Puzzling Evidence: Who has WMDs?

Feature story - 26 April, 2004
While the glare of the world's media is focused upon the release of Mordechai Vanunu after 18 years in prison for revealing the world's most open secret - that Israel has the bomb - diplomats from all over the world are preparing for an important, little reported, international nuclear weapons control conference deep in the bowels of the UN in New York. And while the conference may not be secret, a whistleblower could certainly reveal much about the treaty's dark underside that most people don't know, and which may someday hurt them.

Puzzlin Evidence: who is this man, and how many nuclear weapons does he have?

The conference's official title is the third nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee (NPT PrepCom) meeting for the 2005 NPT Review Conference (RevCon).

Sound exciting? Actually, it's about as dull as dirty dishwater. Sound important? Yes, it is, for anyone concerned about weapons of mass destruction of the nuclear variety, whether they're owned by so-called "rogue states" or self-declared "responsible global citizens".

Who owns nuclear weapons and how many? While it shouldn't be a puzzle to the folks at the Non Proliferation Treaty, we've produced a little game to remind them. Those governments which have been leading the search for weapons of mass destruction in other countries might need particular help unjumbling where to find them.

Long before Vanunu went to jail, throughout the 1960's diplomats gathered in Geneva to negotiate a treaty - the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, which entered into force in 1970. A deal was struck: the five nuclear weapons nation agreed to disarm while every other nation would renounce nuclear weapons in return for access to so-called civil nuclear technology. Only three states remain outside the NPT - India, Israel and Pakistan. North Korea is a state in limbo, neither in nor out. It is the most universally adhered to treaty in the world.

Tipping point

This meeting will be an important test for the international community's resolve on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. At the last Review Conference, in 2000, consensus was only just achieved on a series of 13 "practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts" to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Those steps include sensible things like supporting the global ban on nuclear testing and starting negotiations on a treaty banning the production, possession and use of nuclear materials for nuclear bombs.

Nothing radical, just steps that urgently need to be implemented, yet even these tiny steps are continually blocked by those who have the most to lose: their weapons of mass destruction. We all know who they are: the US, Russia, China, France and Britain.

Four years on, President Bush is spending over US$5,000 million every year maintaining an arsenal of over 10,000 nuclear weapons. He's planning to spend US$485 million over the next five years on developing and producing a new nuclear weapon commonly known as a "bunker buster" -- a low-yield nuclear bomb designed to smash its way into the ground to destroy hardened underground targets. (The fact that Saddam Hussein was discovered in a conventional basement has somehow not discouraged the development of this weapon) The US military's Defence Science Board recently proposed scrapping most of the US nuclear arsenal and replacing it with smaller yield nuclear weapons that would "minimize collateral damage". The Bush Administration's doctrine of "preventive war" declares that the US would be justified in using nuclear weapons against anyone in any conflict even before they actually attacked.

A treaty in critical condition

The international nuclear non-proliferation regime has been in crisis since President Bush took office. Body blow after body blow has been struck to this fragile international regime: The US has failed to sign up to the global ban on nuclear testing. Bush is preparing the way to actually resume nuclear testing. The US government disagrees with crucial elements of the hard-won NPT '13 steps'. They refuse to enter into arms-control negotiations with Russia that would lead to 'real' reductions in nuclear arsenals. They brought about the collapse of negotiations on a verification regime for the treaty that bans biological weapons.

This is no longer a battered and bruised regime in need of a bit of repair mixed with some tender loving care. The international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime is on life support, and the Bush administration is intent on pulling the plug.

We believe that the '13 steps' should neither be weakened nor renegotiated, but should be strengthened by the 2005 NPT meeting.

We're proposing language that, if adopted and implemented by all NPT Member States, would take the NPT process further towards achieving its end goal of "a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control".

We hope those states which possess weapons of mass destruction will heed their own agreements, and start down the path of a world free of nuclear weapons.

The NPT needs a Vanunu: someone to blow the lid off the lies that a few powerful states have been telling for almost 40 years, and calling for them to get rid of their weapons of mass destruction.

More Info:

Read Greenpeace's in-depth background and briefing documents in the NPT Policy Corner.

Read our comments on the NPT '13 Steps'.