English version
03-04/2010 Fast search  

Nuclear non-proliferation deadlocks
Alexander Pikayev

Nuclear proliferation is a generally recognized threat to peace and security. It occupies a priority place in the policy of Russia and other leading states. The Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington in April. A regular Review Conference of the parties to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is scheduled in May in New York. The problem is very complicated, but as it concerns every human being on Earth, VIP-Premier asked an informed expert to elaborate. Alexander Pikayev, participant in influential international forums and the author of the monograph Nuclear Non-Proliferation Deadlocks: North Korea and Iran analyses the whole range of accumulated contradictions related to the NPP.

Alexander A. Pikayev was born in 1962. He heads the Disarmament and Conflict Settlement Department of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian project of the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies in the United States. He graduated from the Lomonosov Moscow State University and is a Candidate of Political Sciences. In 1994-1997 he was an assistant to a Russian State Duma member. In 1997-2003 he headed the non-proliferation program of the Moscow Carnegie Center and was editor-in-chief of the Nuclear Proliferation magazine. Pikayev was awarded with state and ministerial decorations. He is taskforce member of the Russian Council for International Relations and the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the scientific editor of the Russian publication of SIPRI Yearbook Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. He is the author of over a hundred publications on disarmament and non-proliferation, Russian-U.S. relationship, Russian foreign and defense policy. He speaks English and Portuguese and is fond of travel and cinema.


The NPT is the most comprehensive arms control agreement. All states in the world are parties to it, except for India, Israel, the DPRK, and Pakistan. The treaty divides participants into nuclear and non-nuclear states. The first category comprises Russia, the United States, China, Great Britain and France, which carried out a nuclear test by the date of NPT signing. They simultaneously comprise the five permanent UN Security Council members. Non-nuclear states have no right to create nuclear weapons. The NPT came into force in 1970 and was initially valid for 25 years. In 1995 it became a permanent treaty at a Review Conference of member-states.

The NPT stipulates no verification or compliance monitoring mechanism. The task is assigned to regular Review Conferences convened once in five years. The latest one was held in 2005. The Preparatory Committee meets twice during the breaks. Its task is to review compliance with previous conference decisions. In practice NPT compliance verification is carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which was founded in late ‘1950s in Vienna to promote access of emerging economies to atomic energy and ensure its safe use. After the signing of the NPT the IAEA concluded agreements with non-nuclear states that guarantee international inspectors access to declared nuclear objects. The absence of the right of IAEA inspectors to visit facilities undeclared by the host country opened a possibility for NPT breaches, as any country could conceal its infrastructure that could be used to create nuclear weapons. Even limited checks helped expose unlawful activities. Thus, IAEA inspections at North Korean facilities in early ‘1990s exposed that Pyongyang engaged in a clandestine and large-scale nuclear program. The fact prompted IAEA member-states to enhance the operating regime. In 1996 the Agency agreed on a Model Additional Protocol to the safeguards agreements of all member-states, including nuclear powers. The new document granted IAEA inspectors access to facilities the host country did not declare as nuclear, which considerably expanded NPT verification possibilities.


Despite heated discussions over the revision or enhancement of several NPT provisions, most states are not ready so far to “open” the document for new talks on its improvement. NPT represents a thoroughly though-out global balance of interests and compromises among nearly two hundred countries of the world. Any introduced amendments to it are fraught with a landslide of proposals and claims from numerous states that can bury the whole acting treaty.

However discussions continue. North Korean withdrawal from the NPT in 2004 and the staging of a nuclear test drew the international attention to article 10 of the Treaty. It allows any member-state to withdraw from the NPT in case its supreme national security interests are jeopardized. The country has to notify Depository Governments and the United Nations about the withdrawal and after six months it is free from NPT commitments.

The DPRK twice resorted to the right – in 1993 and 2003. The precedent demonstrated that states may conceal nuclear program military components and lawfully develop nuclear technologies in the NPT framework, and if necessary withdraw from the treaty without any punishment. To prevent such situations a number of proposals were advanced, including the radical idea to ban withdrawal from the NPT altogether. It did not enjoy major support as it contradicts state sovereignty.

Article 4 of the Treaty also causes heated debate. It recognizes the right of member-states to peaceful use of nuclear energy and commits nuclear states to assist non-nuclear countries in that. However, there is technological similarity between peaceful and military use of nuclear energy. If a country acquires technology to enrich uranium to sufficient levels for the production of fuel for nuclear power plants (several percent by the content of uranium-235 isotope), it actually receives practically all necessary knowledge and technologies to further enrich uranium to weapon grade (90 percent for uranium-235). That is the main objection against the Iranian program to enrich uranium. Besides, the spent fuel from NPP reactors comprises a raw material for the production of another weapon grade material – plutonium. In such conditions the production of weapon-grade uranium and plutonium suitable for the creation of a nuclear explosive device is a question of time and political will.

As the NPT envisages no ban on the creation of national facilities to enrich uranium and process spent fuel, several countries proposed that states without such facilities renounce them in exchange of guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies for NPP and research reactors at a fair price by the states which already possess the technologies. A similar option is actually offered to Iran. Russian fuel will be supplied to the NPP in Bushehr built with Russian assistance. Moscow has also made Iran agree to repatriate spent nuclear fuel. A similar scheme has been offered for fuel supplies for the research reactor in Tehran, however Iran has not agreed so far.

