Who’ll bell the cat?

UN SECRETARY General Kofi Annan and UN nuclear chief Mohamed El Baradei have hit the nail on the head when they said that the 35-year-old nuclear non-proliferation treaty is outdated and needs overhaul. Their call for NPT revamp at the opening of a month-long UN conference is long overdue. Since 188 countries signed the treaty in 1970, the world has undergone dramatic changes: new countries have born, divided nations have united, the Cold War has ended, Communism has gone into history books, new strategic relationships based on trade and commerce have been forged and the world in general has opened up.

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Published: Sat 7 May 2005, 10:49 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:47 PM

The most important development is, the threat of a nuclear war between the two Superpowers — the then Soviet Union and the US — has receded considerably. Nevertheless, the spectre of nuclear extinction has not vanished completely.

NPT is aimed at thwarting nuclear ambitions by countries other than the five-member nuclear club — the US, Russia, France, Britain and China — who constitute the permanent UN Security Council. But the NPT has failed miserably in its mission, largely because of its flawed provisions and ineffective control mechanisms. Some states have managed to clandestinely develop nuclear weapons either on their own or with help from other ‘friendly’ countries. Precious resources are diverted, at the cost of national development, to get a nuclear tag and and ward off perceived external threats. NPT as an instrument to curb nuclear proliferation is still useful in a globalised world. But it can’t meet fresh challenges and threats in its present form. It needs a new lease of life, which members and non-signatories of the treaty could give in the larger interests of peace. In this regard, Annan’s four-point formula to strengthen the treaty is worth serious consideration. In a nutshell, what Annan has suggested is, give muscle to the existing NPT and abide by its terms; effective national controls and enforcement measures to check illegal export of nuclear technology and material; and incentives for those who opt for peaceful uses of nuclear energy without resorting to weapons development.

These steps may reduce nuclear proliferation risks to some extent. A beginning has to be made if we want to make the world a safer place. As a first step, the major powers, particularly the US and Russia, must commit themselves to non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament by drastically cutting their nuclear arsenals and launching a time-bound plan to realise the dream of a nukes free world. The month-long NPT conference that convenes once in five years has plenty of issues on hand to discuss but what it has to remember is by the time it meets next there may be many more undeclared nuclear states and mini nuclear bombs in the pockets of illegal gangs. It’s better to act now.

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