Denuclearization Means the US, Too
The US demands that North Korea adhere to the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and on that basis has encouraged the UN Security Council to impose sanctions in pursuit of denuclearization. Yet the brazenness with which the US demands not true denuclearization, but rather its own nuclear dominance, is stunning.
There are two types of foreign policy: one based on the principle “might makes right,” and one based on the international rule of law. The United States wants to have it both ways: to hold other countries accountable to international law while exempting itself. And nowhere is this truer than on the matter of nuclear weapons.
America’s approach is doomed to fail. As Jesus declared, “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Rather than perishing, it’s time to hold all countries, including the US and other nuclear powers, accountable to the international rules of non-proliferation.
The US demands that North Korea adhere to the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and on that basis has encouraged the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea in pursuit of denuclearization. Similarly, Israel calls for sanctions or even war against Iran to stop the country from developing a nuclear weapon in violation of the NPT. Yet the US brazenly violates the NPT, and Israel does worse: it has refused to sign the treaty and has claimed the right to a massive nuclear arsenal, acquired through subterfuge, that it refuses to acknowledge to this day.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, with signatories agreeing to three key principles. First, nuclear-weapon states pledge not to transfer nuclear weapons or to assist non-nuclear states’ manufacture or acquisition of them, and non-nuclear states pledged not to receive or develop nuclear weapons. Second, all countries have the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Third, and crucially, all parties to the treaty, including the nuclear powers, agree to negotiate nuclear – and indeed general – disarmament. As the NPT’s Article VI puts it:
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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.”
The core purpose of the NPT is to reverse the nuclear arms race, not to perpetuate the nuclear monopoly of a few countries. Still less is it to perpetuate the regional nuclear monopoly of countries that have failed to sign the treaty, such as Israel, which now seems to believe that it can evade negotiations with the Palestinians because of its overwhelming military power. Such is the self-destructive hubris conjured by nuclear weapons.
Most of the international community – with the conspicuous exception of the existing nuclear powers and their military allies – reiterated the call for nuclear disarmament by adopting in 2017 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty calls on every nuclear-armed state to cooperate “for the purpose of verifying the irreversible elimination of its nuclear-weapon program.” Whereas 122 countries voted for it, one voted against, one abstained, and 69, including the nuclear powers and NATO members, did not vote. As of last week, 58 countries had signed the treaty and eight had ratified it.
The US demands that North Korea live up to its NPT obligations and denuclearize, and the Security Council agrees. Yet the brazenness with which the US demands not true denuclearization, but rather its own nuclear dominance, is stunning. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, published in February, calls for a massive modernization of the US nuclear arsenal while paying no more than lip service to its NPT treaty obligations:
“Our commitment to the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) remains strong. Yet we must recognize that the current environment makes further progress toward nuclear arms reductions in the near term extremely challenging.…This review rests on a bedrock truth: nuclear weapons have and will continue to play a critical role in deterring nuclear attack and in preventing large-scale conventional warfare between nuclear-armed states for the foreseeable future.”
Aside from America’s failure to abide by its NPT obligations, another huge problem is that US military needs are not really about deterrence. The US is the major war-making entity in the world by far, fighting wars of choice in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. Its military has repeatedly engaged in regime-change efforts during the past half-century, wholly in violation of international law and the UN Charter, including two recent operations to overthrow leaders (Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi) who had acceded to US demands to end their nuclear programs.
We can put it this way: power corrupts, and nuclear power creates the illusion of omnipotence. Nuclear powers bluster and boss rather than negotiate. Some overthrow other countries’ governments at their whim, or at least aim to do so. The US and it nuclear allies have repeatedly arrogated to themselves the right to ignore the UN Security Council and the international rule of law, such as the illegal NATO attacks against Qaddafi’s regime in Libya and the illegal military incursions by the US, Israel, the United Kingdom, and France in Syria in the effort to weaken or overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
By all means, let us urge a rapid and successful denuclearization of North Korea; but let us also, with equal urgency, address the nuclear arsenal of the US and others. The world is not living under a Pax Americana. It is living in dread, with millions pushed into the vortex of war by an unrestrained and unhinged US military machine, and with billions living in the shadow of nuclear annihilation.
This article originally appeared on Project Syndicate on May 7, 2018