Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty: A Critique

-Savita Datt 

The Proposed Ban

The proposed Fissile Material Ban is an arms control and non-proliferation measure, meant to be global and non-discriminatory in the sense it seeks to stop all further production of fissile material (plutonium and enriched uranium) for weapons purposes, or outside of international safeguards, all over the world. In other words, if it were to come into force, all the nuclear weapons states (NWS), the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) and the threshold states would have to renounce further production of plutonium and stop enriching uranium to weapons grade, and in case the production of such material is required for purposes other than weapons fabrication, it will have to be done under international safeguards.

A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) which is legally binding and effectively verifiable, it is believed by the United States and several others, would contribute significantly to nuclear arms control, disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation worldwide. According to others, however, a simple ban on future production of fissile materials would leave many related questions unattended. Although as a first step forward, if negotiated, it would indeed place a quantitative constraint on the amount of fissile material available for use in nuclear weapons by other than nuclear weapon states. In effect, the ban would curtail the nuclear programmes of the threshold states.

Negotiations

The idea of a Fissile Material Ban is not new although it has come up centrestage only recently. In 1954, India had proposed a univeral, non-discriminatory convention to end the production of fissile materials.1 The proposal made a lot of sense in the context of stopping the arms race during that time. There were no surplus stocks nor were there any other countries producing such fissile materials. Looking back now, one can say that had it been accepted then, a bitter arms race could probably have been averted and proliferation, horizontal as well as vertical, avoided. However, it is not surprising that it found no favour seeing that even more radical plans than the Standstill Agreement, like the Baruch Plan, had met with a similar fate earlier. The idea was revived by India again in 1982 when it called for a "Freeze on Nuclear Weapons" asking the NWS to stop production of nuclear weapons accompanied by a cut-off in production of fissile material for weapons purposes.2 This resolution was tabled susbsequently every year without any response until in 1988 it merged with a Mexican resolution on the same subject which also included a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) on nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles, coupled with a ban on further deployment of nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.3 No progress was achieved on the Mexican proposal either. The reasons were not difficult to visualise. All the above mentioned proposals were applicable to the NWS while the Cold War was continuing in all its intensity. Distrust and fear over-ruled objective assessment of cooperative approaches which could benefit both sides. The subject moved up centre-stage again only after the Cold War ended.

The enormity of the problem posed by huge stocks of fissile materials was recognised and the United States took the lead in declaring that it had stopped the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for weapons in 1964 and 1988 respectively. Realising the threat from growing stocks of plutonium and HEU, the US further declared that since March 1992, it had suspended the reprocessing of plutonium for nuclear weapons. It had also agreed to permanently remove 200 tons of these materials from availability for future use in weapons.4 This was to encourage other NWS, especially Russia, to do the same. However, the Russian attitude towards plutonium stocks was different. It considered the stocks as "a national treasure" which needed to be preserved and further added to in order to produce boundless amounts of energy for future generations.

On September 27, 1993, President Clinton proposed a multilateral agreement to halt production of HEU and separated plutonium for nuclear explosives or outside of international safeguards in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The UNGA approved the idea.5 It called for the negotiation of a "non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." The resolution called for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide assistance in examining verification arrangements. It also set out the parameters of the proposed ban. Apart from calling for multilateral negotiations and banning of production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, it permitted their production for civilian uses and non-explosive military purposes such as naval propulsion. Britain, France and China supported the resolution and agreed to participate in the negotiations for a cut-off treaty.

In January 1994, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) appointed Canadian Ambassador Gerald Shannon as special coordinator for cut-off. Ambassador Shannon began consultations with CD member states on the FMCT soon thereafter. However, when the CD adjourned the first part of its session on March 31, no mandate had been achieved for further negotiations on the cut-off treaty. One of the contentious issues was the CD itself as a forum for such consultations. China, for some unspecified reasons, opposed the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to negotiate a cut-off.6 CD negotiations were resumed on May 16, 1994, with Shannon hoping that China would eventually drop its opposition.

