OPINION | Nuclear Nonproliferation & Problems for Multilateralism
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OPINION | Nuclear Nonproliferation & Problems for Multilateralism

By Shermineh Esmati
Analyst on Iran's Geopolitical and Security Affairs

OPINION | Nuclear Nonproliferation and Problems for Multilateralism

In resolving the threat of nuclear development, the United Nations Office on Disarmament Affairs began negotiating the Non Proliferation Treaty during the 1960s. Officially signed in 1970 the remit of the treaty was to make it a cornerstone in all international nuclear disarmament efforts. Five times a year the NPT member states review the advancement of the treaty thus the progress of nuclear non-proliferation.[1] As well, the United Nations Security Council members formed the 1540 Committee in 2004 under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. As an institutionalized global organization the 1540 Committee can put into practice country specific visits, dialogue among the committee members, governments, and assorted stakeholders within countries. With an immediate ability to contact stakeholders the committee more easily can obtain first-hand information about legislative and enforcement measures.

In general the organizations mentioned above, exercise multilateralism in international relations, where multiple countries work in concert for a common goal. In this case, these organizations have an objective of making the world a more peaceful and secure place through nuclear non-proliferation. According to critics, efforts to exercise multilateralism to create a more peaceful world have been slowed down.  Leading to the main concern of whether multilateralism can achieve world peace through nuclear nonproliferation? Scholars have found legitimate problems in multilateral non-nuclear proliferation efforts, when observing the winners, losers, those affected and key players.
Who are the winners and losers?

When assessing the winners and losers, organizations such as the United Nations Security Council, Non Proliferation Treaty and UNODA member states tend to be winners but at times losers when goals are not accomplished. Looking at the winners, the UNODA provides substantive organizational support for norm setting in the area of disarmament through the work of general assembly and its first committee, the disarmament commission, the conference on disarmament and other bodies. Since the institution has five branching organizations, this keeps it active in the fight to create a more secure world.

Losers are the members of the Non Proliferation Treaty, threatened by volatile countries like North Korea who find little reason to surrender their nuclear weapons. In the case of the Iran nuclear deal, critics find that negotiations benefited the dangerous Islamic regime more than the peaceful members of multilateral organizations. Furthermore, members of the NPT, UNODA and 1540 Committee are expected to bring security to the international community yet when left unfulfilled the member states appear as the losers.

Problem for Multilateralism:

The problem scholars claim that the UNODA does not require all countries to sign to the Non Proliferation Treaty. There is concern in the legitimacy of a multilateral organization that does not push Pakistan, India or Israel to abide to the rules. According to an article by Sandra Smits from the International School of the Hague, Pakistan has publicly confirmed their possession of nuclear weapons that had been tested in the past.[2] Although Israel does not acknowledge possession of nuclear weapons, refusal to permit the International Atomic Energy Association to complete inspections has led the international community to believe otherwise.

Who is affected? In What sense?

Secondly looking at who is affected by nuclear nonproliferation goals, includes the leadership composition at the 1540 Committee and NPT member states. The Security Council’s 1540 Committee formed in 2004 puts much responsibility on the Chair, Spanish Ambassador H.E Roman Oyarzun Masrchesi, Vice Chairs including New Zealand, Senegal, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and its remaining members. The White House State Department webpage explains that NPT members are to promote the 1963 Treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water, seek the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons and to continue negotiations. Thus, when observing the signatories to the Non Proliferation Treaty, those affected are expected to cooperate with other states to achieve its objective globally.

Problem for Multilateralism:

The problem that arises for those organizations include decision making that might harm the lives of large populations. When considering North Korea, scholar John Cherian of Front Line, wrote “Bombs as Answer” an article concerning the downward spiral caused by former President George W. Bush by including North Korea in the axis of evil. Once North Korea walked away from NPT relations, the South deteriorated. Evident when the right wing government gave up the sunshine policy introduced by Kim Dae Jung in the late 1990s. The sunshine policy encouraged the prosperous South Korea to work with the North through investment, trade, diplomatic relations and family reunions. Here multilateralism failed in its goal to create international security, instead the opposite was achieved.

