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Hague: Meeting the Challenge of Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century

Speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies

"No one issue more starkly illustrates our global interdependence than the prospect of the detonation of a nuclear weapon - by accident or design - in any country of the world.

Quite literally, the 'fall out' from such a calamity would be felt across the globe.

It was this reality which led to the establishment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty thirty-five years ago, as a fundamental pillar of our global security.

The NPT is the world's most universally supported treaty, and has firmly entrenched a consensus that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is among the gravest of threats to international peace and security.

Only four countries in the world do not uphold it - India, Israel, Pakistan and, since its withdrawal from the treaty, North Korea. However 189 countries have adhered it, and in 1995 the Treaty was extended indefinitely.

Its centrality to the success of non-proliferation efforts cannot be underestimated.

It is worth considering the successes:

No nuclear weapon has been detonated in anger in the sixty-one years since Hiroshima.

Reductions in global stockpiles of weapons have continued to decrease the risk of nuclear confrontation or an accidental launch.

Latin America, the South Pacific, Africa and South East Asia have chosen, by agreement among their countries, to become Nuclear Weapons Free Zones.

Since the regime was established more countries have given up nuclear weapon programmes than have initiated them:

Japan, South Africa, Germany, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Sweden and Taiwan, have all voluntarily relinquished their ability to acquire nuclear weapons, and three other countries -Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine - actually surrendered weapons in their possession.

And recently Libya was persuaded to retreat down the path of the acquisition of nuclear weapons and to fully dismantle the programme it had attempted to conceal for thirty-four years.

Clearly, in the fight against nuclear proliferation a great deal has been achieved.

However, notwithstanding the successes, the NPT today is facing immediate challenges: two persistent and unresolved cases of non-compliance - North Korea and Iran - that are testing the resolve of the international community, and a range of other specific challenges that have serious implications for the NPT. If the successes of the past are to be extended into the future, these challenges will have to be met and addressed.

I would like to discuss current concerns about the threats to the non-proliferation regime and propose action to respond to them.

My first concern is the access to and control of nuclear technology:

When the Treaty came into being, sensitive nuclear material was considered to be beyond the technical reach of most states, let alone terrorist groups.

Today, much of the most significant WMD technology is 50 years old and is now much more accessible to both state and non-state actors. In the words of one expert, "technology is no longer a barrier to weapons proliferation, but merely a hurdle".

Indeed, today we cannot be sure that countries which once considered the acquisition of nuclear weapons to be too costly, too risky, or unnecessary to meet their security needs, will not reassess their options.

Asked for their worst-case scenario, experts say there could be an additional 10 new members of the nuclear club by 2015.

Up to 40 countries are now considered to have the technical know-how to produce nuclear weapons.

How many of these would potentially be willing to share their knowledge? And how many would be able to retain full control at all times over the access to their nuclear material or know-how?

The increased ease of transfer of nuclear technology has been demonstrated by the rise of a network of black-market proliferators, acting as nuclear weapons outfitters.

IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei characterised the most prominent such group, led by Pakistani scientist AQ Khan, as a "Wal Mart" for would-be proliferators.

Khan's group sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya through a complex network involving more than 30 companies in 30 different countries.

Given the success of this group in stocking the weapons programmes of states, one can legitimately ask what there is in place to prevent them providing the same to terrorists, and whether such measures are adequate.

The second concern is our heightened vulnerability: The attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 and other attacks against western targets and interests in many parts of the world have demonstrated our vulnerability to terrorist attack.

They have also brought home the devastating prospect of a nuclear or chemical device being detonated in one of our cities. Unfortunately we cannot ignore the rationale that might drive a terrorist organisation determined to inflict massive casualties and cause chaos, to seek to do it in the most 'spectacular way' by using nuclear weapon. - Al Qaeda is known to have approached the AQ Khan network.

Thirdly, the non-proliferation consensus has been strained by other challenges that the creators of the treaty could not and did not predict:

In the case of Iraq, Libya and Iran, the demonstration of the shortcomings of our system of detecting violations.

The emergence of a new route to nuclear weapons capability through mastery of the fuel cycle followed by rapid 'break out'.