The US policy of bringing home the truth that any further production of fissile material was a proliferation risk and not in the interest of the NWS seemed to be succeeding. In Russia, the concern for safety and security of the Russian nuclear stockpiles and assets apparently, contributed to this change in approach. On January 14, 1994, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin made a joint statement calling for "the most rapid conclusion" of a cut-off treaty. In Russia, it was declared, 10 out of 13 Soviet reactors had already been shut down between 1987 and 1992. A commitment was made to shut down the remaining graphite moderated plutonium production reactors by the year 2000 in an agreement arrived at between the USA and the Government of the Russian Federation on June 23, 1994.7

That consensus amongst the NWS on the subject was building up was further made obvious when on October 4, 1994, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian issued a joint statement promoting the "earliest possible achievement" of a cut-off treaty. Additional support came from Russia when it announced in December 1994 that it had stopped plutonium production for use in nuclear weapons from October 1, 1994.8 As per an earlier announcement of Mikhail Gorbachev on April 7, 1989, Moscow had already ceased the production of HEU for use in nuclear weapons that year.

Meanwhile negotiations seemed to be moving ahead in the CD. On March 24, 1995, Canadian Ambassador Shannon reported that CD delegations had agreed by consensus to establish an Ad Hoc Committee with a mandate to negotiate a cut-off treaty based on the December 1993 UNGA Resolution. Following this came the declaration on April 18, 1995, of the British Foreign Secretary, Hurd, saying that the United Kingdom had ceased the production of fissile material for explosive purposes. And finally, on February 22, 1996, French President Chirac also announced that France no longer produced fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. On May 11, 1995, however, before the French announcement, at the Review and Extension Conference in New York, all of the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) parties agreed in the "Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non- proliferation and Disarmament" decision document to seek the "immediate commencement and early conclusion" of cut-off negotiations in accordance with the March 1995 CD mandate.

While addressing the General Assembly on September 24, 1996, President Clinton once again called upon the CD to take up the challenge of negotiating a fissile material production cut-off treaty "immediately."

The CD began its 1997 session in Geneva on January 20, 1997. It was scheduled to conclude its session on September 10, 1997; however, consensus could not be reached before that. Recently a resolution was moved again in the UN General Assembly calling for an immediate commencement of the negotiations and an early conclusion of the treaty in the CD at Geneva.

Differing Perceptions

Support for the FMCT is seemingly quite widespread; despite that, however, doubts persist on account of differing perceptions of the ban and hopes from such as ban. Variance in the interests and priorities of the countries is quite obvious. This is not typical of the haves and the have-nots as such. Despite the consensus which seems to be building up amongst the NWS, differences exist regarding the purpose, scope and verification of such a ban.

India—one of the threshold states—insists on linking FMCT negotiations to time-bound nuclear disarmament steps. Algeria, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan insist that the mandate should apply to existing stocks of fissile material on an equitable basis. Pakistan, however, made a concession of sorts in its approach to the negotiating mandate by saying that it could support the UN language which referred only to a ban on future production of fissile material provided that "this language does not preclude any delegation from raising the issue of the scope of the convention during the actual negotiations" and will reserve the right to ensure that "the question of asymmetric stockpiles" is considered. Egypt, Iran and Algeria expressed their opposition to the mandate based on the 1993 General Assembly Resolution.9

