US violates NPT
Source Ken Hanly
Date 06/05/09/07:48

This is old but still very relevant. It is quite rare
that any mention in the mainstream press is made that
Israel has nuclear weapons or that Pakistan and India,
Iran's neighbours managed to develop them without the
West going ballistic but even less rare is any
mention that the US is itself a major violator of
terms of the NPT and has been doing so for years
without even a whimper from the UN.

Extra! July/August 2005

Ignoring the U.S.'s "Bad Atoms"
For the New York Times, Washington is NPT's enforcer,
not a violator

By Steve Rendall

The U.S. is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT).

That view, far from exotic or extreme, was expressed
repeatedly by arms control experts and international
officials at the month-long NPT review conference held
at the U.N. in May. It is embraced by U.S.
establishment figures such as former President Jimmy
Carter and Kennedy-era Defense Secretary Robert

In a Washington Post op-ed (3/28/05), a month before
the conference opened, Carter wrote: "While claiming
to be protecting the world from proliferation threats
in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea, American leaders
not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but
also have asserted plans to test and develop new

McNamara was quoted earlier this year (Foreign Policy,
5-6/05) bluntly declaring the U.S. a nuclear outlaw:
"I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons
policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and
dreadfully dangerous."

But it's a view rarely expressed in mainstream news
media, the Carter op-ed being a notable exception.
Instead of telling the global story of disarmament,
journalists seem to take a more nationalistic
perspective, often portraying disarmament in terms the
White House prefers: the U.S. policing the likes of
Iran or North Korea, or squabbling with European
officials for being too soft on such "rogue states."

In such one-sided reporting, failure to challenge
official misstatements is common, disarmament experts
who say the U.S. is in breach of the NPT are ignored
and the larger story of NPT division, between nuclear
weapon haves and have-nots, is missed.

New improved nukes

The NPT’s preamble calls on nuclear weapons states “to
facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear
weapons, the liquidation of all their existing
stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals
of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.”
Article VI of the NPT explicitly obliges signatories
“to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective
measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms
race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and
on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under
strict and effective international control.”

Thirty-seven years after agreeing to these conditions,
the U.S.—the only nation to have ever used nuclear
weapons against human beings—spends $40 billion a year
to field, maintain and modernize nuclear forces,
including an arsenal of 10,000 warheads, 2,000 of
which are on hair-trigger alert.

When details of a secret White House planning
document, called the Nuclear Posture Review, were
leaked in 2002 (Washington Post, 3/23/02), they
revealed that the Bush administration intended to
create and test new nuclear weapons, and outlined a
broad array of contingencies under which the U.S.
might use nuclear weapons. Among these contingencies:
using nuclear weapons against countries with no
nuclear weapons capacity, such as Iran, Iraq and
Syria. (To be fair, Presidential Directive 60, signed
by President Bill Clinton in 1997, had earlier added
these countries to nuclear targeting lists, canceling
assurances that went back to 1978 that the U.S. would
not use nuclear force against a non-nuclear
country—Disarmament Diplomacy, Fall/98.)

In May, congressional funding was approved for the
Reliable Replacement Warhead, a program to modernize
U.S. nuclear weapons, while the White House’s campaign
for a smaller nuclear warhead known as the “nuclear
bunker buster” was stalled when Congress failed to
approve its funding (Washington Post, 5/14/05). This
last item is particularly troubling to arms control
advocates, who say smaller warheads with lower
explosive yields blur the lines between conventional
and nuclear weapons and are thus more likely to be

Add up the current arsenal, new weapons development
and modernization, and the White House’s opposition to
the Nuclear Test Ban and Anti-Ballistic Missile
treaties—and it’s hard to argue that the U.S. is not
violating at least the spirit of the NPT.

The letter of the law

On the final day of the NPT conference, John
Burroughs, the executive director of the Lawyers’
Committee on Nuclear Policy, a nonprofit group
concerned with disarmament issues, told Extra! that
U.S. behavior posed a profound threat to the NPT

The U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons as a core element
of its national security has always created serious
tension within the non-proliferation regime, because
it reinforced the double standard: Some countries can
have nuclear weapons, others can’t. But the Bush
administration’s antagonism to multilateralism,
articulation of an aggressive doctrine of preventive
war and aggressive statements about possible use of
nuclear weapons have placed enormous strain on
non-proliferation negotiations, so much so that many
fear for its survival.

Burroughs argues that, more than just the spirit, the
U.S. is clearly violating the letter of the NPT law.
He points to agreements made at NPT review conferences
in 1995 and 2000 regarding the implementation of NPT
disarmament obligations that he says “committed the
U.S. to pursue a comprehensive nuclear test ban
treaty, a treaty banning production of fissile
materials for nuclear weapons, verifiable and
irreversible cuts in nuclear weapons, and reduced
operational readiness of nuclear forces.”

Under well-established rules for treaty interpretation
put forth in the Vienna Convention on the Law of
Treaties, Burroughs says “agreements made subsequent
to a treaty’s inception are considered an integral
means of understanding the treaty’s requirements.”

Since the Senate’s rejection of the Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty in 1999, the U.S. has failed in these
commitments across the board, says Burroughs:
“Accordingly, the U.S. is in violation of the ‘good
faith negotiations’ requirement for nuclear
disarmament, set forth 35 years ago in the treaty

The Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF), another
NGO concerned with arms control, says these
requirements must be carried out in a timely manner.
The group’s director, Jacqueline Cabasso, cites a
decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ),
the U.N.’s judicial branch, and the foremost arbiter
of international law. In 1996, the ICJ unanimously
held that nuclear weapons states under Article VI of
the NPT must “bring to a conclusion negotiations
leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects
under strict and effective international control”
(WSLF Information Bulletin, Fall/03).

