Why are nuclear weapons proliferated?

Why are nuclear weapons proliferated? The example of North Korea

by Jacques Sapir *

The recent North Korean nuclear test following repeated tests of medium-range missiles, possibly even long-range missiles, emphasises once again the incoherence of United Nations’ position  concerning the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yet this position, at least initially, was based on a logical assessment: Namely, that the countries as a whole, whether they were in possession of nuclear weapons or not, had a common interest in limiting the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons. However, this starting-point, underlying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, can only be effective if the international rules are respected by the countries as a whole, and thus first of all by the most powerful ones. Since the beginning of the 1990s, however, particularly one country – the United States – has repeatedly ignored these rules: from Kosovo to Iraq. The undermining of the international legislation, implying this behaviour, has led to great uncertainty and also to the fact that international legislation is increasingly determined by the “right of the stronger”. Considering these circumstances, it is not surprising that certain countries are trying to acquire operational nuclear weapons.
This emphasises the connection, which many politicians, however, refuse to acknowledge, between the undermining of international law and the tendency to proliferate nuclear weapons. The latter is a serious problem, not least because the entry cost for military nuclear weapons is strongly declining. Certain techniques and technologies, not only in the nuclear sector, but also for missiles, have become more easily accessible. Nowadays, one can no longer assume that the procurement of nuclear weapon systems is beyond the capabilities of so-called “middle powers”. But this problem can only be solved if one goes straight to the heart of the matter, that is to the instability in international relations, which is a result of non-respect for the legal order.

The beginning of proliferation

The phenomenon of nuclear proliferation has intensified since the 1970s, and several countries not belonging to the “Club of the 5”, consisting of the Security Council members United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China (in the same order in which they have acquired nuclear weapons) have acquired nuclear weapons.
The first two “proliferators” were India and Israel. In the case of India, it was originally a question of responding to China’s nuclear armament. For a number of years, India has been content with the explosion of a non-waponized nuclear device, that was not weaponized,  in order to prove it’s nuclear “capacity”. This was in 1974. When faced with the threat represented by the Pakistani experiments, at least from the Indian point of view, India, 24 years later, on 11 and 13 May 1998, began again to make tests, this time of clearly military nature. At that time, India was not yet a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. These tests included the explosion of several bombs. On 11 May, three tests were made to test the A-bomb and the H-bomb. On 13 May, in two further tests minor bombs were fired: “India has thus proved that it is competent in the whole range of nuclear weapons, both in terms of strength and miniaturisation.”¹ Currently India is said to have an arsenal of 30 to 150 military nuclear war heads at its disposal, as well as carrier missiles.
Since the end of the 1950s, Israel has embarked on the path of nuclear armament. First, with the help of France (1956–1961), then with the help of the United States and South Africa.² In 1979, a test was carried out in South Africa, which certainly was the result of cooperation between the two countries. Today, Israel has several hundred weapons (between 150 and 400) that can be delivered with missiles (Jericho), airplanes, or diesel-powered submarines equipped with cruise missiles. Within the political circles there is strict pledge of secrecy concerning the Israeli nuclear program, since French President Hollande still maintained in 2015, despite all obvious facts, that Israel had no nuclear weapons.³ The fact that Israel was relatively easily able to get a large nuclear arsenal has, of course, encouraged other countries to follow its example.

The proliferation latecomers

Countries following the example of Israel and India are Pakistan, South Africa and North Korea. Pakistan started its nuclear program with support of the Saudis after the tests in India. Pakistan began to talk about it in the late 1980s. The program included a series of tests carried out at the end of May 1998. Today, Pakistan has about 300 nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles targeting mainly India.4 Potentially Saudi Arabia “has been given the possibility” to acquire some warheads on request. It is clear that the Pakistani plan, from the Iranian point of view, has given naissance to a “Sunni” bomb.
South Africa developed its nuclear program in cooperation with Israel, as mentioned above. The government of de Klerk and later Nelson Mandela agreed that this program would be discontinued. The fissile material and the bombs that existed (3 to 5 bombs) were transported to the United States to be dismantled. At the moment, South Africa is the only country that has renounced the ownership of nuclear weapons after having them.
North Korea apparently has been pursuing a nuclear program since 1989. They officially withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in early 2003 and they carried out their first test in 2006. However, they remain far behind the capabilities of Israel, India, or Pakistan, as far as the number of weapons is concerned. It is estimated that there are only 10 to 15 weapons that could rise to 30 within the next three years. The North Korean program is clearly “defensive” in the strategic sense, essentially serving  the Korean government to maintain the integrity of its territory.5 The political “intention” of this program has become apparent during the long-lasting negotiations which took place in the 1990s and 2000s. It is, therefore, quite astonishing that in this context, so much ado is made about this program, which is actually much more limited and much less operational than the programs of Israel, India and Pakistan.

