Fall 2013 (27.3) Essay

Justice and Fairness in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime

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Today, the nuclear regime is widely perceived to be in crisis. While part of this crisis has to do with direct challenges to the regime posed by the illicit nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, from the perspective of much of the developing world, the issues facing the nonproliferation regime are overwhelmingly about the justice and fairness of the regime’s norms, rules, and procedures. Indeed, it is difficult to identify a security regime today where equity issues are more central to debates about its future than the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Of the three regimes for controlling weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear), it is in the nuclear regime that issues of justice and fairness appear most critical to long-term sustainability and viability.

At the core of the crisis is the fundamental asymmetry of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and looming doubts among nonnuclear states about whether this situation is destined to be permanent. Nonnuclear states have long castigated the double standard embedded in the treaty that permits the five “declared” nuclear states to possess nuclear weapons but denies such weapons to the majority of the world. In contrast, the nuclear powers, for their part, have generally seen the primary problems of the regime to lie in the weakness of the rules and enforcement mechanisms surrounding dual-use technology, which have allowed states such as Iran and North Korea, and earlier Iraq and Syria, to pursue nuclear weapons clandestinely under the veil of the treaty.

This essay focuses on two key questions: First, how do the issues of justice and fairness affect the stability, durability, and effectiveness of the nuclear nonproliferation regime? Second, what is the relationship of equity issues to conceptions of national security and “interests”?

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