There has been no official statement/discussion on the subject as far as Israel is concerned. However, in private discussions with experts it has come to light that although Israel has not taken a formal position on the proposed FMCT, generally, the Israeli view is that it is a complex issue. If the FMCT and related verification systems do not reveal past activities and capabilities, thereby leaving the Israeli capability ambiguous, it may be acceptable. Israel would probably accept a freeze on stockpiles if this was accepted by all the states in the region and if verification was serious, based on mutual inspection, and not the IAEA or another international organisation of doubtful effectiveness. However, if the version of the FMCT that emerges includes revelation or destruction of existing stockpiles, Israel will not accept it.10 The United States wants negotiations at the CD on terms consistent with the March 1995 mandate, without linkages or conditions. Getting threshold states onto the bandwagon of a legally binding, effectively verifiable, and multilateral FMCT is crucial and a high priority from the standpoint of the US. This was highlighted by Norm Wulf from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) bureau for non-proliferation when he stated that a cut-off proposal was "a key step in a multi-step process that is hoped would eventually lead to a South Asia free of nuclear weapons." He further elaborated saying that the US position not to require NNWS to eliminate existing stocks of fissile material was based at least in part on the assessment that, "to have a chance of gaining the adherence of such states as India and Pakistan, the proposal must be truly non-discriminatory." He also emphasised that the US had not changed its position that India and Pakistan should also place all of their nuclear facilities under safeguards and "foreswear, in an international legally binding instrument, the acquisition of nuclear explosive devices."11 Clarifing the US position on the ban, Robert Einhorn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for non-proliferation stated that the US position did not require the parties to place their existing stocks of fissile material under safeguards as a treaty obligation.12

Similarly, it is believed by other NWS also that a Fissile Material Ban would bring all the fissile material production facilities which currently are outside safeguards and controls under international monitoring. In this manner the cut-off agreement would contribute to non-proliferation objectives and to security and stability in volatile regions such as South Asia and the Middle East.

On January 21, 1997, President Clinton in a message to the CD stated that "effectively cutting off the spigot for more nuclear weapons is a necessary step toward, and would greatly contribute to, the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament."

Seen from the standpoint of India, one of the threshold states, the FMCT although considered to be a non-discriminatory disarmament measure, global in its reach and universal in its application, is so only in intent. In real terms it does not change the status quo nor does it in any way reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots. As a disarmament measure, it will in effect disarm the threshold states—the other NWS have huge stocks of weapons grade fissile materials which would be available to them for decades to come even if they dismantle their nuclear weapons under the recently concluded START I and START II Treaties. According to Albright and his colleagues, the nuclear club has produced some 200 metric tons of weapons plutonium. An equal amount of reactor grade plutonium reprocessed by Britain, France, and Japan is all piled up with no place to go. It will not be used in breeder reactors until the second half of the next century, if then. Meanwhile, over the next decade, reprocessing will add another 160 metric tons to the problem.

About the other fissile material, that is HEU, neither the Americans nor the Russians know the exact quantity they possess. They only know they have a lot. The authors' estimate of 1,400 metric tons of "excess" HEU includes neither the uranium in current arsenals nor an amount estimated to supply the world's nuclear submarines for the next 50 years. If blended down and used as reactor fuel, excess weapon uranium alone could supply the world's reactors with fuel for more than eight years.13

NWS have also acquired additional stocks through the dismantling of nuclear weapons under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) and START Treaties. It is obvious that their problem is not related to further production of fissile material but with the safeguarding of the already existent stocks and surplus acquired through the dismantling of nuclear weapons so that they would not get diverted for weapons purposes. By signing the ban they would only be making the ban look like a global, non-discriminatory disarmament/arms-control and non-proliferation measure, in order to make it acceptable to the NNWS and threshold states. All the five NWS have already declared that they have stopped producing plutonium and HEU for weapons purposes. Making a show of ceremoniously signing a Fissile Material Ban that does not curtail their capabilities and options is not impressive because in comparison the threshold states would be closing down their current and future option as well as putting a cap on the stocks available to them, while the demand for energy continues to grow. They shall have nothing to fall back on in the eventuality uranium becomes a short supply item some time in the future. Japan and Germany offer the same reason for accumulating stocks of plutonium. According to their assessment, uranium shall not be so readily available twenty years hence. Already uranium exploration and mining have gone down considerably on account of economic and environmental concerns.