Since North Korea did not see the benefit in remaining with the NPT, they conducted their first nuclear test in October 2006. The second test was conducted in May 2009, Kim Jong Il was in power at the time of both the tests. After his son, Kim Jong Un, took over, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013.[3] A good analysis was made by Stratfor’s Roger Baker who argued that policies in dealing with Pyongyang including engagement, isolation, treat or direct military action, must be reassessed since there has been little success. For instance, calls for military strikes on North Korea are dismissed by South Korea and Japan due to proximity.[4] Thus must be a more direct channels for dialogue with North Korea to manage long and short term disruption. By creating a deeper understanding between potential adversaries this will provide valuable intelligence and better polices.

Who are the key players involved in international discussions?

Third, the key players involved in international discussions include the United Nations Security Council, UNODA along with its five branches. On 28 April 2004, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1540 under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The 1540 committee affirmed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery constitutes a threat to international peace and security. The resolution obliges States, to refrain from supporting by any means non-State actors from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.

Problem for Multilateralism:

The problem for multilateralism is that member states do not following through with their word. Nuclear weapons and WMD’s have been the object of multilateral discussions almost from their inception as weapons. Scholars like Darl Kimbell, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, found that there lacks a step by step plan in place to cut off fissile material, “A step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament that promotes international stability, peace and undiminished and increased security for all remains the only realistic and practical route to achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”[5] The lack of consistency in the joint statement creates a real concern of whether China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom or United States spent any time in London developing a plan of action. Therefore, there is a legitimate concern that when senior officials met in February 2015, it was merely an occasion to throw around glossy terms and much talk.

Nevertheless, efforts to use multilateral organizations set a very high standard for achieving nuclear non-proliferation, but problems remain with those affected, winners, losers and role of key players. Once members of multilateral organizations such as the UNODA, 1540 Committee and the Non-Proliferation Treaty become more assertive and dedicated to following through on public statements, peace will be achieved. It is also important that key world leaders do not create a threat to international security by encouraging war on nations possessing nuclear weapons. All the more, there is much progress needed but multilateral organizations can play a central role in securing international peace.

About The Author:

Shermineh Esmati (C-7295-2016is an independent analyst on Iran's Geopolitical and Security Affairs.  Shermineh obtained her Bachelor’s Degree (Honors) in Political Science and History Minor (2012) from University of Toronto  and pursuing her Master’s Degree in International Relations and National Security Studies (2017) from Harvard University. She can be reached at her twitter handle @Shermineh2

Cite This Article:

Esmati, S.S "OPINION | Nuclear Nonproliferation & Problems for Multilateralism" IndraStra Global 002, no. 02 (2016): 0050. http://www.indrastra.com/2016/02/OPINION-Nuclear-Nonproliferation-and-Problems-for-Multilateralism-002-02-2016-0050.html


[1] Acheson Ray. “History of the NPT 1975-1995,” Reaching Critical Will. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. 2015.http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/npt/history-of-the-npt-1975-1995

[2] Smit Sandra, “Question of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and of weapons of mass destruction”, Munish. Model United Nations International School of the Hague. 2011. http://www.munish.nl/pages/downloader?code=sc02&comcode=sc&year=2011

[3]Cherian John, “Bombs as Answer”, Frontline. Published by The Hindu. 2015.http://www.frontline.in/world-affairs/bombs-as-answer/article8123682.ece  

[4] Baker Rodger, “North Korea, the Outlier in U.S Policy.” Geopolitical Weekly. Stratfor Global Intelligence. January 19 2016.https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/north-korea-outlier-us-policy

[5] Kimball G. Daryl. “ Nuclear-Weapon States Discuss NPT Issues.” Arms Control Association. March 2015https://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/2015_03/News-Brief/Nuclear-Weapon-States-Discuss-NPT-Issues