Observer Worldview Extra
With disarmament off the agenda, will Japan go nuclear next?
Online commentary: Dan Plesch in Washington hears a top UN official warn of the dangers of breaking the bargain between nuclear 'haves' and 'have nots'.
Sunday November 17, 2002
Japan is considering the nuclear option as disarmament falls off the international agenda. This was the stark message to emerge from a series of presentations at a gathering of world experts on proliferation in Washington.
The strongest warning about the nuclear danger that is growing in the world was a delivered by a top UN official leading inspection efforts in Iraq. We will not succeed in stopping more countries building the bomb if the countries that have them already do not scrap them as well, argued Mohamed El Baradei, the Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Speaking in Washington DC at a conference of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he emphasised that the UN treaty controlling proliferation was a bargain between nuclear 'haves' and 'have nots' with the haves agreeing to implement multilateral disarmament and the have-nots agreeing not to build the bomb. He argued that efforts to stop Iraqi and North Korean nuclear ambitions and to rein in India and Pakistan were put at risk while China, France, Russia, the UK and the US continue to prize their own weapons.
El Baradei singled out for criticism the concept of 'deterrence' and the idea that some states without their own nuclear weapons would have the US so-called 'nuclear umbrella'. His remarks come just a week before NATO will invite seven more nations to join its nuclear weapons based club.
El Baradei spelled out five key aspects for a successful mission for the UN inspectors in Iraq. That the team he and Hans Blix will have responsibility for, get full access and full implementation of the UN's authority; that nations give them the intelligence they have on Iraqi activity; that there is prompt action against Iraqi noncompliance; full Iraqi cooperation; and that nations do not undermine the UN's credibility by sending spies to act as inspectors.
While the US is focusing so much of world attention on how these five tests will be met in the coming months, it was clear from the experts gathered for this conference that is no serious global disarmament effort to meet the pre-condition for long-term success laid out by El Baradei. The seminars at the Carnegie Conference were a proper chamber of horrors, enough to keep any sane person awake at night. A computer simulation of a nuclear-biological war between Israel and Iraq fitted in between US plans for building lasers in space and the danger of terrorist attack on nuclear power and petro-chemical plants.
Although speakers from the UN and some of activists in the audience raised the need to implement the US and other nuclear states's commitments to abolish nuclear arms none of the conference sessions were devoted to the agenda agreed at the UN. Despite El Baradei's concern that a world of double standards was not sustainable, the disarmament pledge given by the US was dismissed as a 'theological' concern by John Wolf, one of President Bush's senior State Department officials.
The rising insecurity caused by weakening global controls is getting clearer and clearer to see. The Bush team have let Pakistan and India off the hook in order to get their help in the 'war on terror'. To show just how little influence the US has on Pakistan it has recently helped North Korea produce uranium in exchange for a supply of missiles in a deal the US has only just uncovered.
And North Korea is just a short missile flight from Japan. An expert panel of American experts on Japan carefully outlined how the Japanese government had begun a national discussion on whether to go nuclear and that this might not necessarily be a bad thing. All agreed that Japan already had enough missile technology, plutonium and scientific expertise to build nuclear weapons. Absent from this high powered seminar was discussion of the impact on the Japanese government's thinking of President Bush's avowed intent to prevent China growing to rival the US and his willingness to tear up international agreements. For years Japan has led world debates on disarmament with Hiroshima and Nagasaki seared into the national consciousness. However in recent years senior officials have repeatedly floated the idea of a Japanese bomb, apparently softening up international opinion should they decide on this move. Japanese public opinion may remain hostile to a nuclear option, but in the past officials have successfully brushed public views aside over the Japanese hosting of US nuclear forces and may be able to do so over this more serious issue, especially with a conservative turn in Japanese politics.
What these discussions highlight is the foolishness of concentrating on the Iraqi issue to the exclusion of a coherent global strategy to manage the bomb. We are right to be concerned about Iraq's weapons but they are just a very small part of the problem posed by nuclear chemical and biological weapons. It has become fashionable in the West to think that a policy of double standards is justified by the West's moral superiority to the rest of the world. In Britain, Robert Cooper has become a prime exponent of this doctrine.
At the Carnegie conference this position was espoused in folksy fashion by the Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He rejected the idea that the US should pursue some new Imperialism in a fit of power-fueled hubris. Indeed he reaffirmed support for the UN, NATO and the IMF, which while 'far from perfect' provide the base of a co-operative international system. Hagel is about as progressive an internationalist Republican as exists nowadays, but even he just shrugged and explained that the US feels it and its friends can have weapons because it is more responsible.
But this responsible world may have to look forward to being comforted by Japanese and then perhaps South Korean and Australian nuclear weapons. Are more and more nuclear weapons really a recipe for sleeping more easily at night?
· Dan Plesch is Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (www.rusi.org) and author of Sheriff and Outlaws in the Global Village. He writes regular online commentaries for Observer Worldview. You can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org or send your views to email@example.com with comments on articles or ideas for future pieces.