On the regional level, a ban on further production also engenders fear in rivals who think that their smaller stocks in comparison with larger stocks of their rivals would place them at a disadvantage for all times. Pakistan's Ambassador Ahmad Kamal expressing his concern strongly insisted that all states must declare their weapons grade fissile material stocks in the first place and these stocks should then be progressively placed under safeguards so that the unsafeguarded stocks are equalised at the lowest possible level.14 So strong was the Pakistani reaction that in October 1994, Pakistan threatened to complete its half finished plutonium production reactor unless India agreed to stop further production of plutonium and reduced its stocks to the same level as those of Pakistan.

Moreover, an effectively verifiable treaty banning production of fissile material would bring the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan out into the open—something not acceptable to both of them unless they translate their capability into credible weapons and achieve deterrence vis-a-vis each other. Translating their nuclear capabilities into credible deterrents is not acceptable to the United States which has gone to great lengths to ensure that. In the case of India, the credible deterrent must extend to China as well.

As to the non-aligned, "the group of 21" insisted that the existing stocks should be part of the negotiating mandate. The non-nuclear weapons states which are already party to the NPT would be bound again with similar obligations if they agree to sign the ban.

Moreover, further anomalies are seen in the NWS' statements, on the one hand, and actions initiated, on the other. While Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin made a joint statement calling for "the most rapid conclusion" of a cut-off treaty, it somehow seemed to lack fairness when it came to light that Russia was planning a new generation of fast breeder reactors which produced more plutonium than they consumed. Moreover, it was stated by some senior Russian officials that the money for such reactors was going to be raised from selling HEU to the US. An FBR (600 MW (e)) was said to be under construction in the Urals, apart from the one under operation (600MW(e)) since 1980 at Byloyarsk. France, Germany, Japan, the UK and USA also have FBRs in operation in Phenix in France; Kalkar SNR1 and Kalkar SNR2 in Germany; Monju in Japan; Doureay in the UK. Work on the USA's Clinch plant had been temporarily halted during the Carter days.

As to Britain and France, while they are prepared to support the mandate based on terms outlined in Resolution 48/75L they do not want existing stocks to be considered in the first place. They also "reject the practical notion of an interim cut-off agreement solely among the nuclear weapon powers. For them the primary benefit of a fissban is to put the threshold states under full safeguards."15 Another reason for not accepting inclusion of existing stocks offered by Britain, France and Russia, in particular, is the high cost and trouble associated with placing their nuclear facilities under the international safeguards.

The British, French and Japanese governments have also indicated that civil reprocessing should be excluded from the ban. While stopping the production of fissile materials for military purposes by the NWS is a welcome step forward, it cannot be ignored that civil reprocessing such as that carried out by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) will make large amounts of weapons-usable plutonium available for use. It is estimated that "commercial reprocessing operations in France, Britain, Japan and India are separating about 25,000 kg of plutonium per year from spent power reactor fuel. This is much more than is being released by the dismantlement of US and Russian weapons, and most of this plutonium too is being stored.16 This would increase the possibilities of further proliferation as well as nuclear terrorism. A study by the RAND Corporation has highlighted the problem posed by the separated plutonium being generated in countries with large reprocessing plants (France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Japan). It states, "This plutonium is intended to be used in the nuclear fuel cycle, which will involve transfers between holding points, including transfers to other countries. It is from these transfers and holding points that nations or sub-national groups might divert or seize some of the material. We estimate the amount of plutonium in the cycle at any given time to be equal to the amount that the system can produce in a year. Combined, these states process enough plutonium annually to make approximately 4,400 atomic bombs; this number will grow to 5,600 within a decade. Thus, the diversion or seizure of even a tiny fraction of this material would be enough to make several bombs."17

In Germany, the Technical University of Munich has proposed a new research reactor, FRM II that will use HEU rather than Low Enriched Uranian (LEU). It is estimated that FRM II would require 40kg of HEU annually amounting to 1.2 metric tons over its 30-year life which means that it would be responsible for the introduction of dozens of bombs worth of HEU into international commerce. The supply of HEU is expected to come from Russia.