In the case of North Korea, the proven ability of countries to exploit this weakness to 'cheat' the treaty from within, providing a model for others to follow, as we are already experiencing with Iran

In the case of Pakistan, how to prevent states not bound by the NPT's rules on the sharing of technology from doing so, and how to bring all the non-NPT Nuclear Weapons States, particularly India and Pakistan, into the wider non-proliferation regime so that they contribute to non-proliferation.

Fourth, the international community has appeared divided and uncertain in its response to these challenges. This has created the perception, if not the reality, that the costs of stealing one's way into the nuclear club are not unbearable.

All these challenges, combined with an inability to respond effectively, have tested our confidence in the NPT.

To address this problem it is necessary to understand the urgency of the challenges we are facing today.

The international community cannot afford to be surprised by a nuclear terrorist attack. The weaknesses in our defences which have become so apparent must be addressed.

No treaty can enforce itself. It can only be the sum of the determination of its members.

This determination has been sorely lacking in recent years - the last two NPT Review Conferences have failed to generate consensus on the way forward, and shockingly the 2005 Conference failed to agree a single recommendation of substance.

According to Ambassador Sergio Duarte, who presided over the Conference:

"Delegations were so entrenched in their positions, opinions were so strongly held and mistrust so pervasive, that mutual accusations frequently replaced serious discussion, and at the end of the day no common ground could be found".

It is a paradox that while the agreement is in place for the treaty to continue indefinitely, its viability is being undermined by the complacency of the very countries it is supposed to protect.

Such complacency comes with a price. To borrow the words of another President of the NPT Review process, the treaty cannot be "implemented on auto-pilot". It requires "constant vigilance, care and attention", if it is not to risk "decline or collapse".

To avoid this, governments have an obligation and opportunity to move forward by demonstrating vision, leadership and political will at the next Review Conference in 2010. If meaning is to be restored to the treaty, the consensus which underlies it must be urgently revived.

Central to such efforts must be the reinforcement of the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This is not just a matter of clamping down on proliferators. The promotion and control of nuclear technology have gone hand in hand from the outset.

The assurance of access to peaceful nuclear technology has been predicated on the assurance of non-proliferation.

The more success we have in limiting the possible spread of such technology to covert and illegal nuclear weapons programmes, the easier it will be to share advances with other countries.

In order to achieve this, the international community should both make more of existing mechanisms which are currently not fully enforced, and also explore new solutions.


We must toughen the inspections arm of the IAEA:

Events have shown the limits of the IAEA's ability to detect the activities of States who violate their NPT obligations.

Iraq, Libya and Iran all successfully concealed weapons programmes for many years. Iran hid its activities for twenty years, and Libya for over thirty. The Iraqi regime had a nuclear weapons programme, a chemical weapons programme and a biological weapons programme, all of which it concealed.

These detection failures increase the likelihood that states wishing to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons will judge that they have a good chance of escaping detection until it is too late for the international community to stop them.

States can therefore choose to build up their nuclear know-how in increments, even without making the outright decision to build a weapon, through the diversion of nuclear material intended for civilian purposes into parallel weapons programmes which they can hide from the IAEA.

These countries are more likely to abide by the rules of the NPT if they perceive there to be a strong likelihood that they will be detected at an early stage.

The implications of a failure reverberate well beyond the moment at which the discovery of a violation is made. In the case of Iran, the IAEA has concluded without a doubt that Iran is in violation of its NPT agreement, but it has still not been able to establish exactly what Iran has been concealing, or how far it has travelled down the road to nuclear weapons.

Not only does this uncertainty undermine the credibility of the inspections arm of the NPT, but it also creates a serious problem as the international community tries to determine the appropriate response to Iran's violations.

Governments must therefore give detailed thought to proposals to strengthen the role of the IAEA.

As routes to proliferation multiply and become more difficult to detect, the task allotted to the IAEA grows. It is extraordinary that 650 IAEA inspectors guard against illicit nuclear activities in 900 nuclear facilities around the world. By comparison, as was recently pointed out, Walt Disney World employs more than 1,000 security personnel to protect its amusement park.