Why proliferating nuclear weapons?

Other countries have the capability to access atomic weapons at any given time. This is obviously the case with Iran, still pretending to have nothing but a civilian program, but it would be able to convert it to military purposes within a few years. Brazil and Argentina are in the same situation as well.
The nuclear issue must therefore be addressed by simultaneously taking into account the technical and economic capacities of a country, as well as its understanding of the international situation and the impact of its program on the surrounding countries. It is clear that Pakistan has responded to the Indian test, which in turn was a response to the development of the program run by the Chinese. Likewise, Iran’s intention to procure nuclear weapons can only be explained by the development of the Israeli and Pakistani programs as part of a race of deterrence between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
If the proliferation in the case of China and India could have been limited, it can be clearly seen that the Israeli nuclear program has played a greater part in destabilizing and still does. From this point of view, a large part of the destabilization stems not so much from the program itself as from the will of the Israeli government and the other powers to keep quiet over this program. If a country has succeeded in procuring nuclear weapons and has confirmed and expressed that it has the nuclear bomb, as well as providing information on what its “deployment doctrine” is, then it can be controlled in a framework of international relations. However, this does not work at all with a “clandestine proliferator”  who refuses to review its program.

The impact of the subversion of the international law by the USA

We must, therefore, refer to the consequences of the US policy from Kosovo to Iraq and its undermining of the international relations. In particular, the US intervention in Iraq, as it can clearly be seen in the delicate Iranian nuclear issue, has destroyed the legal basis of the large world-wide agreements, including the fundamental principles in the worldwide relations after the end of the Cold War in 1991.
The United Nations, whatsoever as insufficient as they may act, have remained a central instrument of conflict resolution. However, they have been permanently weakened by the US policy. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has lost a lot of credibility, due to the unbridled aggression against Iraq, which respected the obligations of the NPT, whereas other countries did not. This point is all the more important because the problem of nuclear proliferation was open for discussion at the time of the end of the USSR in 1991. One could define this as one of the most important problems of the coming 21st century and therefore ask whether a “statute of proliferation” – which would have represented a binding but strategically open framework – would not have been a more morally legitimate and materially more efficient response than the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.6
The political elites of the West rejected this solution since they wanted to make the nuclear arms treaty a central instrument of the world order after 1991. From this point of view – as we now see from our relationship with Iran – the American attack on Iraq, despite the fact that this country had fulfilled all disarmament commitments, has massively weakened the nuclear arms treaty and has been left at the mercy of arbitrary international relations – a situation legitimately leading other countries to the prospect of obtaining opportunities for nuclear deterrence.
Let us recall at this point that the United States has unilaterally violated a series of agreements that guaranteed stability during the Cold War, in particular the ABM Treaty [the Treaty on the Restriction of Missile Defense Systems], whose importance for Russia can not be underestimated.7 On the other hand, their policy was at least accommodating to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan despite the information, by which it was possible to prove that this country had become the hinterland for the basis of Islamic terror and the destabilization of Central Asia. This approach was largely dictated by the will of the United States, at a time when they were seeking to penetrate the oil-rich regions of Central Asia.