Dr. Matthias Kntzel18 has clearly declared that Japan and Germany are "the only two countries which are not nuclear weapons states and have thousands of kilogrammes of plutonium at their disposal."

The central status symbol in German nuclear diplomacy is the national plutonium bunker at Hanau which according to the government, contains at least 2,500 kg of plutonium—the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world as far as non-nuclear weapons states are concerned. There are good reasons to assume that the state bunker at Hanau contains not only (weapons-usable) plutonium from reactors but also HEU and weapons-grade plutonium in metallic form—produced at the so-called "multi-purpose research reactor" in Karlsruhe and separated at the national "Karsruhe reprocessing plant." He further goes on to say, "While it is understood that Germany is leading the call for international control over plutonium within the arsenals of the nuclear weapons states, it will not volunteer for international control over its own plutonium stockpile. Efforts to extend the cut-off to include all fissile material have been rejected by Germany.19

Then there is tritium which is used for maintaining the credibility of nuclear weapons, boosting their yield and thereby reducing the size of warheads and facilitating a far greater range of delivery systems. This material is proposed to be kept out of the purview of the FMCT underscoring intentions of NWS to hold on to their weapons for all times.

Surplus Stocks and Disposal Options

It is a matter of consolation that it is realised and accepted by many a thinker worldwide that although the Convention would increase the moral, legal and, to some extent, practical constraints on the production of nuclear weapons by non-NPT states, it would leave in place existing stocks of plutonium and HEU accumulated for weapons related purposes, leaving countries the option to turn their stocks into weapons for use. They recommend that the Convention should be supplemented by stockpile reduction or elimination and by severe restriction or total cut-off of plutonium and HEU production for any purpose. Suggestions have been made for abandonment of civilian uses of plutonium; a ban on the new construction of plutonium facilities; encouraging the stockpiling of natural and LEU fuels. And as the number of hold-out states is reduced, suggestions are afoot to press harder on those who advocate plutonium use in their fuel cycles e.g. Japan.

Similarly, there is an increasing understanding in other parts of the world of the problem faced by NWS which pertain to disposal and safe storage of excess stocks accumulated by them over the years and surplus stocks being acquired through arms control measures currently. The actions which the US is taking to mop up the loose stocks held by Russia have also been noted.

Presence of excess stocks of fissile material with NWS poses a complicated problem for not only them but for the safety and security of the entire world. Seen objectively, it is these stocks which need to be secured first and foremost. Safe and secure storage of the existing stockpiles as well as the stocks which are being added because of ongoing reductions in US and Russian nuclear weaponry (which would involve the removal from warheads of at least 50 tons of weapon plutonium on each side by the year 2003) is crucial. The question of the manner of disposal of these stocks and the time involved, is equally critical. Threshold states are carefully analysing the options which are being discussed because they are linked with availability of this material for use in civilian programmes in the form of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for use in reactors or fissile material for re-use in weapons at a later stage when required. An FMCT may (if the limited mandate is accepted) come into being long before a decision on the manner of disposal/use of surplus fissile material is arrived at. Before the NNWS and the threshold states foreclose their option to produce fissile materials, it is important for them to know as to how surplus stocks would be used and for what purpose. The options being discussed already indicate that these materials would remain available for decades to come, irrespective of the method chosen to finally dispose them off. Some of the recommendations clearly demonstrate that the objective is to divest threshold countries of their capability while keeping further research and development options open for the NWS. For example, in a conference organised by the Carnegic Endowment for International Peace—Nuclear Non-Proliferation Project, to address the "International Overhang of Fissile Material," Ambassador T. Kennedy presented the findings of a study initiated by the American Nuclear Society in late 1994 concerning options for the disposition of excess quantities of plutonium. The conclusions arrived at stated that while all plutonium which was scheduled for release from the US and Russian stocks should be converted to a form that is protected from theft or seizure by the intense radioactivity surrounding it, that is, the "spent fuel standard," and while there should be prompt implementation of the so-called "reactor option" for disposing off the surplus US and Russian weapons plutonium, the study panel also recommended that the breeder research and development should be continued. It recommended that the United States should reverse a recent decision to stop all development work on reprocessing and the breeder. It also recommended that the recycle option should be considered by contries in stable regions with excellent non-proliferarion credentials and an economic basis for selecting that option.20