It is also remarkable that the IAEA operates on a total annual budget of only $120 million. Governments may have to look carefully at the way that the organisation is funded to ensure that it has the funds needed to discharge its vital responsibilities.

Effective Safeguards are the best way to detect and deter further proliferation.

It should be pointed out that the success with which certain countries have hidden illegal nuclear activities is not the result of a failure by the IAEA, which was fittingly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for its contribution to world peace.

IAEA inspectors are not roving policemen who can simply go anywhere they like within a country to investigate its facilities. They are constrained by the terms of the agreements which member states sign.

Therefore improving the enforcement of existing mechanisms must include the extension of the Additional Protocol and Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements so that they are universally applied.

The Additional Protocol allows IAEA inspectors enhanced access to all sites within a country where nuclear material is located. Furthermore it permits access to nuclear sites not involving nuclear material. This enables the IAEA to obtain a comprehensive picture of the nuclear activities of signatory states, including their long term plans.

Relatively few states have signed an Additional Protocol and brought it into force. 90 states party to the NPT have concluded Additional Protocols, and some 69 of these countries have brought them into force. There is clearly scope for more. The Additional Protocol must become the accepted minimum standard for all inspections under the NPT.

In the cases of countries that have come into bad standing with the IAEA, as a result of, for example, having lied about their activities, the Additional Protocol may not be enough to restore international confidence in the nature of their programmes.

Such states cannot simply be given the benefit of the doubt. We see this in the case of Iran. The Additional Protocol, which incidentally Iran is no longer implementing, does not give the IAEA sufficient legal authority to explore the most serious activities that Iran is considered to have concealed - such as high explosives testing, and the design of missile warheads, and Iran or any other country is able to refuse access to inspectors. In such cases there is clearly a need for a rapid and more extensive transparency on the part of the 'suspect' state.

For this reason we must draw up additional obligations to be applied in these cases, with the endorsement of the Security Council, in order to give the IAEA the authority it needs to execute its mandate.

Furthermore, North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 exposed a serious weakness in the treaty:

In brief, a Non Nuclear Weapons State may use the provisions of the treaty to acquire sensitive parts of the fuel cycle for ostensibly peaceful purposes.

This country is then able to withdraw from the treaty once it has given the required three months notice.

At this stage it is able to use the capability it has obtained to develop nuclear weapons.

Once a country withdraws and inspectors are expelled, the international community loses its window to see into the actions of the state, and assessments of how many weapons have been built become a matter of national intelligence and academic conjecture.

North Korea has done this. It is in breach of its NPT obligations, has withdrawn from the NPT, and has declared that it now possesses nuclear weapons.

Iran appears to be attempting to exploit the same loophole.

Iran insists that it has the right to develop an indigenous enrichment capability in order to power the civilian nuclear power stations it plans to build in the future.

We argue that precisely because of its illegal activities the onus is on Iran to come fully into compliance with the IAEA, correct its breach, and exert itself to convince the international community of its good intentions.

The international community has yet to come up with a response to crises of this nature. Developing a coherent response and preventing its recurrence, is an urgent priority.

As for new approaches, it is now time that governments move swiftly to build on the excellent research that has been done into the proliferation risks associated with the nuclear fuel cycle, and how to limit these dangers.

The proliferation risks associated with nuclear facilities are well known. The technology and know-how associated with the different stages of the fuel cycle - uranium enrichment, plutonium separation, reprocessing and spent fuel disposal and storage - can be sold or leaked to third parties or another state, or can potentially be stolen by terrorists. Above all, the step from mastery of the fuel cycle to fabricating the fuel needed for a nuclear weapon has been shown to be too small.

High oil prices and mounting concern about climate change will make nuclear energy more attractive to many, just as burgeoning populations and growing economies in the developing world will make it increasingly necessary to many.

We can anticipate an increased demand for the construction of new nuclear facilities worldwide as well as the supply of enriched uranium to power them. Proliferation control needs to keep pace with this fast changing reality.

In order to limit the proliferation risks associated with the building of new nuclear facilities it is widely believed that the nuclear fuel cycle should be brought under some form of multilateral control.

