“There are many states that have the potential to create nuclear weapons today”

50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

“There are many states that have the potential to create nuclear weapons today” Photo: vpk-news.ru

24 November marked 50 years since the Soviet Union ratified the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, previously signed by the United States and the UK, and then by many other countries. Pavel Zolotarev, the deputy director of the Institute of the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences, member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, tells why this document, with all its advantages, has created some problems and how to solve these problems in the interview with Realnoe Vremya.

“Non-nuclear powers have the right to develop a peaceful atom — to stimulate their presence in the Treaty”

Mr Zolotaryov, how to assess the operation of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons over these 50 years?

Undoubtedly, the Treaty can be assessed positively — it really stopped the process of nuclear weapons proliferation. Suffice it to recall who started the development of nuclear weapons. It was not only the USSR and the USA, but also South Africa, and a number of European countries. Through the efforts of the “nuclear five” states, a treaty of this kind has been developed. In principle, the mechanisms that were developed during the Cold War and that are reflected in this Treaty were enough to keep the number of nuclear states within the five until the end of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, since its end, we have received three more nuclear-weapon states, although they are not officially recognized as such. These are India, Pakistan and North Korea.

I would like to emphasize the main points of the Treaty, which retain their value. These are, first of all, the obligations of non-nuclear states never to accept nuclear weapons from anyone, not to accept assistance in their manufacture, not to accept or transfer nuclear materials that can be used to create nuclear weapons. And the nuclear-weapon states, in turn, have committed themselves to negotiating the prevention and reduction of a nuclear arms race.

However, this Treaty enshrines the right to withdraw from it and, most importantly, the non-nuclear powers have the right to develop a peaceful atom (to encourage their presence in the Treaty). In addition, the obligations of the states possessing nuclear technologies, including nuclear weapons, to help non-nuclear states in the development of nuclear energy are enshrined. Here we see the example of North Korea, which once signed the Treaty, used the right to receive nuclear technology and, at some point, having accumulated the potential to create nuclear weapons, withdrew from the Treaty. This exit demonstrated the flaw of the Treaty.

One of the positive aspects is that the Treaty provides for a conference every 5 years, which would allow to assess what is good and what is bad with its implementation, and after 25 years to decide whether to keep it. In the mid-90s, the need to preserve the Treaty was confirmed. The previous conference ended unsuccessfully — the effectiveness of the Treaty was recognized as negative, and now the question of its fate is very seriously raised. It will be discussed in the next year 2020. While the majority of states, of course, tend to believe that the Treaty should be preserved, at the same time, its serious shortcomings are identified, which need to be worked on.

Photo: twitter.com
Undoubtedly, the Treaty can be assessed positively — it really stopped the process of nuclear weapons proliferation. Suffice it to recall who started the development of nuclear weapons. It was not only the USSR and the USA, but also South Africa, and a number of European countries. Through the efforts of the “nuclear five” states, a treaty of this kind has been developed

What are these disadvantages? Here I would highlight the behaviour of the states possessing nuclear weapons and superior to other states in military power. If such states do not hesitate to use military force against weak states, they thereby motivate the latter to possess nuclear weapons. Therefore, many states are thinking, if not about the development of nuclear weapons, then at least about the need to make a technological breakthrough in order to get all the scientific and technical potential in order to be able to develop such weapons in a short time, test it and become a nuclear state.

It is clear that we are talking about the United States, but I would like to start with Israel, which, as you know, always acts very harshly, using military force.

Israel is a special case, they still do not confess to possessing nuclear weapons. But they have a motivation for the behaviour you have described: Israel is surrounded by Arab countries, and some of them do not conceal the intention to destroy the Jewish state. That is why it is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Yes, Israel also enjoys the patronage of the United States and its obligations to ensure the security of this country, but Israel is not sure that the Americans are ready to fight for them. Therefore, the maximum that they can count on is the loyalty of the United States to the status of Israel as a non-aligned state to the Treaty.

“Kim Jong-un uses the policy of nuclear blackmail to obtain economic aid”

What does the example of India and Pakistan, which did not sign the Treaty and received nuclear weapons in the ‘90s, tells us about?

India and Pakistan believe that it is unfair to deprive other states of the right to possess nuclear weapons. India in this regard looks, first of all, at China — as you know, these states have very serious contradictions. At the same time, China is an officially recognized nuclear state, and in such a situation, India considered that it also needed to have nuclear weapons, so it did not sign this Treaty. Then the logical chain is already in India-Pakistan relations: the latter, like China, has long-standing contradictions with India.

Nuclear development of these countries went in parallel, and since the intelligence of both countries worked very well, after the tests in India, Pakistan (rumoured to have received nuclear technology from China) could test its nuclear weapons. Well, then North Korea joined these countries. However, it had its own motivation.

Wasn’t North Korea's motivation to possess nuclear weapons related to the United States?

No, neither the United States nor Russia have to do with it. North Korea was driven to possess nuclear weapons by its regional problems, problems with its neighbors. But if we take Libya and Iran, which constantly experience pressure and threats from the United States (and you can remember Iraq, where the Americans invaded under the pretext that Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction), it is logical that many countries are thinking about how to protect themselves, and the use the factor of nuclear deterrence.

North Korea, having created a very primitive nuclear weapon, has already done quite a lot: it turned out that even a remote threat from North Korea for the United States is already a factor for nuclear deterrence against North Korea. All this already makes the US leadership think, which we observe in its actions against North Korea.

