeming more and more like a continuation of the Bush policies – especially in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan and nuclear proliferation.

In the latter context, despite rhetoric to the contrary, the Obama Administration has gone along with the Bush policy of fast-tracking a US sponsored draft of a Fissile Material Control Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. The problem is that this draft fails to include some of the basic points demanded by most of the other main players – including China and Pakistan. For instance, the US draft leaves out provisions for a verification structure regarding fissile material stockpiles. Instead it refers only to national technical means of verification. Now Pakistan has already learnt the hard way that without verification provisions, international agreements relating to weapon material stockpiles are unreliable. After all, despite a bilateral Pakistan-India treaty relating to chemical weapons, Pakistan was duped by India until the multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention revealed Indian stockpiles of these weapons — which India had informed Pakistan it had already destroyed! Nor does the US draft FMCT deal with PAROS – the prevention of an arms race in outer space – a major issue with China. But for the US with its Ballistic Missile Defence programme, PAROS is hardly a priority.

We have seen the Obama Administration recognize the need for safeguards, but it is not prepared to alter the Bush-introduced FMCT draft. Perhaps the most critical issue for Pakistan is that there is no provision for reduction of existing stockpiles – without which an FMCT would put Pakistan at a permanent disadvantage. Despite all these adverse factors, Pakistan is being pushed into accepting the US-drafted FMCT without movement on the related issues – which is against the international consensus achieved in the Shannon Mandate.

So undoubtedly, in the forthcoming session of the UNSC we are going to see Obama push the US draft resolution on nuclear proliferation through. This would be detrimental for countries like Pakistan because some of the clauses in the US draft are deliberate attempts to politicize technical nonproliferation issues by widening the scope of the UNSC and reducing the role of the IAEA – despite the fact of the independent El Baradei’s departure and the coming of a US-compliant DG at the IAEA.

Amongst the clauses that are of concern are Articles1 and 2.

Article 1 is a dangerous clause because it seeks to bring nuclear matters, which normally come under the IAEA, to the UNSC – thereby politicizing them and giving the UNSC a wider scope of punitive action. In fact, such a clause will prevent the IAEA from seeking compromise solutions through a technical focus and an apolitical approach – something Baradei tried to maintain vis a vis Iran despite enormous US pressure. Also, this clause would encourage powerful states like the US to politicize genuinely technical issues in order to punish hostile states.

Article 2 presents indirectly an absurd interpretation of Article IV of the Non Proliferation Treaty by demanding that states comply fully with their NPT obligations but that the benefits of the NPT were conditional with such compliance. There is in fact no conditionality factor present in Article IV which is supposed to offer civilian nuclear technology to NPT members as well as allowing them equal rights to develop civil nuclear technology.

All in all, the US draft resolution for the UNSC is wrought with the same problems that surfaced in the Bush Administration’s approach to nuclear nonproliferation. It tries to bring in the terrorism issue into the nuclear ambit despite the fact that terrorists do not need to acquire nuclear weapons to implement their agendas. Preambular para 16 is interesting because it talks of a grave concern over the “threat of nuclear terrorism, including provision of nuclear material or technical assistance for the purpose of terrorism”. Pakistan should be wary of this as it will be used against the country and its scientists, especially Dr A Q Khan. The US has tried so many different tacks to get access to Dr Khan and this is bound to be another stick with which to beat Pakistan and Dr Khan.

The constant US refrain of a nuclear terrorist attack on the US homeland from our part of the world is so ridiculous that one cannot seriously discuss it. Suffice it to say that how would a terrorist with a nuclear device or even material transport it across the ocean to the US? Would he parcel it to an accomplice and hope the radioactivity would go unnoticed through all the multiple security checks? Or would he carry it on his person and hope no one would detect it? No. If there were to be an act of nuclear terrorism in the US it would have to be carried out from within the US – where nuclear security is a major issue. Not only have there been nuclear material leaks at power plants; the US Air Force temporarily lost live nuclear weapons as recently as 2007. So much for stable command and control structures!

Unfortunately, the Obama draft ignores the real security concern regarding nuclear issues. This is the safety of nuclear installations in terms of leakages and missing fissile material. The most abysmal record on this count is that of Japan, Russia and India, while the US has been proliferating to Israel for decades now. Japan has one of the most developed civil nuclear programmes in the world and has caused concern in its neighbourhood with a controversial reprocessing plant and with the accidents at its nuclear plants. With the end of the Soviet Union, there have been a spate of reports dealing with stolen Russian and Ukrainian uranium being sold in the black market. Reports have also been published of missing radioactive material in India.

So, if the Obama Administration really wanted to zero in on the security factor in the nuclear domain, it would have focused more on nuclear safety and less on nuclear terrorism – which, while it can never be eliminated as a concern, is not rationally a viable one at present. However, it does have abundant political mileage which the US and its allies never tire of exploiting.

All in all, it is unfortunate to see Obama’s electoral rhetoric on nonproliferation dissipate so quickly – just as his rhetoric on the so-called war on terror has slipped into Bush gear!

With such a hostile and discriminatory nonproliferation draft resolution before it, what will Pakistan’s stance be? Will Haqqani push the US agenda as always or will the FO hold its ground in the absence of its Secretary? Will our rulers make us victims of yet another deal? We shouldn’t hold our breath. Dr. Shireen M Mazari

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