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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

SLUG: 5-56831 NPT Challenges











HEADLINE: NPT Review Conference Faces Many Challenges.

INTRO: Delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference (held in New York from May 2nd to 27th) are expected to discuss a variety of issues dealing with controlling the spread of nuclear weapons. These include ways to strengthen the treaty and how to deal with the threat of nuclear terrorism. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at some of the challenges facing the delegates.

TEXT: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, or NPT, is the legal cornerstone of international efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Under terms of the pact, non-nuclear states are bound not to acquire nuclear weapons, while the five declared nuclear states (the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia) pledge to disarm.

The treaty came into force in 1970, and in 1995, the member states agreed to extend it indefinitely. One-hundred-87 countries have signed and ratified the treaty. Three countries -- India, Pakistan and Israel -- have not signed and a fourth, North Korea, has withdrawn from it.

Every five years, NPT member states gather to review the treaty and they will do so during the month of May in New York City. They will debate whether the treaty needs to be revised and strengthened to meet the nuclear challenges in the years ahead.

William Potter is director of the center for non-proliferation studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He says one of the main problems with the treaty is that it doesn't have an enforcement mechanism to make states comply with the treaty's provisions.

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"And so the non-nuclear weapons states complain that the nuclear weapon states are not complying with their disarmament obligations; the nuclear weapon states, among others, complain that a number of countries are not complying with their non-proliferation obligations. And increasingly, you find countries that are non-nuclear weapons states, who maintain that the nuclear weapon states have impeded their access to peaceful nuclear energy use. But again, the difficulty is one of a lack of an enforcement mechanism - so that people may disagree, but it's very difficult to take any meaningful action to correct what are seen by some as non-compliance."

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Mr. Potter says delegates must come up with strong enforcement procedures.

Experts say delegates will also look at Iran's nuclear energy program, believed by some states to hide a nuclear weapons potential - though Tehran denies that. And they are also expected to discuss North Korea's withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty. A few months ago, Pyongyang said it has produced nuclear weapons and withdrawn from talks discussing its controversial nuclear program.

Jon Wolfsthal is an expert on nuclear non-proliferation with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (in Washington D.C.). He says the delegates must also address the issue of so-called "loose nukes" - poorly secured nuclear material that could get into the hands of terrorists.


"This isn't just a question in the former Soviet Union. The problem of loose nuclear materials is a global problem and I also think, gets to the concerns over the treaty, which is that all countries, whether they are nuclear weapon states or not, are committed to prevent the spread of these weapons. And since you have over 45 countries in the world that possess materials that can go into nuclear weapons, we need to make sure that they are all protecting them to the highest level possible - and it is clear that they are simply just not doing that. And so there is a real question about the commitment of countries to live up to their obligations not just in the broad, sweeping, political sense, but actually invest the time and money to make sure these materials don't fall into the wrong hands."

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For Graham Allison, non-proliferation expert at Harvard University, the way to prevent the disappearance of loose nuclear materials is simple: keep them under lock and key.


"Is there any reason why gold should be more secure in Fort Knox (EDS: in Kentucky, site of the U.S. Bullion Depository, or 'Gold Vault') or treasures, icons, in the Kremlin armory should be more secure than nuclear weapons or materials from which bombs could be made? No, there is absolutely no reason. We, as human beings, know how to lock up stuff we don't want people to steal. So all nuclear weapons should be locked up as good as gold."

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Analysts say the review conference must also address the issue of nuclear terrorism. William Potter from the Monterey Institute, says this is a global dilemma.

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"This is both a problem within the treaty and outside of it. It's a threat that affects all states, whether they are party or not to the treaty. But it is also a problem for the treaty, because when the treaty was negotiated, it was very state-centric: there was no attempt to address the threat posed by non-state actors. And as such, the NPT really doesn't say anything about this threat or provide a mechanism to deal with this danger. And so I think one of the real problems that will have to be confronted in New York by the different delegations there, is how does one address these new threats? How does the treaty adapt to new circumstances?"

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Experts agree many issues facing delegates to the NPT review conference seem daunting. But they say these problems must be addressed and the treaty strengthened to be able to either avoid, or deal with potentially serious nuclear issues in the years ahead. (Signed)


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