While we must preserve the right, enshrined in Articles VI and V of the Non proliferation Treaty, for states which chose not to pursue nuclear weapons to benefit, in the words of the Treaty, from "the fullest possible exchange" of peaceful nuclear technology, this has clearly not always taken place and many NNWS feel they have lost out as a result.

Indeed, we have perhaps lost sight of the obligation that the Treaty places on NWS to contribute "to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes", especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States and in developing areas of the world.

Whether it takes the form of international partnerships of a small number of states producing nuclear fuel, or a network of 'fuel banks', ideas to promote the control of the nuclear fuel cycle need to be considered.

The vast majority of NPT members with civilian reactors do get their fuel from outside sources, through commercial markets. The market works and should be encouraged.

The IAEA under Mr ElBaradei's leadership has pioneered research in this area. Ideas have been put forward, but governments must now move forward. Indeed I believe that the UK and other countries must show leadership at an early stage in this area, if such important ideas are to generate international debate and win the worldwide support they need if they are to be taken forward.

We must also counter the perception that NWS and advanced NNWS have backed away from their commitment to share peaceful nuclear technology, through the imposition of restrictions on the supply of materials and equipment.

Indeed successful approaches must go beyond the outright denial of technology. The solution that we find must be inclusive, credible, dependable, reliable, and economically viable. The obstacles are formidable but the need is clear.

I welcome the proposals made to Iran recently on an assured nuclear fuel supply, either through Russia or via the market backed by a buffer stock.

Such proposals will become increasingly relevant as a mechanism to deal with would-be proliferators: by meeting in full their stated need for nuclear energy, without requiring the construction of nuclear reactors in the country, such ideas seek to rule out the possibility of nuclear break-out.

Therefore, if multilateral approaches to the fuel cycle can be agreed, they will work in the long term to prevent proliferation, they will widen the accessibility of nuclear power to countries needing it, and they will bring economic benefits, in the form of economies of scale, to smaller countries. A stronger IAEA and assured access to adequately supplied and assured markets for fuel, may not fully eliminate the desire of some states and organisations to resort to clandestine suppliers.

This means we must continue to take action against the nuclear black market:

The successful identification and dismantlement of the AQ Khan network was a huge success. However as has often been pointed out, we still do not know the extent of the network nor if any part of it could revive in the future.

Additionally new stockpiles of weapons-grade nuclear material in weak states are also an attractive option for those seeking to obtain nuclear material. What is frightening is that terrorists, unlike states, would certainly not seek weapons in order to deter attacks, but in order to initiate them.

To prevent non-state actors from acquiring, developing, trafficking in or using nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery it is necessary to take several steps to widen and deepen the non-proliferation regime:

We must enforce Resolution 1540, which requires all states to criminalize proliferation, establish strict domestic export controls and secure all sensitive materials within their borders, in order to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons technology.

Our experience of one individual, the Pakistani scientist AQ Khan, being able to support the whole of Iran and Libya's nuclear programmes, has shown the urgent need to support the capacity of governments to retain control of the nuclear technology in their possession.

We must also expand the Proliferation Security Initiative. The PSI's long-term objective is to "create a web of counter proliferation partnerships through which proliferators will have difficulty carrying out their trade in WMD and missile-related technology."

While its operations are necessarily shrouded in secrecy, there have been some notable successes, such as the interdiction in October 2003 of a shipment of uranium centrifuge enrichment parts from Malaysia destined for Libya's programme.

If proliferators are to be stopped, external sources of illicit material must be identified and stopped where possible. Governments involved should also look closely to see whether the operation of the PSI can be made more acceptable to the sceptics.

Additional measures should also include

Assisting those states with porous borders or weak government authority who might wish to act against terrorists using their territory but who are constrained in their ability to do so.

Improving intelligence cooperation

Working to prevent 'loose nukes' scenario by tightening controls on existing stockpiles

And promoting further cooperation on export controls through the Nuclear suppliers group

This combination of measures would be a big step towards ensuring the care, attention and vigilance of which the President of the 1995 Review Conference spoke. It will require political will among states party to the NPT and closer cooperation with those few who are not.

Some will ask if this political will can be summoned up without renewed attention by Nuclear Weapon States to the disarmament provisions of the NPT,

and if it is possible to reinvigorate the NPT by a strategy that focuses only on placing restrictions on Non-Nuclear Weapons States. These are legitimate questions.

