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12. Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation



I. Introduction

II. The Khan nuclear network

III. Iran and nuclear proliferation concerns

IV. The Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme

V. Post-war findings about Iraq’s nuclear programme

VI. South Korean safeguards violations

VII. The NPT Review Conference Preparatory Committee

VIII. Internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle

IX. New US nuclear weapons

X. Conclusions


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Developments in 2004 raised serious questions about the future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and its principal legal foundation, the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT). Evidence emerged confirming the existence of a clandestine transnational network of companies and middlemen, centred around Pakistan’s leading nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, that supplied sensitive nuclear technology and expertise to Iran and Libya and possibly to other states. This raised concern about the diffusion of nuclear weapon capabilities to non-state as well as state actors, and it spurred new initiatives aimed at preventing the illicit transfer of nuclear technologies and materials. There continued to be controversy over the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provided further detail about Iran’s failure to declare important nuclear activities as required by its safeguards agreement with the agency. In addition, there was little progress made in the international talks on the future of North Korea’s nuclear programme.


These developments led to proposals for repairing perceived shortcomings in the non-proliferation regime. There was particular interest in revisiting one of the key provisions of the NPT—the guarantee, contained in Article IV of the treaty, that non-nuclear weapon states have an ‘inalienable right’ to import and develop materials and technologies for use in civil nuclear energy programmes. Some experts cited the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programmes as evidence that Article IV creates a fundamental weakness in the NPT, in that it allows NPT parties seeking to acquire nuclear weapons to legally put in place the fuel cycle facilities needed for manufacturing these weapons under the cover of civil nuclear energy programmes. Concern about closing this perceived loophole led to growing interest in the idea of limiting civil uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing programmes to a handful of fully transparent nuclear fuel cycle facilities operating under multinational or international control.


The implementation of the NPT regime continued to generate controversy in 2004, as the third meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 NPT Review Conference ended in deadlock. The meeting highlighted deep differences between the states parties over the issue of responding to suspected or clear-cut cases of non-compliance and the perceived lack of commitment of some parties to fulfilling their treaty obligations. The inability of the parties to produce a report containing any substantive recommendations on treaty implementation issues, or even to adopt an agenda for the 2005 Review Conference, cast doubt on the prospects for a successful outcome to the Conference.


There was some important good news in 2004 for non-proliferation efforts. Libya implemented its December 2003 pledge to verifiably abandon and dismantle, under international inspection, its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programmes. Some observers believed that the Libyan action, following the removal of Saddam Hussein and the disclosure of Iran’s nuclear programme, created a unique opportunity to make progress towards the goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.