The Current 'Safeguards'
It is important to understand the limitations of the international nuclear safeguards system. "Safeguards" is itself a misnomer, connoting more "safety" and "guarding" than is warranted. The system basically consists of monitoring, information-gathering and reporting -- nothing more. There is no agreed-upon, prestated penalty for violations. The key philosophy behind the safeguards system is that diversion of nuclear material (material, not equipment) from peaceful to military use can be discouraged through the risk of being detected. In sum, International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards are not a guarantee against diversion of nuclear materials. Instead, they are designed to detect it early enough so that the international community can take appropriate (though unspecified) action to prevent the actual construction of weaponry. The phrase "timely warning" is used to denote this concept, and is key to successful Non-Proliferation Treaty/IAEA operation.
To further clarify, NPT/IAEA monitoring has nothing to do with equipment or technology transfer, only with the material with which that equipment or technology would work.
It is obvious that the system has considerable weakness. First, there is no presumption of weapons-making should a diversion be discovered. An IAEA inspector discovering that material is missing simply reports to IAEA headquarters, which, in turn, makes a report to the IAEA board of governors. The board may send the report to the United Nations for action. There is no agreement on sanctions, follow-on pursuit or accounting for missing material. Nor on any other measures to prevent further safeguards violations. In addition, the IAEA was originally established (prior to NPT) as an organization for the promotion of nuclear power around the world. nIts safeguards function is, therefore, viewed by many, perhaps even by most, members of the agency as a distinctly secondary activity. As a result, there is considerable reluctance, particularly on the part of developing countries, to contribute to the safeguards function of the IAEA. The United States currently is providing almost one-third of the current safeguards budget, which amounts to only $29 million. By contrast, India (which exploded a device in 1974 using plutonium from an unsafegurded Canadian research reactor) contributed $42,000 last year to the IAEA safeguards function (most of India's nuclear program is unsafeguarded, but a small portion of it is subject to inspection).
Even with the NPT in effect, it would be possible for a country to obtain all the technology and materials needed for the construction of nuclear weapons and to receive technical assistance in obtaining and using such technology without violating the NPT rules. Technically, it is only when a weapon is actually constructed that the NPT would be violated by that country. Even then the NPT provides for an escape, because any country that feels its security is threatened can make such a declaration and, with 90 days' notice, withdraw from the NPT without any penalty. Thus, under the guise of being an NPT signatory, a country can simultaneoulsy pursue a civilian nuclear program and a military option until it is time to actually construct weapons and then simply withdraw from the treaty. Iraq is an NPT party. So is Libya, even though Col. Muammar Qaddafi has reportedly sought to purchase nuclear weapons from various sources. In short, the only "teeth" in the NPT/IAEA system come from unspecified action that might or might not stem from aroused world opinion. How the Problem Has Spread
By eagerly transferring nuclear technology, the advanced industrial nations have actually accelerated the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities. Whatever progress Iraq, for example, may have made in this connection is directly attributable to the assistance it received from France, Italy and, before that, the Soviet Union. Let me hasten to add, however, that the spread of nuclear materials around the world has not, by and large, been the fault of the Soviet Union.
France trained numerous Iraqis in nuclear engineering and sold Iraq the large Osirak research reactor, which, at the very least, would have provided Iraq invaluable "hands-on" experience in reactor operations and handling of nuclear materials. Italy is also believed to be training Iraqi technicians and sold that nation four radiologically shielded "hot-cell" laboratories, which could have provided an effective training ground in plutonium separation technology. Reportedly, Iraq was negotiating with Italy for a larger reactor capable of producing more significant quantities of plutonium and for additional reprocessing equipment. Russia's earlier contribution was a smaller research reactor. Thus, whatever Iraq's long-term nuclear goals may be foreign assistance was an absolutely essential first step. Indeed, without it, there would be no Iraqi nuclear program.
As in the case of the French and Italian assistance provided to Iraq, technology transferred from the Western democracies has played a crucial role in virtually every case of actual or threatened proliferation since the mid-1960s. India's 1974 neclear detonation, for example, used plutonium produced in a Canadian-supplied reactor containing heavy water purchased from the United States. Both were provided under poorly worded agreements and without a requirement for international inspections, thus allowing India to misuse the facility for nuclear explosives. Moreover, U.S. suppliers may have assisted India by designing the reprocessing plant used to extract the needed plutonium.
Some other examples:
Israel: Whatever its actual nuclear weapons capabilities, Israel relies on the Dimona research reactor supplied by France in 1958, again without the requirement of safeguards, Israel has never signed the NPT and has refused IAEA inspection at Dimona. According to the IAEA, Israel also has a reprocessing plant at this site, for which the French are again believed to have provided assistance.
