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The NPT identity crisis

May 13, 2010

What is this NPT Review Conference all about? You might as well ask someone with multiple personality disorder to fill out a short biographical questionnaire.

The disarmament personality – let’s call her “Abby” – wants the Conference to produce nothing less than a roadmap to a nuclear-weapons-free world. Abby, however, is having a hard time settling on whether the roadmap is a ramped up version of the 13-step action plan adopted in 2000, or Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 5-point disarmament plan, or the Nuclear Weapons Convention, which looks beyond the NPT itself to the actual fulfillment of Article VI.

NGOs have been advocating the comprehensive approach outlined in the Model NWC, which has also found favor with the Secretary-General and with dozens of NPT states who have endorsed it in their Conference statements. In any case, Abby doesn’t much care for the one-step-at-a-time swamp in which the nuclear-weapon states are still mired, even with their newfound commitment to a world without nuclear weapons.

Then there’s “Pandora,” the non-proliferation personality, whose main concern is that the box of nuclear demons stay closed on any state that hasn’t already gotten loose. Pandora has her mind on safeguards, and the tightening of loopholes, and punishments for non-compliance with Articles II and III. She’s also a bit obsessed with Article X – the withdrawal provision – and with keeping the lid on the damn box that she opened in the first place. Conveniently for them, the NPT nuclear-weapon states, who were outside the box when it got clamped shut, can’t seem to get back inside just yet. As long as they behave, Pandora won’t make a big issue out of that. The Nuclear Weapons Convention looks to Pandora like something out of…well…Greek mythology.

Pandora has a brother, Reg, who believes that the path to a nuclear-weapons-free world of necessity runs through the Middle East and has road markers that say either “nuclear-weapons-free zone” or “weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone.” Since Israel already has nuclear weapons and, as a non-NPT state, is the elephant in the room (to mix my metaphors), Reg has to be taken seriously. The question is “Which comes first, global abolition or a WMD-free Middle East?” Reg and Abby don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on that one.

Of all the NPT’s multiple personalities (“alters”), the loudest and most disruptive is “The Salesman.” This Review Conference has been dominated by the nuclear energy industry and its client states, who are relentlessly exploiting Article IV in an effort to remake the Treaty into a marketing platform for the global expansion of nuclear-generated electricity – what Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research calls an outdated 20th century technology for boiling water.

Article IV was bad enough when it was used as a means to assist states that had already shown the poor judgment to choose the “peaceful” nuclear option. Now the “inalienable right” to nuclear energy has become the bumper sticker slogan for a new consortium of state and corporate partners who are aggressively pushing reactors onto vulnerable, struggling countries and — surprise — positioning themselves to make a fortune in a potentially lucrative fuel reprocessing market. For The Salesman, a successful NPT Review means developing a business plan that can start the profits flowing while papering over the proliferation risks, not to mention the health and environmental consequences, of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

The NGOs who condemned this scheme during one of the presentations on Friday are hoping that a new personality – Irena – will send The Salesman packing. If Irena can get heard over the noise, she will tell developing states that their real inalienable right to a strong, sustainable economy that takes global warming seriously will be best served by leapfrogging over the obsolete, unaffordable, and dangerous nuclear “option.”

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m told that the desired outcome for patients with multiple personality disorder is a functional person whose “alters” can come together around a common sense of purpose. Abby, Pandora, Reg, and Irena ought to be able work something out. The Salesman, on the other hand, is a mendacious troublemaker who requires a different kind of clinical intervention.

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