Putin’s speech in Munich 10 years ago  

The speech that Russian President Putin held in Munich in February 2007 within the framework of the European Security Conference deserves an accurate analysis. Ten years after it was held, it retains an astounding timeliness. Putin spoke about the nature of international relations. The fact that he did so, although he could have taken action and kept silent, proves at least a dangerous crisis in the international relations that began to emerge. A crisis that had to be taken seriously. In this sense, the speech was an important fundamental contribution to the debate and understanding of what should happen in the coming years.
So to speak, it is a programmatic text. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin is a politician who has certainly drawn the lessons from what happened between 1991 and 2005 with a high degree of binding force. There are two important points that stand out: the assessment that the unipolar world does not work and that the condemnation of the attempt to subordinate international law to Anglo-Saxon law. “I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today’s – and precisely in today’s – world, then the military, political and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation.”8 (official version of the speech)
This passage shows that the Russian position contains two different but coherent elements. The first is the doubt about the capacity of a country (the United States is clearly meant here) to acquire the means to exercise hegemony in an efficient manner. This is a realistic argument. Even the most powerful and richest country cannot guarantee alone the stability of the world. The American project overstrains the American forces. This is a conclusion where can be set little against. Putin’s speech is not “relativistic.” It does simply establish that these values (the “moral and ethical basis”) cannot be found on plain polarity because the exercise of political or economic power has not to be defined by values but by interests. This leads to the inevitable rejection of the thesis of the de-politicisation of international relations, which should be restricted to human rights and the “laws” of the economy, in the thinking of those who support this depoliticisation. If international relations are no “technology” (the simple application of the common norms), but politics (the regulation of different interests and potential conflicts), including the economic relations, any attempt to put up hegemony becomes immoral. Next in the speech, the second point follows which is formulated in the following passage:
“Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible. We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.”9 (official version of the speech)
Is a moral or ethical basis missing which would allow politics to be excluded from international relations, the latter can only be regulated on the basis of the principle of international law by the rule of unanimity and respect for national sovereignty. As soon as the relations are determined by politics (and not by technology or ethics), no one can impose his right on the others, and the common law is the only one possible. It is the right that respects the sovereignty of the other, the right of coordination and not a right of subordination.
In this sense, Putin is in the tradition of the great debates on international law and the possibilities of global constitutions. The Russian President reminds that where there are politics, interests and different ideas, there must also be sovereignty. Any attempt to hurt it turns out to be a tyranny and justifies the resistance. In consequence, the Russian President ascertains that the United States is trying to transform its internal right into an alternative international law.

“Alternative law” and “humanitarian colonialism”: the reason for the proliferation of nuclear weapons?

This “alternative right” which is nothing more than the “right of the stronger”, has led to a policy which can be called “humanitarian colonialism”.10 Any country that does not respect the will of the United States thus could be counted to the “camp of the evil”, that is, the object of this “humanitarian colonialism.” But in reality “humanitarian colonialism” proves a contradiction in itself. It is incapable – as we saw in Kosovo11 in Somalia12 – and also in Iraq to create those institutions on which it is relying and which could have served as a pretext.
The UN protectorate in Kosovo has led to a lasting ethnic cleansing13 and the US intervention in Iraq has plunged the country into a civil war that takes it further away every day from the possibility of even establishing a sham democracy there which is the real source of the “Islamic State” organization. Unfortunately, this is not all.
The “humanitarian war”, as we saw it in Libya in 2011 as a logical consequence of the “right to intervention”  and an unavoidable element of “humanitarian colonialism” also poses a twofold problem in international relations. On the one hand, it immediately entails a split within the nations between those where the defence protects them from any attempt of interference, and those where the defense is weak enough to potentially become the target of a “humanitarian war”. Initially set in motion to uphold the idea of an “international community” of equal actors with common goals such as security, the “humanitarian war” has, on the contrary, become the idea of international relations as a clash of un-equal actors with unshakeable conflicting interests.
On the other hand, every country that imagines to one day become the goal of such intervention is tempted by the idea to enhance the power of its defense. And the ultimate means to guarantee the integrity of a country is the possession of weapons of mass destruction. Whichever the concerns are that may provoke Iran’s nuclear hopes and the most realistic are less concerned with the use of the atomic bomb by the regime in Tehran than the imitation effect that these efforts might cause in countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia. One has to admit that American aggression against Iraq has given realistic justification to these efforts in 2003. The same counts for North Korea.
As long as a country is afraid of one day becoming the goal of “humanitarian colonialism” and the accompanying “humanitarian war”, it, with all means will rightly try to arm itself.  In reality, the process of the further spread of nuclear weapons can only be curbed by restoring to its full force the principle of sovereignty as enshrined in the United Nations Charter of 1945.     •

*    Jacques Sapir, born in 1954, is a French economist. He has taught at the University of Paris-X Nanterre. Since 1996 he has been a director of the EHESS (Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales) and has been heading the CEMI (Centre d’études des modes d’industrialisation). He is an expert in Russian business and strategic issues. Since 2016 he is (foreign) member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is the author of a variety of books and articles.

Source: Sapir, Jacques. Russeurope. 4 September 2017, www.les-crises.fr/coree-du-nord-pourquoi-la-proliferation-nucleaire-par-jacques-sapir
cf. also: Traité sur la non-prolifération des armés nucléaires (TNP)

(Translation Current Concerns)