Photo: bbc.com
It is important for North Korea to receive some economic assistance. The problems of economic development and living standards in North Korea are quite serious, and it is to obtain economic assistance that Kim Jong-UN uses the policy of nuclear blackmail

In your opinion, are the measures obvious that would suit North Korea for the state to join again the Treaty or, perhaps, abandon its production?

There are such measures. First, it is enough to create an understanding in the head of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, that no one is going to carry out a coup in his country to change the current regime. It is enough to create an understanding that the leader of North Korea has the opportunity to develop his regime and transform it towards normal (and Kim Jong-un has such attempts) without external interference. And North Korea is required not to exceed the level of military activity in relation to the territory of South Korea, so that there are no open threats from the United States.

Second, it is important for North Korea to receive some economic assistance. The problems of economic development and living standards in North Korea are quite serious, and it is to obtain economic assistance that Kim Jong-UN uses the policy of nuclear blackmail.

Do you see any shifts after personal meetings between Trump and Kim Jong-un?

No matter how much President Trump was reprimanded from all sides, but in relations with North Korea, he made a certain breakthrough. There has become more calm in these relations.

“Iran may come to the threshold of creating a nuclear weapon, but it will not cross it. Unless as a last resort”

Now let's talk about Iran. To what extent is the possession of nuclear weapons dangerous for Russia?

Little depends on Russia. At the time, our state made enough efforts to sign joint agreements on Iran, including those treaties from which the United States withdrew. This issue requires the efforts of the European states, first of all, since the United States withdrew from this agreement. These efforts should consist in working out solutions in which Iran would not feel difficulties in connection with economic sanctions.

As for Iran's nuclear program, it is clear that the leadership of this country has the desire and motivation to possess nuclear weapons because there is Israel with nuclear weapons (although he does not admit it) and Pakistan. But Iran is well aware of what it threatens them.

For Russia, the problem of Pakistan, which already has nuclear weapons, is much more serious. You see, the degree of threat from the possession of nuclear weapons in this case depends on the level of development of Islamic extremism. It is no coincidence that recently in the speech of former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis the view was expressed about the threat from Pakistan, where at the moment various Islamic currents are developed.

Of course, this does not mean that Russia should be soft on the prospect of nuclear weapons in Iran, but Iran, although it already has a high level of scientific and technical potential to develop nuclear weapons (there are good missile technologies, there are experts in the nuclear sphere), it can only move to improve this potential and is unlikely to start directly producing nuclear weapons. Iran may come to the threshold of creating a nuclear weapon, but it will not cross it. Although much will depend on the political situation. But Iran can cross this threshold only as a last resort. However, in order not to come to an extreme case, it is not necessary to create conditions for this.

Photo: dw.com
As for Iran's nuclear program, it is clear that the leadership of this country has the desire and motivation to possess nuclear weapons because there is Israel with nuclear weapons (although he does not admit it) and Pakistan. But Iran is well aware of what it threatens them

What kind of extreme case?

This is primarily instability in the region, associated with frequent threats from a country to Iran, primarily threats from the United States. If there is no threat from the United States related to a possible military conflict and military actions, then I think Iran will not move to the creation of nuclear weapons.

By the way, there are enough states that have the potential to create nuclear weapons — first of all, Japan should be singled out, which has everything for this.

Is it really difficult for Trump to negotiate with Iran? Would the negotiation process that would lead to Iran's abandonment of nuclear weapons really be a long one?

I don't think it would have been long. If Trump does not like previously signed international agreements on Iran's nuclear program, then we need to try to create some new agreements, and this is real. Trump's rejection of a number of documents is due only to the fact that they were signed by the Obama administration, and everything that was signed by them — Trump sharply denies. Therefore, if something in the treaties is changed and it is indicated that this is a document developed with the participation of the Trump administration, it is quite possible to sign it in an updated form and return to creating normal conditions for Iran's development of peaceful nuclear energy without threats of transition to the creation of nuclear weapons.

“The possibility of highly enriched uranium or weapons-grade plutonium appearing on the black market is close to zero”

How do you feel about the assumptions about the existence of a black market of nuclear materials? How serious is this?

I would be careful with assessments on this issue because the measures taken in this regard for export control and prevention of illicit trafficking in nuclear materials are very serious. Both Russia and the United States actively participated in this work. In this regard, the possibility of highly enriched uranium or weapons-grade plutonium appearing on the market is almost zero.

Another thing is that there is some amount of highly enriched uranium that could have got somewhere in earlier years. If it is unknown where it is, if it is concentrated in one place, then one or two nuclear devices can be made here, and this can cause alarm.

Photo: vestikavkaza.ru
The IAEA really works successfully, and we just need to create conditions for its work. If a state interferes with the work of the IAEA on its territory, then perhaps, the world community has the right to apply some collective sanctions against it

Is the IAEA capable of preventing the transfer of technology and nuclear materials from, for example, Pakistan to terrorists?

The IAEA really works successfully, and we just need to create conditions for its work. If a state interferes with the work of the IAEA on its territory, then perhaps, the world community has the right to apply some collective sanctions against it. Nevertheless, it must still create the conditions for the work of the IAEA. Besides, if the review of the implementation of the Treaty leads to that there is still something to improve and give the IAEA authority, then in the coming years in this direction something else may be proposed.

By Sergey Kochnev