Monday, September 9, 2013

Nuclear and Chemical Weapons Treaties - Similar but Different

UNODA pursues disarmament issues.
The treaties on nuclear and chemical weapons have some similarities, but the differences are great.

Similarities. They both have approximately 189 countries signed up. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed as of 1970. (China and France agreed to abide by the NPT in 1992. North Korea subsequently withdrew. Signers are therefore 188 U.N. members plus the Holy See/Vatican and Taiwan, an as-yet unrecognized country. Key countries that did not sign: India, Israel, Pakistan. These countries often state, however, they favor nonproliferation - for example, Pakistan this week.) The chemical weapons convention, administered by the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was signed in 1993.

Differences.  The nuclear nonproliferation convention is part of the U.N. constellation, with the International Atomic Energy Agency providing inspection services to ensure that peaceful uses of atomic energy are not a military resource. The 2010 meeting of the parties to the convention met at U.N. headquarters in New York. The convention is reviewed every five years. For the last review, President Obama in April 2009 described the basic bargain at the core of the Treaty as follows:
- countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament;
- countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and
- all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy.
The chemical weapons convention is not a U.N. agency although it was convened under U.N. auspices. Enforcement is by the OPCW, headquartered in the Hague in the Netherlands. Unlike the NPT, the OPCW is seeking zero chemical weapons, and the convention includes a schedule for destruction of all chemical weapons by 2007 that was not fully met.

Syria. Since the topic of the day is the alleged Syrian use of the chemical sarin as a weapon against its citizens, it is worth noting that Syria signed the NPT but is not a membert if OPCW. (It devoted 4.1 percent of its GDP to military spending as of the latest available year, according to the SIPRI database. This was not an especially high percentage among Middle Eastern countries, but the latest year reported is 2010.)