Korea: According to the 1978 congressional "Koreagate" report, Korea initiated a secret nuclear weapons development effort during the early 1970s. During this period, Korea also negotiated the purchase of a reprocessing plant from France. While ostensibly a part of Korea's nuclear power program, the facility would have provided the essential ingredient for nuclear weapons. The French canceled the sale only after a major international outcry over the proliferation risks involved.
Taiwan : In 1976, Taiwan was reported to be engaged in clandestine reprocessing activities at its nuclear research center to separate plutonium from spend research reactor fuel. The reactor, supplied by Canada, was the same type India used for its nuclear device. For its part, the United States has trained more than 1,000 Talwanese nuclear personnel. In response to U.S. concern, Taiwan has agreed to cease all reprocessing activities.
Pakistan: Closely following India's 1974 nuclear explosion, its longtime adversary, Pakistan, started a drive toward nuclear weapons based almost entirely on technology imported from the West. Initially Pakistan also sought to purchase a reprocessing plant from France. Although the deal was ultimately canceled in 1978, the French had already transferred the designs for the plant. Since then, using dummy trading companies and anonymous purchasing agents, Pakistan has been successful in purchasing key parts of the facility, component by component. It has followed the same route in buying parts for its enrichment plant at Kahuta. Because the components for both of these unsafeguarded facilities are so-called "dual use" items -- that is, useful for both nuclear and non-nuclear industrial applications -- the Swiss, among others, have been unwilling to restrict their exports by applying the Nuclear Suppliers Guidelines barring such sales unless subject to IAEA safeguards.
To make use of its reprocessing plant, of course, Pakistan will need a source of plutonium. Most observers believe it will come from the Kanupp reactor (originally supplied by Canada), even though it is now covered by IAEA safeguards that prohibit use of spent fuel for weapons. Pakistan recently acquired a fuel-fabrication plant to manufacture its own fuel for the Kanupp reactor -- the plant was built by a French company.
South Africa: Its enrichment plant, which has already produced 45-percent-enriched uranium to fuel that nation's SAFARI research reactor, is undoubtedly capable of higher enrichments better suited to nuclear weapons. While it is generally believed that this facility was largely designed and constructed-in-house by South Africa's own scientists, there have been reports that key design concepts were provided by West German concerns. Given the complexity of enrichment technology, any such transfer could have been crucial to development of the plant.
Argentina and Brazil: Both countries are relying heavily on imports from West Germany (and, in the case of Argentina, from Switzerland) to develop complete nuclear fuel cycles that will, in time, make them independent of nuclear supplier controls and provide all the essential knowhow for obtaining weapons-usable materials. Looser Controls?
Despite their flaws, it has been hoped that international non-proliferation efforts could be strengthened to contain and manage the spread of nuclear weapons. It has been suggested, quite correctly, that any strategy to combat nuclear proliferation must take account of national needs for security, energy supply, national prestige and national sovereignty. Toward this end, it is recognized that bilateral and multilateral security arrangements, assistance in the development of both international and indigenous energy resources, economic development and the relationship of industrialized to developing countries all must be considered.
At the same time, however, the bedrock of any global non-proliferation effort was deemed to be the international safeguards regime. The message of the Begin bombing raid on Iraq is that the bedrock of the worldwide non-proliferation effort is more sand than solid. We can no longer pretend that all aspects of nuclear trade are acceptable by virtue of the assurances provided through the NPT and IAEA. We can no longer pretend that a philospohy of maximizing the sale of nuclear materials to all comers is a credible element in an effective non-proliferation policy.
It will not be easy to reverse the disastrous trend that begin with the rejection of the Acheson-Lilienthal recommendations at the end of World War II, was accelerated by the well-intentioned Atoms-for-Peace programs, was slowed to some extent by the U.S. initiatives between 1976 and 1978 and which has picked up speed again in the aftermath of back-tracking by executive branch officials since 1978. Indeed, some statements by Reagan administration officials have suggested that looser controls on nuclear trade can be expected from the administration. Some Proposals
The establishment of a new worldwide non-proliferation regime cannot be done by one country alone. It must begin with an acceptance of certain general principles by supplier and recipient countries alike. It is important to be able to (1) slow significantly the present trend while we (2) attempt to obtain an international consensus on the appropriate principles. Accordingly, I have suggested by letter to President Reagan that he:
1. Immediately call for reopening the nuclear suppliers' conference with a view toward both establishing truly meaningful restrictions on dangerous nuclear trade and improving the international safeguards regime.
2. Start planning for a world nuclear energy policy conference that would, among other things, discuss concerns about national security and their relationship to nuclear activities, as well as possible NPT revisions to deal with those concerns.
3. Formulate a U.S. position on the minimally acceptable restrictions on nuclear trade and use whatever leverage is available to induce others to adhere to those standards.