Such recommendations are suggestive of their lack of interest in dealing with the Fissile Material Ban as a disarmament, non-discriminatory, global measure. They are interested in it as a non- proliferation measure only. It is not difficult to visualise that disposal options which offer them commercial use of the surplus material to recover costs and also leave them the option to retrieve the material when required, would be preferred. As a concession, even if they decide to stop their FBR programmes, NWS do not stand to lose. It will be countries like India which would be the losers. The commercial use of surplus stocks when uranium currently said to be available in abundance becomes a short supply item, would leave these countries at the mercy of the NWS again for their supplies. The FBR programmes have been going on slowly in the countries which operate such reactors, not because they are not worthwhile but because they have been recognised as a proliferation risk and have, therefore, been discouraged. Controversies surround the closure of the few operating FBRs in various countries. Anyway, the panel believed that the general level of breeder development and research that is being carried out in Japan, Russia, Europe, and until its recent termination, in the United States, should be adequate until the timing or need of the breeder becomes more clearly defined. The panel further believed that breeder research and development should continue and that the United States should play a part in it.

Ambassador Richard T. Kennedy21 quoted Dr. Glenn Seaborg who said:

"In short, the encouraging and somewhat unexpected result of our study was that the goals of sound non-proliferation policy and sound energy policy lead us to the same result. The best way to limit the proliferation risks of the peaceful nuclear fuel cycle is to burn plutonium and the only way to future energy demands in an environmentally sound way is to make full use of the energy value of uranium by burning plutonium. If by some chance alternatives to fission energy are developed in the future, it will become even more important that we preserve the means to build down plutonium inventories just as we are now building down weapons stockpiles. We must preserve the capability to carry out this task."

Another option which has been examined is the CANDU option.22 The process involves the disassembly of the weapons in their place of origin. The plutonium removed from the weapons would be converted to an oxide, again at a Department of Energy (DOE) site in the United States, and blended with the fertile uranium, the depleted uranium, at a DOE site, to turn it into MOX fuel. The MOX fuel element would then be transported to Canada, to the CANDU reactors and the Bruce A reactors. Those fuel elements would be burned there and disposed off under existing regulations as they apply to a utility in Canada. The commercial value of surplus stocks is obvious.

The option provides a comparison of the efficiency of using natural uranium and MOX fuel. To generate 1,500 MW of electricity with the Bruce Reactors, the requirement of natural uranium is that of 215 tons. Using MOX fuel, on the other hand, the requirement would be only 193 tons to generate those 1,500 MW. Apart from getting the same amount of power from a less amount of fuel, a less amount of spent fuel would need to be stored at the back end, lowering the storage costs.23

As is evident, a number of options to tide over the problems are under discussion in various fora. A workshop on "The Cut-Off Convention; Interests, Scope, Verification, and Problems" was held in Bonn on December 12, 1996. Some of the options considered negotiating a cut-off in a more restricted forum; offering concessions to India such as an ad-hoc committee in the CD on nuclear disarmament, to work towards a cut-off through a series of incremental measures and to phase in a verification system.