It is true that disarmament has slowed. While stockpiles have decreased, there are still 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, many of which remain at a high state of readiness.

But it is also true that the Nuclear Weapons States are generally poor at publicising their disarmament successes, and therefore their commitment to meeting their disarmament obligations under the NPT.

For example, by 2012, the US arsenal of deployed nuclear warheads will be 80 percent smaller than it was 1990, but such progress has been obscured by other much-publicised developments in the American nuclear doctrine.

The UK has made important and considerable progress in this direction too.

We have reduced the size of our nuclear arsenal by 70% since the Cold War.

Only a single Trident submarine is on deterrent patrol at any one time, carrying 48 warheads. Additionally the submarine on patrol is normally on several days 'notice to fire' and its missiles are de-targeted.

We are unique among the nuclear weapons states in that we have reduced the UK's nuclear deterrent capability to a single system - Trident.

And we have led the way in transparency and accountability about our nuclear weapons.

The UK must be prepared to take a rigorous look at whether we can take our excellent record in this area further forward.

The Conservative Party is committed to retaining Britain's independent nuclear deterrent because we believe it remains indispensable for our country's national security.

We do not believe a unilateral disarmament act by the UK would cause would-be proliferators to abandon their programmes.

Finally, efforts to bolster the NPT regime through enhanced safeguards and new undertakings will amount to little if the international community does not respond with determination to the existing serious cases of non-compliance.

We have seen too often that when the IAEA has done its part and sounded the alarm on a violating state, the international community is unable to follow through. North Korea was first reported to the Security Council in 1992, and then again in 2003.

The case in everyone's minds today is Iran.

The British government has been at the forefront of diplomacy to generate international consensus over Iran and I commend it for its efforts. The unity shown by the P5 and Germany recently has been impressive, but we are yet to fully apply the lessons learned elsewhere.

In the case of Libya, for example, we succeeded in persuading a country to change course by:

Frustrating its attempts to acquire material

Holding out credible and meaningful benefits

Showing that there would be increasingly painful costs so long as it pursued its weapons programme

The parallels with Iran are obvious. After three years of inspections the IAEA still does not have a clear picture of its activities; efforts in the past at achieving a long-term settlement failed partly because of an inability to hold out a credible and meaningful offer to Iran, and the Security Council has not been able to agree to date on what painful costs might be imposed should Iran remain in breach of its obligations.

The lessons of Libya must be learnt and applied if we are to make progress. The international community must construct an effective and painful deterrent package, even if this will affect the commercial interests of key countries.

China and Russia should be encouraged to follow the example of Japan - despite being the world's biggest importer of Iranian oil and depending on it for 15% of its oil imports, Japan has been unwavering in its support of the EU3+3 efforts.

In conclusion, weapons of mass destruction, in the hands either of unfriendly states or terrorists, are a major potential threat to our national security.

The NPT remains vital in the fight to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It is therefore crucial that it does not slide into irrelevance or ineffectiveness in the face of paths to proliferation that were not envisaged when the treaty first came into being.

An awareness of the problem is part of the solution. But governments worldwide must now work to build a new consensus that will strength the anti-proliferation regime, and shore up the foundations of the treaty.

The immediate task is to achieve a workable balance between the need to reduce further nuclear arsenals which threaten everyone's security and the need to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons without jeopardising legitimate aspirations for economic and technological progress, on the other.

In the years of the cold war, the NPT was able to provide an acceptable answer to this thorny question; for the 21st century, however, it is imperative to strengthen the basic bargain that made the Treaty possible.

If this is to be achieved, the nuclear weapons states will have to actively campaign for it.

All too often the world forms the impression of the NWS fire-fighting in the wake of each crisis, with no consistent approach.

Our governments are perceived to be willing to undercut fundamental universal principles of the NPT in an ad hoc fashion, according to their interests, while at the same time denying other states access to the benefits of the nuclear age. This practice could lose us the moral argument.

The major nuclear powers must therefore demonstrate that they are committed to sharing the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology: We must demonstrate our long-term commitment to the universal principles of the NPT and champion the debate now."

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