The Doomsday Clock, devised by the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, now stands at three minutes to midnight, or doomsday. It has been adjusted 18 times since its creation in 1947. It has been set as close as two minutes to midnight, in 1953 when the United States tested a hydrogen bomb, and as far as 17 minutes from midnight, in 1991 as the Cold War expired.
Congratulations earthlings, as of the 23rd January 2015, we’re now only ‘three minutes’ away to literally wiping ourselves off the face of the earth! This is mostly due to the threat of nuclear annihilation (sprinkled with a bit of catastrophic climate change doom and gloom) because of our presumed inability to keep our finger off the red button. However, the big and muscly nations of the world see the whole matter differently – they’re turning back the clock, just like the very curious case that involved that Benjamin Button fellow. The great powers’ would like you to believe that their actions help it from striking midnight – and how could you not trust the sincerity of characters like Putin and Xi Jinping? That’s why they introduced the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an international treaty drawn up by the great powers’ (Nuclear Weapon States or NWS) with the advertised intention of promoting nuclear disarmament and promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Nice bunch of guys just trying to protect the world, right? Well no, not really. The designated nuclear weapon states of China, France, Russia, the U.K and the U.S.A (NWS) finalised their implementation of the NPT by 1970, and continue their support in maintaining a tight control over who and ultimately who cannot attain nuclear weapons. For an example, look at all the current hoo-ha over Iran. This is in an era where everybody wants the bomb – from North Korea, to ISIS and the nice old lady next door. So I’m going to look at four main reasons why they want to keep nuclear weapons from being handed around like a pack of gum at an MDMA-fueled rave, and not all of them are as pure and altruistic as you may think.
1. WORLD PEACE, STABILITY AND ALL THAT SHIT: The great powers support the Non Proliferation Treaty because it is in their best interests to advocate peace and liberty. From a political, economic and militaristic position it is to the benefit of the great powers to support a treaty that seeks to limit the ability of other states from acquiring such dangerous and destructive weapons. Since the inception of the NPT in 1968, it has been consistently stated by the great powers’ that their motive for creating the treaty related to their mounting concern “regarding the future, the safety and the well-being of humanity” resulting from the spread of nuclear weapons/technology. This analysis of the NPT takes the perspective that the NWS acted in a selfless manner and truly wanted a more stable and safer environment (for all) in which to function. In the past countries as “diverse as Bangladesh, Belarus, Indonesia, Jordan, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe” have either attempted embracing nuclear energy programs, or at the very least ‘talked’ about it. I don’t need to point out to you that the nations listed easily suffer from what you classify as a ‘democratic deficit’ – meaning they don’t have much of it. On the flip-side, the theory of ‘Democratic Peace’ states that democratic states don’t use force or violence against each other. So these ‘democratic’ countries (yes, I’m laughing with you) that already have ‘the bomb’ know that ANY access to nuclear technology is likely to lead to an increase in nuclear weapon states, because it is only a ‘short step’ for them to actually acquire nuclear weapon technology from there. An example of this would be Iran’s insistence of developing its’ nuclear capabilities for peaceful means only. Despite such assurances from the Iranian state “it seems more likely that Iran would become increasingly aggressive once it acquired a nuclear capability”. So the great powers obviously think this is a really shitty idea; luckily for them they play commandeering positions in international organisations such as the United Nations (as they hold the five permanent Security Council seats in the United Nations Security Council) and are thus collectively in a position to implement and enforce a treaty such as the NPT with relative ease.
Economic sanctions and international restrictions can be placed on a ‘rogue’ state like Iran only under the guise of a unified international accord supported by the great powers. That’s what makes their treaty the “treaty [that] has been a major arms control agreement of the nuclear age”. A look at the number of parties that have signed and ratified the treaty may be taken as evidence that the non-proliferation idea has been accepted by a good number of players on the world stage. As impressive as the number of signatories may be, this particular reason fails to acknowledge some of the NNWS (Non Nuclear Weapon States) – at one stage or another – plainly chose to make unsafeguarded weapon-usable material (eg. South Africa, Libya). So keep in mind that the NPT is voluntary – and Kim Jong-Un don’t give a fuck! Keep in mind though that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) cannot (unlike sovereign states) use force; it can “neither compel a state to do anything nor physically prevent it from doing anything”. In regards to Iran once again, heaps of NPT member-countries technically have been ‘cheating on their provisions’. Peace and safety, in the context of the pressure placed on Iran compared to a state such as Israel (which has faced no sanctions over its’ covert nuclear program), demonstrate the irregular pressure used to enforce the NPT. So just to sum up – this perspective holds truth in many aspects, but in all honesty it doesn’t really address the real motives of the great powers. Advocates of this argument can point to the number of states that have signed and also the key point that the destructive use of nuclear weapons by a nation-state has thus far been averted (whoopdee-fuckin’-do… if they were wrong we wouldn’t be having this argument… we’d be dead). So although this argument may seem impressive, it really fails to acknowledge the ulterior motives of the great powers. There must be something more to this…
