Time to Strengthen Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime
by Yukiya Amano*
OpEd, "La Nación", 25 March 2010
Representatives of 189 countries, including Argentina, will gather in New York in May for a Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT is a landmark agreement intended to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and further the goal of nuclear disarmament.
We are living at a time when the global use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is likely to expand while the world also faces increasing risks of the spread of nuclear weapons. Therefore it is very important that the NPT Review Conference succeed in strengthening the global non-proliferation regime.
Latin America has much to teach the rest of the world about non-proliferation. All 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are part of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which established the world´s first nuclear-weapon-free zone in a populated area even before the entry into force of the NPT. This treaty, now more than forty years old, was an inspiration for four similar treaties in Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Nearly two-thirds of the countries of the world now belong to nuclear-weapon-free zones.
Latin America showed the way and stayed the course through many years of difficult negotiations. For example, in 1991, Argentina and Brazil overcame a legacy of mutual distrust by agreeing on the exclusively peaceful utilization of nuclear energy. They also created a joint agency, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), to cooperate with the IAEA in verifying that nuclear materials held in both countries are not diverted to nuclear weapons. It is not an exaggeration to say that this helped to prevent a nuclear arms race in Latin America.
Unfortunately, we face non-proliferation challenges in other parts of the world.
In the case of Iran, the IAEA continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material, but we have for some time been unable to confirm that all nuclear material in that country is in peaceful activities because Iran has not provided the Agency with the necessary cooperation. North Korea´s nuclear programme remains a matter of serious concern to the international community. Lack of cooperation from Syria since June 2008 has prevented the IAEA from determining conclusively whether a facility destroyed in an attack by Israel housed a nuclear reactor or not.
So what can be done?
A first step should be for all parties to the NPT to bring into force, and fully implement, comprehensive safeguards agreements with the IAEA to enable our inspectors to verify that all declared nuclear material which they possess is being used for exclusively peaceful purposes. Twenty-two countries have still not brought safeguards agreements into force.
Secondly, I strongly encourage all countries to conclude and implement a so-called Additional Protocol to their comprehensive safeguards agreement with the Agency. This instrument, introduced in the aftermath of the Iraq war, greatly enhances the IAEA´s verification capability by giving us expanded access to information and to sites. It can enable us to provide credible assurance not only that declared nuclear material is not being diverted for military purposes, but also that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities.
Additional protocols are now in force for 95 States. I hope that other countries will follow suit.
Third, all countries should strengthen the security of nuclear and radioactive materials to ensure that such materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists. The IAEA maintains a database of cases of illicit trafficking, or attempted trafficking, in such materials which shows that there are still too many examples of security lapses throughout the world. In a few days´ time, I will attend a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, hosted by President Obama and attended by President Cristina Kirchner and around 40 other heads of state and government. I am hopeful that the Summit will produce added momentum for strengthening nuclear security.
Finally, the IAEA itself needs to be strengthened. The Agency should be given sufficient resources so that it can discharge its safeguards responsibilities properly, including by making more and better use of advanced technology. We have made a start by launching a major upgrade of the Agency´s laboratories in Austria, whose work includes analyzing minute particles of material collected by our nuclear inspectors.
I am proud of the technical expertise, objectivity and impartiality of the Agency´s staff. The high quality of our reports is widely recognized. Instead of speculating, we report the facts and reach judgments based upon those facts.
However, there is a limit to what the Agency alone can do to address international concerns about the possible spread of nuclear weapons. The IAEA is not a global nuclear police force that can force its way into countries or nuclear facilities. That is not the way international law works.
Instead, we must rely on countries honouring their international commitments and cooperating proactively with us. The United Nations is well placed to deal with issues beyond the capacity of the IAEA. Special mechanisms such as the Six Party Talks - in the case of North Korea - and the P5+1 framework - in the case of Iran - also have a valuable role to play. I have come to Argentina with a sense of gratitude and recognition for the valuable support which this country has always given to the Agency and to the non-proliferation regime.
As a native of Japan, the only country to have experienced the full horror of nuclear blasts on its territory, I am passionately opposed to nuclear weapons. The destructive power of modern weapons is beyond our imagining. It is my fervent hope that the NPT Review Conference in May will produce tangible progress in both nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and help to make the world a safer place for all of us.
* Yukiya Amano is Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This article reflects his personal views.