1    Capette, Isabelle. “Les essais nucléaires indiens et pakistanais: un défi lancé au régime de non-prolifération nucléaire. Actualité et Droit International.” http://www.ridi.org/adi, December 1998
2    cf. Hersh, Seymour. The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal & American Foreign Policy. Random House; 1st edition, 1991 and Karpin, Michael. The Bomb in the Basement: How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Meant for the World. New York 2006
3    Discussion with President Hollande of 14 July 2015 on TF1 and France24
4    www.fondation-res-publica.org/Le-Pakistan-et-l-arme-nucleaire_a428.html
5    “Corée du Nord: Le difficile accès à la dissuasion”, Défense et sécurité international, Paris, no 121, January-February 2016, p. 21
6    cf. Sapir, Jaques. Feu le système soviétique? Paris, La Découverte, 1992, pp. 177–180
7    The current installation of missile shields in Poland and in the Czech Republic, allegedly to protect these countries against an Iranian threat – an argument without any foundation – belongs to the same kind of conscious provocation.
8    cf. “La Lettre Sentinel”, No 43/44, January-February 2007, p. 25
9    “La Lettre Sentinel”, No 43/44, January-February 2007, pp. 25
10    Colonialism, the ideological basis of which is from the following publication: Bettati, Mario / Kouchner, Bernard. Le Devoir d’ingérence: peut-on les laisser mourir? [The duty of humanitarian intervention: can one let them die?] Paris 1987
11    Human Rights Watch. Under Orders – War Crimes in Kosovo. Genève 2001. Report available at www.hrw.org/reports/2001/Kosovo
12    A tragic example of this was the American intervention “Restore Hope” in Somalia 1992. This operation – designated by Bernard Kouchner as a “fantastic step forward in support of the right to intervention” – was not only able to build a stable political power in Somalia, but contributed to the destruction of the local agricultural structures by the humanitarian aid (snags next to which Kouchner filmed on a Somali beach). “It plunged ten thousand peasants into misery, which led them to move to Mogadishu and further cities, which led to an additional destabilization of the country. A few years later, the famous ‘Islamic Tribunals’ appeared.”
13    Pekmez, Juan. The Intervention by the International Community and the Rehabilitation of Kosovo. Report of the project “The Rehabilitation of War-Torn Societies” coordinated by CASIN (Centre for Applied Studies in International Negotiations). Geneva, January 2001. cf. also Blumi, Isa. “One year of failure in Kosovo: chances missed and the unknown future”, Southeast European Politics, vol. 1, No 1, October 2000, pp. 15–24.

Nobel Peace Prize 2017 awarded to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

cc. The international organisation ICAN, based in Geneva, receives this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for its commitment against nuclear weapons. The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss Andersen, said, among other things, that ICAN had been awarded the prize “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons“. The Peace Prize announcement came in the midst of  the tensions that were at present prevailing around North Korea.
ICAN launched an international campaign to support a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons under international law. On 7 July 2017, 122 of the UN member states acceded to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (cf. Current Concerns No 19 http://www.zeit-fragen.ch/en/numbers/2017/no-1915-august-2017/is-nuclear-deterrence-dead.html). The treaty has been opened for signature since 20 September. As soon as the treaty has been ratified by 50 states, the ban on nuclear weapons will enter into force and will be binding under international law for all the countries that are party to the treaty. With their signatures the signatory states send a moral appeal.
With its commitment, ICAN draws worldwide attention to the risks posed by the 27,000 existing nuclear weapons. Thus ICAN is re-launching a fundamental debate.  It remains open how the nuclear-weapon states can be won for systematic disarmament, but it is again in the public focus.
ICAN International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is an international coalition of non-governmental organisations with currently more than 440 partner organisations in 98 countries worldwide. ICAN partner organisations represent a wide range of peace, humanitarian, environmental and human rights organisations (cf. www.icanw.org).

Infertility: Are radioactive weapons the cause?

According to the Serbian TV station Radio-Televizija Srbije, Serbian doctors, scientists and military formed an initiative concerning the consequences of the NATO air raids on Yugoslavia in 1999 for the health of the Serbian population. They requested that the relevant authorities investigate.
“The number of autoimmune diseases has increased, and male infertility has increased a hundredfold,” the station quotes Professor Danica Grujicic.
The station notes that in the Southern Serbia, radioactive contamination was discovered after the NATO air raids.
Radiologists, epidemiologists and toxicologists are to participate in the research. They are to investigate soil, water, air and food. Thereafter a coordinating body is to carry out an economic and legal study.
Once the results of the investigations have been published, Serbia will be able to file a suit against the 19 NATO members who participated in the operation against the former Yugoslavia.
From 24 March to 10 June 1999, the NATO carried out a military operation against the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia within the framework of the Kosovo war. The operation had no mandate from the UN Security Council.

Source: https://de.sputniknews.com/panorama/20170930317666436-serbien-unfruchtbarkeit-nato-luftangriffe/ from 30.9.2017

(Translation Current Concerns)

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