U.S. has nuclear double standard

February 18, 2004|By Bennett Ramberg

LOS ANGELES -- President Bush has urged the Senate to approve legislation that would improve compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, hoping to encourage Iran and other nations to follow the U.S. example.

To strengthen treaty safeguards, Mr. Bush wants the Senate to ratify what is called the Additional Protocol. The protocol received headlines in the fall of 2003 when the United States pressed Iran to embrace it. After stonewalling, Tehran signed up, but left ratification in abeyance.

Unfortunately, the standard Washington proposes to apply to discourage proliferation may do more harm than good.

The protocol grew out of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. After the conflict, international inspectors gained access to suspected and hidden nuclear sites in Iraq. The survey revealed a vast nuclear weapons enterprise. Equally disturbing, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards had failed to detect the activity in advance.

Responding to what appeared to be a systemic monitoring deficiency, the IAEA initiated the protocol in 1997 to supplement the standard safeguards agreement. The protocol enhances IAEA authority to oversee nuclear fuel cycle and related equipment, materials, research, development, manufacturing and imports. The agency also gains the ability to initiate inspections of declared and undeclared nuclear sites more rapidly. The objective: to deter cheating through better and earlier detection.

The United States signed the protocol in 1998, but the Senate never ratified it.

Lamentably, the protocol is not mandatory. Of the 184 nonnuclear weapons parties to the 1968 NPT, only 38 have signed and ratified the provision. The failure of so many to adopt the protocol should be troubling.

In his Feb. 11 address to the National Defense University in Washington, Mr. Bush proposed a remedy: denial of civilian nuclear assistance to nations that fail to adopt the accord. While this is a good recommendation, Mr. Bush undermines his position because of the scope of the protocol he has asked the Senate to ratify.

In agreeing to the protocol, the administration had to overcome a conundrum: How does the United States, an acknowledged nuclear weapons state, apply a monitoring agreement fashioned to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons?

The administration provided a twofold answer: a "national security exclusion" prohibiting IAEA inspection of all U.S. nuclear weapons activities and circumscribed IAEA inspection of civil nuclear sites.

Given the U.S. nuclear status, one can understand the weapons program exemption. But civil nuclear exclusions promote a double standard that nonnuclear weapons states raised during negotiations. At this time, the protocol applied to non-nuclear weapons states allows no commercial exclusions.

The Bush plan, by contrast, excludes commercial activities involving "direct national security significance."

And its "managed access" clause goes even further.

Ignoring the Protocol's standard to protect commercial and proprietary information, Senate testimony reveals that the United States reserves, "without explanation," the right to make "full and repeated use" of the national security exclusion to bar IAEA access to any site. The agency will have "no right to challenge or question" U.S. action. Further, private American companies can object to inspections unless subject to an administrative search warrant "consistent with the Fourth Amendment."

By permitting broad exclusions of civil activities, Washington diminishes the incentives for non-nuclear weapons states to sign a protocol that demands that they alone open all of their sites.

The administration contends that its unique application of the protocol "will help sustain our long-standing record of voluntary acceptance of safeguards and promote universal adoption" of the protocol. Given Washington's proposed commercial exemptions, the U.S. Protocol will encourage the opposite.

Under the circumstances, the Senate would do well either to reject ratification or to modify U.S. adherence. Rejection clarifies a fact: The U. S. remains a nuclear weapons state that the protocol cannot change.

Rejection also will avoid embarrassing rationalizations that Washington will have to make to justify its civil nuclear exclusions.

However, if the "symbolic" value of American adherence is as important as the administration proclaims, the United States should exact the same inspection standard to its civil sites as the protocol applies to all non-nuclear weapons states.

In his letter to the Senate, President Bush stated that the protocol "will bolster U.S. efforts to strengthen nuclear safeguards and promote the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons." Regrettably, the crafting he proposes will not do the job.

Bennett Ramberg served in the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the first Bush administration.

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