2. MAINTAINING RAW POWER: Ahh yes, raw power. Nuclear weapons, currently the most dangerous and destructive force invented by man, contain a hidden force – power. The possession of nuclear weapons makes you the top dog! What I mean by this is that power is a zero sum game – if one country gains more power, another country somewhere must have lost some. Now think about it, if you’ve got ‘the bomb’, you obviously don’t want anybody else trying to beat you in a pissing contest. This is best illustrated by the fact that the “five authorised nuclear weapon states under the NPT have not seriously pursued disarmament”. I’ll expand on this point by noting that nuclear deterrence (or Mutually Assured Destruction [MAD]) still plays an important role in the defence doctrines of both Russia and the United States. Scary, but it’s true. If you don’t believe me you only have to look at Putin and his cronies recently threatening a nuclear war over the Ukraine fiasco. So if you think about it from that perspective, you really have to also consider whether deep reductions (in nuclear arms) would actually end up undermining the effectiveness of deterrence. The size of the stockpile, their strategic location and their destructive capability still play a pivotal role in defining how the great powers’ maintain their nuclear arsenal. It is as much about making sure that NNWS stay that way (unarmed) as it is about alliances and dominance amongst the current NWS. For example, by 2005, India, a nation still to sign the NPT, would openly discuss its’ nuclear ties with the U.S.A to create a domineering “Asian balance of power”. The Indians were essentially saying to China and the rest of the world, “you wanna pick a fight? Wait here, I’m just gunna call my Uncle Sam”. This isn’t a one way street either, as the U.S.A looks to India too through “the prism of the longer term balance of power in Asia and the Middle East”. From a strategic position, for the U.S.A this is about ultimately finding an effective answer to the rise of China as well as to the new challenges confronting American military planners in Asia and the Indian Ocean. For the great powers’ overall, the case of India illustrates that it’s about restricting the ability of other states to acquire nuclear weapons, unless ya know… it benefits you. Let’s be honest, democracy is a great thing, but not when it comes to nuclear weapons – everyone has the right to vote, but a right to the bomb? Hmmm, no. As one prominent theorist on the issue cautions, “if one other country should go nuclear, it would be difficult to keep the dam from bursting”.
3. THE SURVIVAL OF THE STATE: In a world of multi-national corporations, free-trade agreements, open borders (i.e. the European Union) and increasing globalisation on a variety of different levels, the role of the state is evolving – and some would argue, weakening. In particular, I’d even argue that we’re moving into a deterritorialised and borderless world to some extent. In such an environment, the traditional role of the state is ultimately questioned, and hence challenged. The famous social theorist Fukuyama states, “the legitimacy of state authority derives from the state’s ability to protect the individual rights of its citizens and that state power needs to be limited by the adherence to law [a.k.a the NPT].” With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the fact that nobody is really ‘top dog’ anymore, it’s not unrealistic to think that a rogue state such as North Korea or some other crazy fuckers’ such as Al-Qeada (or even ISIS) could threaten the very foundations of a stable and powerful state through the use of nuclear weapons.
The great powers’ know the strength of their state does not benefit from the democratisation of nuclear weapons because it allows another avenue within which the ultimate role of the state, (the protection of its’ citizens and assets) can be challenged. I’d go so far as to state that the great powers’ nuclear stockpile and their threat to use them could be perceived as a form of ‘state terrorism’ in itself. Harding and Pettingford agree, arguing that:
The state [i.e. America, France, UK etc] is clever, and is unlikely to admit its actions to be terrorist (shrouded in the cloak of legitimacy as they are), but an examination of the behaviour of certain states suggests the use of violence as a political tactic and implies the death of many civilians
This perspective sums up the overall intention of the state, with survival its’ utmost objective, even at the risk of being labelled the aggressor. The NWS, in an era of perceived weakened state influence, can take solace in the overbearing destructive power of their nuclear arms to ensure the ultimate survival of the state. The NPT is important in this respect, because it legitimises their dominance.
4. THE INSURANCE POLICY: The NPT was originally supposed to be a bargain between nuclear and non-nuclear states. It specifically states under Article IV that those states willing to give up the right to make nuclear weapons were to be compensated by assurances on unrestricted transfers of civilian nuclear technology… and look how that turned out. So it’s unsurprising that many non-nuclear countries that had little potential and no likelihood of becoming nuclear (what are referred to as the “never-nuclears’”) also supported the NPT. The great powers’ can use the NPT as a ‘carrot and stick’ to apply pressure to other states. An example of this would be nations such as Libya and South Korea becoming parties to the NPT in order to obtain nuclear reactors. By encouraging non-nuclear states to sign on to and support the NPT, the great powers’ not only ensure their relative power but also bring many of those nations under the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’. The support of the NPT by the NWS states provides them with strong inducements to involve a variety of combinations involving military, economic and political rewards (or punishments) to override the more immediate perceived benefits of these states going nuclear. These NNWS are therefore dragged into the sphere of influence of one (or more) of the great powers’, or ultimately risk being isolated in an increasingly hostile nuclear environment. For the great powers’ that have ‘the bomb’, it’s a win-win either way you look at it!
So just to wrap up here, the four main points I’ve tried to highlight show the possible reasons why the NWS would support the NPT, ranging from the obvious to the more sinister and obscure. Contrary to popular belief, the great powers’ support of the NPT has a fuck load more to do with maintaining a monopoly on their nuclear weapon strength, rather than be altruistic in a bat-shit crazy world. It has nothing to do with creating a with creating a nuclear-free future. What a bunch of arseholes…
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