Restoring the Non-proliferation Regime

WASHINGTON — Restoring the nuclear non-proliferation regime’s credibility requires a mix of preventative measures and increased enforcement capabilities, witnesses said during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-Proliferation and Trade last Thursday.

According to Harvard Professor Graham Allison, a manifestly global demand for low-cost alternative energy has propelled a “nuclear renaissance.” States are investing more resources into nuclear energy research and cooperation pacts at an unprecedented speed, albeit oftentimes to the detriment of nuclear security and safety regulations

He said most of the burden to police these new deals should fall upon the IAEA. Increased nuclear energy usage opens the possibility for international terrorism or environmental negligence, so the IAEA should take a more active role to control the fuel cycle — the process of creating nuclear energy and disposing waste — in the coming years. This expanded responsibility, he said, would require a major boost in IAEA funding and an enumeration of its powers by relevant U.N. bodies and their member states.

But the panelists seemed to agree that the responsibility to protect the non-proliferation regime primarily belongs to nuclear suppliers, who have enforced nuclear safety and security agreements inconsistently.

According to Pierre Goldschmidt, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the most recent example of this problem is the “India-specific safeguards agreement,” submitted to the IAEA’s board this July. Citing the agreement’s text, Goldschmidt reminded Congress of the document’s key principle: “India’s concurrence to accept Agency Safeguards” depends on India’s “access to the international fuel market, including reliable, uninterrupted and continuous access to fuel supplies from companies in several nations . . .”

This arrangement, Goldschmidt said, threatens the viability of the non-proliferation regime because it undermines some of its primary tenets, including “non-discrimination.” The India-specific safeguards openly violate that commitment to even-handedness, he said.

Furthermore, the agreement suggests that IAEA safeguards are contingent upon India’s commercial access to fissile material, which the agency cannot, and should not have to, verify, Goldschmidt said. Finally, since India alone decides whether those commercial conditions are met, it may disregard those safeguards entirely — a threat to both the state’s nuclear safety and the Hyde Act, which stipulates India must accept “IAEA standards in perpetuity,” he added.

But the Indian nuclear agreement is neither the sole nor most devastating risk to the non-proliferation regime’s credibility, according to another witness. The U.N. Security Council’s slowness to condemn and resolve situations in which a state withdraws from the NPT and refuses inspections also makes nuclear policing increasing difficult. The IAEA (not to mention the U.S. Congress) needs to adopt a set of automatic consequences for such behavior, including sanctions, to complicate the process of proliferation or unsafe nuclear energy production, said Orde K. Kittre, a professor of law at Arizona State Univ. Only then might more IAEA inspections and oversight prove effective.