NPT 2.0?Posted: December 11, 2013
Friend of ACL Dr. Yousaf Butt, who is now Director of the Emerging Technologies program at the Cultural Intelligence Institute in DC, wrote an interesting and provocative article about what an “NPT 2.0” could look like. It came out around Christmas time last year and seems to have slipped under the radar so I just wanted to highlight it on the blog and get some reactions from the community. I think it’s an important piece, and that it really should start a debate. See the piece here:
I think this kind of normative, forward looking thinking is very important, to lift our heads above the trenches of our, as Yousaf puts it, “endless eye-watering legal debates” about the meaning of the NPT, and remember that the NPT was never meant to be the last word on international legal regulation of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. As I argued in my 2009 book, the NPT was seen at the time of its establishment as something of a halfway house – an interim measure to at least stop horizontal nuclear weapons proliferation from getting worse. But as Article VI of the NPT makes clear, the haves-and-haves-not legal framework that the NPT recognizes was never meant to be permanent. Article VI explicitly looks toward future disarmament by the NWS, and further treatymaking that would facilitate this. At some point we are definitely going to need to take a bold next step and redesign the foundational nuclear energy/proliferation international legal framework. I think that this should happen sooner rather than later, as the NPT has at this point been so thoroughly undermined, and its credibility battered to such an extent, that it seems now to limp along with little but inertia keeping it alive.
The crux of Yousaf’s article is that the bargain at the heart of the NPT
has become increasingly skewed. Aside from the non-weaponization obligations — which apply only to states without nukes and which are ever more aggressively interpreted — the United States, and most other nuclear-weapon states, no longer appear enthusiastic about the other tenets of the NPT. To the extent that the nuclear haves are interested in disarmament, this is completely divorced from any pressure they perceive from the NPT. Such nuclear arms reductions are typically negotiated bilaterally between the United States and Russia and proceed at their own sweet pace…..Advanced states are also no longer particularly eager to help develop nuclear energy in developing nations — and this is actually a good thing. It is a dangerous and inherently dual-use technology and there ought to be no imperative to disseminate it world-wide, as there is in the NPT. It may have been seen as a panacea technology back when color television was still a novelty, but its dangerous underbelly — in terms of safety, security, and waste — has since been amply exposed.
Yousaf proposes a bold new “more-for-more” deal. The nuclear-weapon states — or at least Russia and the United States, with a hefty 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons between them – would offer swift and drastic reductions in their weapons stockpiles in exchange for the outright elimination of nuclear fuel processing activities (such as dual-use uranium enrichment and plutonium processing) in non-nuclear weapon states.
Also, he states that a
notable difference between the NPT and NPT 2.0 would have to be that the updated version would not encourage the propagation of nuclear power. Aside from a few spectacular disasters, nuclear power has been reasonably successful in most advanced nations — but only because of overt and covert government subsidies. However, these subsidies and the attendant political favoritism have in fact harmed the nuclear industry by perpetuating subpar and, in some cases, outright dangerous reactor designs…..One thing that certainly does not make sense is to have a treaty to force-feed a flawed and dangerous Beatles-era technology to developing nations, as the NPT now does. Just as there is no treaty to send landline rotary phone technology to developing nations in the era of cell phones, there’s also no pressing reason to pass on outdated nuclear technology to non-nuclear-weapon states.
I think this piece is excellently written, and that on most points it’s a persuasive read with which I find myself in agreement.
I’ll just get the ball rolling on the debate, though, by saying that I’m not sure I agree with some of Yousaf’s specific prescriptions for a NPT 2.0. I like the disarmament stuff, certainly. But I’m not sure I agree about the general policy turn away from nuclear energy that Yousaf has in mind codifying in a replacement NPT. It’s not an issue that I have a strong opinion about, and honestly it gets into some very complex energy policy, economic and environmental considerations that are really not my areas of expertise. But just as one layman on this topic, I suppose I’m someone who continues to think that nuclear energy could have an important role to play in the portfolio of energy capacity, at least in some regions of the world, going forward. France, China and India certainly seem to think so. So I don’t think I would agree with any actual disincentives to having indigenous nuclear energy programs built into the replacement legal regime. If a country decides, on the basis of its own analysis of the relevant economic and other questions, that it wants to have an indigenous nuclear energy program and nuclear fuel cycle, it seems to me that the legal regime ought to recognize that as a legitimate choice and contain no barriers to it.
In emailing with Yousaf about this further, he has described his vision for an NPT 2.0 as being essentially “agnostic” about peaceful nuclear energy programs – i.e. that it would recognize the right of any nation to have whatever peaceful programs they want, but not advocate for nuclear energy, as the current NPT does, at least as written. I think that with that clarification, I can get on board with this new vision. I agree with Yousaf that our understanding of nuclear technology has changed since 1968, and it is a more complex question now as to whether having a nuclear energy program is right for any given country. So while I don’t think there should be barriers to states choosing to have a peaceful nuclear power program, I can also see how a multilateral program advancing nuclear power around the world is a bit anachronistic now.
With regard to fuel banks, which Yousaf mentions as part of his vision, I have to say I think there is more than one country in the world that would never be able to place their trust in a multilateral fuel bank, no matter where it’s located, and no matter what assurances of supply are given. Some states will simply be unwilling to have their fuel supply dependent upon these promises, and will want to have their own indigenous fuel cycle capacity. And I think it would be difficult and unnecessary to build into the legal regime a mechanism that would deny them that option.
Again, I’m just getting the ball rolling here on the debate. I encourage wide participation, and I’m sure Yousaf will be happy to engage with those who comment.