Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Jaristotle's Jottings | To have or not to have

Published:Thursday | January 16, 2020 | 12:18 AM

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, brokered by the United Nations in 1968, aimed to curb the global proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology and encourage nuclear disarmament. Interestingly, the treaty categorised those nations having nuclear weapons capability prior to 1967 as Nuclear Weapons States (nuclear powers) and those without such capabilities as non-Nuclear Weapons States (non-nuclear powers).

The central agreement of the treaty surrounds non-nuclear powers not acquiring nuclear weapons and the nuclear powers (USA, UK, France, China and Russia) sharing the benefits of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and pursuing nuclear disarmament. However, nuclear disarmament has not materialised, and the extent to which nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has been shared is arguable.

What is beyond dispute is the dogmatic manner in which the nuclear powers have sought to stifle the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. While Israel is suspected of having nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan have since developed nuclear weapons without much ado. However, an offensive posture has been adopted with respect to North Korea, while Iraq was invaded on the premise of attempting to develop, or possessing nuclear weapons in violation of the treaty. Recent developments in the Middle East with respect to Iran and their nuclear programme are also quite troubling.

Don’t even think about it

The nuclear powers have consistently argued that nuclear non-proliferation is necessary to ensure rogue nations and rogue actors do not acquire such devastating capabilities. The question then becomes: how does one define rogue? It is all a matter of perspective, akin to that of ‘one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter’.

Why shouldn’t those countries that can afford to not possess nuclear weapons to be able to defend themselves from the nuclear powers, for instance? Aren’t all countries equal in the scheme of global affairs? Well, clearly not. India and Pakistan did not face the sorts of sanctions that have been imposed on North Korea and Iran, nor were they invaded, as was Iraq.

In essence, it all comes down to political perspectives, the ideologies espoused by the individual countries and their respective leaders. A question of who is acceptable and deemed stable enough to act responsibly while armed with such awesome capability. So, Putin, Xi, Macron, Johnson and Trump (as too Modi, Khan and Netanyahu) are sufficiently sane and stable while Kim and Khamenei are not.

Quite a number of countries argue that the reluctance of the nuclear powers to pursue disarmament is an indication of their willingness to use nuclear weapons if sufficiently threatened. They further argue that the manner in which the nuclear powers conduct their global affairs, the dogmatic manner in which they often impose their will over other countries is very threatening, especially to non-nuclear powers.

Various non-nuclear powers have thus argued that in the absence of disarmament, they too have the right to acquire adequate means of defending themselves in the event that any of the nuclear powers go rogue and target them.

Level playing field?

Global diplomacy is under stress: just look at the powder-keg situation in the Middle East. While the nuclear powers are concerned for their security and thus retain nuclear weapons, so too are non-nuclear powers concerned about real and perceived threats from the nuclear powers and consider it their right to likewise arm themselves under the circumstances, to level the playing field.

Such disparate views will no doubt generate much antagonism well into the future, delaying disarmament and the proliferation of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. To have or not to have, that is the question. We should be very concerned as to how this question will be answered.

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