Lesson: Nuclear Weapons Complications (Teachable Moment)
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was created in 1970. Its primary aim is "to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology-and to further the goal of the nuclear disarmament." At the time five nations had nuclear weapons-the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China.
Under the NPT, non-nuclear nations agreed not to manufacture or import nuclear weapons. The nuclear nations agreed (1) to provide non-nuclear nations with the technology and help they needed to develop nuclear power for civilian use; 2) to permit uranium enrichment for nuclear power plants and the generation of energy for peaceful purposes; and (3) to "an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons."
Of the 183 nations that have ratified the NPT, none but the original five have nuclear weapons today. But several countries not participating in the NPT have developed nuclear weapons since 1970: India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. The first three nations never ratified the NPT. North Korea did, but resigned its membership after its nuclear program, a violation of the NPT, became public.
U.S. government behavior toward nations that developed, or are accused of developing, nuclear weapons has been inconsistent. The U.S. lifted its sanctions against India and Pakistan some time ago though the two nations have nuclear weapons stockpiles. It has been working in recent years toward a nuclear agreement with India that would allow sales of nuclear fuel and technology to that nation, a violation of the NPT. Pakistan has gotten billions of dollars from the U.S. for its military in the "war on terror." Israel, an ally of the U.S., has also received billions in military aid.
On the other hand, the U.S. has for years conducted an economic boycott against North Korea, one of the three nations in President Bush's stated "axis of evil." But the U.S. and five Asian nations have had off-and-on negotiations with North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons that now seem close to success.
President Bush has accused the other two "axis of evil" nations of developing nuclear weapons. According to the president, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was aimed in part against its nuclear weapons program. But Iraq proved not to have one. And now Iran is suspected of nuclear weapons ambitions and under a tightening economic boycott.
The original nuclear weapons powers--the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China have never worked seriously to meet their NPT commitment--"to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons."
"Perhaps the grandest illusion of the nuclear age is that a handful of states possessing nuclear weapons can secure themselves and the world indefinitely against the dangers of nuclear proliferation without placing a higher priority on simultaneously striving to eliminate their own nuclear weapons, too," wrote George Perkovich, an expert on nuclear weapons proliferation, in the conclusion of his book, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation.
- What questions do you have about the reading? How might they be answered?
- Both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have said little, in most cases nothing, about the U.S.-Iran relationship over the past 50 years. They have concentrated almost exclusively on Iran's nuclear program. Why do you suppose this is so? What difference might it make in a candidate's statements if he or she considered the nuclear program in the history of that relationship?
- Based on what you know, do you judge Iran to be a military threat to the U.S.? The Middle East? The world? Why or why not?
- How would you explain the inconsistent behavior since 1970 of U.S. governments toward nations with, or accused of developing, nuclear weapons?
- How would you explain the failure of the original nuclear weapons powers to live up to their NPT commitment?
- What does George Perkovich think are the consequences of this failure? What evidence is there to support his view?
Source: Written by Alan Shapiro; http://www.teachablemoment.org/high/iran.html