Asan Plenum

At the heart of global efforts to reduce and eliminate the threat from nuclear weapons is the NPT`s bargain between nuclear weapons states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapons states. The NNWS pledge to forgo their rights to acquire nuclear weapons in return for 1) access to civilian nuclear technology and 2) substantive progress on the NWS’ pledge in Article VI of the treaty to eliminate their nuclear stockpiles.

This bargain is fundamental to the success of nonproliferation and disarmament, but it has frequently been the subject of complaint. NWS attach more priority to nonproliferation than to disarmament and worry that some technology transfers pose a proliferation threat. NNWS complain that the NWS ignore their disarmament obligations and work to constantly improve – and in the cases augment – their weapons stockpiles. Disagreements over these issues have often led to stalemate and inaction at NPT Review conferences and other fora.

Four issues are especially contentious.

The first issue is enrichment and reprocessing technology, which poses the most direct route to proliferation but is not subject to formal review within the NPT nor consistent treatment by its member states. Some NNWS want to retain rights to enrichment and reprocessing, while others countries fear that the spread of fuel cycle technology will mean the end of the nonproliferation regime.

The second issue is action by the NWS to eliminate their arsenals. The US and Russia have made substantial reductions in their arsenals, but together retain thousands of nuclear weapons and more than the other NWS. US officials rightly complain, however, that many commentators focus on American nuclear weapons even as other NPT NWS are planning to maintain or increase their stockpile but without criticism. This would seem to be particularly true in the case of China nuclear weapons.

The third issue is extended deterrence. A select group of NNWS is protected, via security treaty, by the nuclear arsenals of the NWS, for example Japan and South Korea and the US nuclear umbrella. On the one hand, these NNWS are serious about their nonproliferation intentions, but at the same time, some analysts in these countries are concerned about the prospect of losing the protection of a nuclear umbrella, especially in a region that has multiple NWS. How to achieve disarmament while maintaining treaty commitments and without spurring proliferation continues to be a subject of debate, especially in the United States.

The fourth issue is the NWS outside the NPT ? India, Pakistan, Israel, and depending on how one defines it, North Korea. The future of the proposed Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, which gained momentum from the last NPT Review Conference is intended, in part, to address Israel’s nuclear status, but its future remains uncertain.

Any of these issues might be sufficient to rip apart the NPT bargain, but so far, this outcome has been avoided. This Asan panel will explore these and other issues as well as creative approaches for advancing the NWS-NNWS bargain, a bargain on which the entire nonproliferation regime depends.