The initiative caused no enthusiasm among other developing nations. They fear that such proposal, if approved, would divide the world into countries entitled to high-tech production of nuclear materials and those deprived of the right.

The issue of discriminative NPT character is high on the agenda. The document divides the countries of the world into those entitled to have nuclear weapons (the nuclear five) and those deprived of the right (over 180 remaining countries). When NPT was negotiated the non-nuclear countries agreed to it in exchange for two conditions: firstly, access to atomic power engineering and, secondly, the pledge of nuclear states to work for nuclear disarmament.

Many non-nuclear countries and not only developing nations believe nuclear states do not fulfill their obligations under article 6. They are mostly dissatisfied by the fact that in reality the United States, Russia, Great Britain and France are not ready to work for comprehensive and complete nuclear disarmament. China declared its adherence to comprehensive and complete nuclear disarmament, but conditioned its disarmament moves by the reduction of other nuclear powers’ arsenals to the Chinese level. It would be fruitful for Russia, which bears the main burden of nuclear disarmament, to advance some positive initiative in the sphere. Criticism is also voiced as four nuclear states do not reject the right to use nuclear weapons first and as nuclear powers refuse to revise the role of the nuclear weapons in their security concepts. Many non-nuclear states demand to adopt a convention banning nuclear weapons similar to the already signed conventions that ban other weapons of mass destruction – chemical and biological. The United States and Great Britain have been criticized of late for the programs to upgrade nuclear forces. Regular calls urge Russia and the United States to begin negotiations on the reductions of tactical nuclear weapons and report on the fulfillment of presidential nuclear initiatives of 1991-1992, which had to take a major part of tactical nuclear weapons off combat duty, eliminate them or store in centralized dumps. According to available public information, Russia has not fulfilled the non-binding commitments in full volume.


Another major problem is to provide universal character to the NPT. De-facto nuclear, but de-jure unrecognized states as India, Pakistan, the DPRK and Israel are outside the Treaty. The former three staged nuclear tests after the NPT came into force. Israel neither recognizes nor rejects possession of nuclear weapons. The four countries can join the NPT only as non-nuclear states. For that they have to follow suit of South Africa that eliminated its nuclear arsenal in late 1980s – early 1990s. Otherwise it would be necessary to revise the corresponding articles of the Treaty, while member-states are clearly not ready for that.

In 2005 the DPRK agreed to cancel its nuclear program in exchange for the assistance of the United States, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia and in response to political concessions from Washington. However, despite the promise Pyongyang staged two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula have not resumed so far. Chances for Israeli denuclearization are also small, although the country has never staged its own nuclear tests, but is suspected of joining South African test in late 1970s. Israel officially backs the creation in the Middle East of a zone free of mass destruction weapons, including nuclear arms, but conditions it by lasting peace in the region, which is rather problematic provided unclear prospects for solid Arab-Israeli settlement.

In contrast to Israel and the DPRK, India and Pakistan are ready to restore their nuclear-free status only together with recognized nuclear powers. India tested its first nuclear explosive device in 1974 and said it targeted “peaceful purposes”. However in 1997 New Delhi staged new nuclear tests and provoked Pakistani retaliation. At present the international community has actually connived to the nuclear status of India and Pakistan. Most sanctions imposed by several countries against the states following their nuclear tests in 1997 have been lifted. The two countries are now urged not to become a source of proliferation for nuclear materials and technologies. Pakistan poses the biggest danger in this respect. India has unilaterally created an efficient national export control mechanism, while Pakistan on the contrary developed into a major source of unlawful supplies of nuclear materials and technologies. An underground international network headed by Pakistani nuclear bomb godfather A.K. Khan was exposed early this decade. There are grounds to believe that it supplied technologies and materials for the nuclear programs in the DPRK, Iran and Libya. There are fears regarding security of Pakistani nuclear munitions and the possibility of their unsanctioned use.

As for India, it is gradually being withdrawn from international “nuclear” isolation. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decided in 1992 to prohibit any supplies of nuclear materials and technologies to the country. However fuel was supplied due to a legal loophole of the decision – the provision envisaging exclusive circumstances related to safe reactor operations.

In 2005 India and the United States concluded a nuclear deal: Washington lifted restrictions on the supplies of materials and technologies to India in exchange for several concessions. They include separation of civilian and military nuclear objects and placement of the former under IAEA supervision. The implementation of the deal demands NSG approval, as it contradicts its 1992 decision. The United States officially contacted the organization with a request to provide to India “a special status” as an exception. European nuclear powers – Russia, France and Great Britain – supported it. However, the request dissatisfied a number of non-nuclear states, specifically those possessing technical capabilities to create nuclear weapons and which have made a political decision to renounce nuclear status (Japan, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Norway). They have renounced nuclear status at their time in exchange for benefits, including unhindered access to the international market of peaceful nuclear technologies. The opposition in the NSG was surprisingly strong and the U.S. request was satisfied only in 2008.

Thus, the international community resorts to pressure and cooperation instruments to encourage unrecognized nuclear countries to voluntarily take national measures to efficiently control exports of nuclear materials and technologies and involves them into international regime capable of limiting their nuclear potential.

Moscow, Petrovka str. 26 bld.2