Burroughs emphasizes the ICJ decision too, putting it
in the larger context of U.S. shortcomings regarding
NPT: “It says talk is not enough; talk must be
followed by action. But when you add it all up, and
with U.S. failures to meet its 1995 and 2000
commitments, the case is overwhelming that the U.S. is
in breach of its NPT obligations.”

Cabasso agrees: “The U.S. is simply out of compliance
with the NPT.” She says one of the key problems arms
control advocates have is the lack of media coverage:
“I’m not aware of any U.S. press coverage of U.S.

Rewriting the bargain

To test Cabasso’s observation, Extra! surveyed New
York Times coverage of the NPT for the entire year of
2004. We looked at Times coverage because the paper
tends to cover issues more regularly and in greater
depth than many other mainstream outlets, and because
it is a newsroom trendsetter.

Of the 58 stories published by the Times on the NPT in
2004, the majority (30) focused on nations the U.S.
has dubbed “rogue states”: Twenty-five focused on
Iranian compliance; five stories were primarily about
North Korea (which withdrew from the NPT in 2001). A
smattering of articles dealt with other countries,
including Brazil (3), Israel (3) and South Korea (2).
Other articles looked at issues such as the role
Pakistan’s A.Q. Kahn played in the proliferation of
nuclear weapons technology.

Not one Times story focused on U.S. compliance,
despite the many arms control experts who see this as
a crucial disarmament issue. Just three of 58 Times
stories made passing mention of the charges that the
U.S. is in violation of the NPT.

One of those stories, a sprawling 7,700-word article
in the New York Times Magazine (6/13/04), the most
in-depth article on the subject published by the paper
in 2004, misrepresented the terms of the NPT in its
opening paragraph. There Times contributing writer
James Traub described the treaty as a “grand bargain”
under which non-nuclear weapons states agree “to place
their nuclear programs under a system of international
inspection and forgo the development of nuclear
weapons” in exchange for access to nuclear electrical
generation technology—what Traub calls “access to the
expected atomic bounty.”

Not until the 48th paragraph of a 50-paragraph article
does Traub, who argues for more stringent
non-proliferation measures on non-nuclear weapons
states (e.g., forbidding them from doing any sort of
enrichment), hint that there is another part of the
grand bargain:

Many non-weapons states complain that the U.S. wants
to rewrite the rules so that they cannot produce
nuclear fuel and must sign the additional protocol—but
itself flagrantly violates the commitment to pursue
disarmament enshrined in the NPT.

The requirement for nuclear weapons states to disarm
is indeed enshrined in the NPT, but apparently not
important enough to gain mention in the first 47
paragraphs of Traub’s story. But then Traub only
seemed to be bringing it up at all in order to let the
White House knock it down. “This is not considered a
serious argument inside the Bush administration,”
wrote Traub, offering none of the critics’ evidence
and allowing the administration to dismiss concerns
about its massive nuclear arsenal as “rhetorical.”

In the end, Traub suggests that it would be impossible
for the U.S. ever to live up to its commitment to
disarmament: “After all, no responsible president
would ever expose the United States to the possibility
of nuclear blackmail.” He fails to explain why, if
nuclear disarmament is tantamount to submitting to
blackmail, any “responsible” leader would elect to
forgo nuclear weapons.

The Times has made a habit of misrepresenting the NPT
bargain. Times reporter Craig Smith (9/23/04) made no
mention of the Article VI disarmament obligations when
he described the NPT agreement as “a system under
which countries without nuclear weapons that signed
the treaty were promised full support in developing
other nuclear technologies in exchange for renouncing
nuclear weapons.”

As a columnist in 2003, current Times executive editor
Bill Keller described what he called the “essential
bargain” and the chief appeal of the NPT for
non-nuclear weapons states: “If you pledge to refrain
from arming yourself with bad atoms, you will be
rewarded with a supply of good atoms—a peaceful
nuclear energy program.” Keller’s patronizing comment
fails to acknowledge the disarmament part of the
bargain, or that non-nuclear countries are very
interested in seeing nuclear weapons states get rid of
their “bad atoms” too.

Front-page departure

New York Times coverage of the NPT review conference
in May 2005 was not much better. There was still no
report focusing on U.S. compliance, though the view
that nuclear weapons states needed to disarm was a
central theme of the gathering.

The closest thing to it was an editorial (5/8/05) that
chided the White House for a lack of leadership in NPT
progress and for the low priority it had assigned to
the conference. On the issue of disarmament, the
message of many conferees appeared to be getting
through, at least partially, in the editorial’s
description of the NPT bargain: “The major nuclear
weapons states committed themselves to reduce their
own stockpiles significantly in exchange for
non-nuclear states’ renouncing the ambition of joining
their ranks.” That description may be more accurate
than previously mentioned Times attempts, but the NPT
actually requires nuclear weapons states to negotiate
an elimination of their arsenals, not merely a

As the NPT review conference closed on May 27, it was
declared a failure by nearly everyone involved. The
next day, the Times did a rare thing: In a front-page
departure from its standard NPT narrative, the paper
acknowledged that there are critics who say the U.S.
is not living up to its NPT obligations, and it
reported on the global story of NPT division:

A month-long conference . . . ended Friday in failure,
with its chairman declaring that the disagreements
between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear states ran so
deep that “very little has been accomplished.” . . .
For most of the four weeks, non-nuclear states
insisted that the United States and other nuclear
powers focus on radically reducing their armaments,
reminding them of commitments made five years ago by
the Clinton administration.

To Times readers who’d taken to heart the paper’s
running narrative portraying the U.S. as an impartial
sheriff policing the latest nuclear rogue, this
departure must have come as quite a surprise.

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