A recent study by Arjun Makhijani has examined the issue in great detail. Visualising the difficulties related with the disposal of surplus stocks and the reservations of the threshold states, he thoughtfully observes. "It may be necessary to offer all countries that own civilian plutonium, but especially Russia and India, a guarantee that grants for plutonium re-extraction would be available should the need arise for using plutonium as an energy source and should it become economical relative to uranium use. Measures to discourage such extraction would also be built into such financial arrangements by holding some of the LEU to be produced by blending down HEU from dismantled weapons as a reserve for use in reactors that would otherwise be fuelled with plutonium or with MOX fuel. This LEU reserve could play a global role similar to the domestic role served by the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The LEU reserve could be held in part nationally, in part bilaterally (US-Russia), and in part multilaterally."24

While all these options are being considered and analysed, it is clear that the NWS are earnestly trying to secure one end of the problem which relates to further production of fissile materials by others and for this end they are prepared to sink their differences. All this clearly shows that despite presenting the world with more serious problems of proliferation and subversion of arms control and disarmament objectives, the NWS along with other developed countries are thinking about their own interests and through the proposed ban are trying to foreclose options for the developing world. Other NNWS have already undertaken to deny themselves these capabilities through the NPT route. They would be offering themselves obediently, to be tied up yet again more securely. All this apart from creating doubts about the seriousness of their (NWS) approach to the whole question of the ban, shows how far the US is ready to accommodate/compromise on its non-proliferation and disarmament objectives to placate its allies and other NWS at the cost of the silent majority of the NNWS and the threshold states.

The Reality

In the current scenario, although there is a lot of talk about comprensive nuclear disarmament and total elimination of nuclear weapons and more and more distinguished people from the Western countries are coming forward to express their commitment to these, the official positions of the NWS are far removed from such sentiments. The Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR) of the US clearly defines the aggressive role the US has outlined for itself for the next two decades. The QDR considers nuclear weapons as an essential element in the US defence posture . And the primary role allocated to them is to deter aggression against the United States, its forces abroad and its allies and friends. These weapons are considered important as a hedge against nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons proliferation and the uncertain futures of existing nuclear powers. The strategy that the US has prescribed for itself is to shape, respond and prepare. It also reserves the right to use military force unilaterally when it comes to protecting the vital interests of the US. The current military capabilities which the US had and additional systems which it intends to acquire/develop indicate that while it is already way ahead of others in military capabilities, it is trying to acquire exotic anti-ballistic missile capabilities ostensibly for defensive purposes which would enhance its capabilities further for purposes of offence as well. No country in the world would dare to differ or contradict the US. Effectively, all means of self-defence at its disposal would be meaningless in the presence of US capabilities.

With the end of the Cold War, the Russian nuclear posture has undergone a drastic change as well. The reasons are not difficult to visualise. The enormity of the problems that Russia faces today cannot be underestimated. In its present state and in view of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisations (NATO) eastwards it cannot but help relying on nuclear weapons for its security. This is despite the all out help from the US and several other members of the international community. There is renewed greater reliance on nuclear weapons and there is no thought about their being eliminated in the near future. Other NWS have also reiterated their reliance on nuclear weapons. Therefore, the reality is that nuclear disarmament as demanded by India is way off into the future, if at all; surplus stocks of fissile materials would take decades to be safely secured and managed. Dismantlement of nuclear weapons although moving apace is a process again extending over decades, and pertains to the delivery vehicles, leaving warheads intact.

From all indications, FBRs and reprocessing of spent fuel would continue for decades to come. And the production of tritium would not be given up not only because it is required for maintaining the credibility of existing nuclear weapons, but also for research in fusion technology which is expected to provide the world with better than nuclear weapons (that would not require fissile materials at all) and unlimited quantities of energy.

Keeping in view the existing reality, India would be left with no option but to have nothing to do with the proposed ban on further production of fissile matetials—whether it produces those materials in future or not is beside the point.

Judging from the way India has reacted to the CTBT, it has become quite obvious that a Fissile Material Ban (in its present form) like the CTBT is also considered to be not in the national interest of the country. By no stretch of the imagination can it be considered a non-discriminatory disarmament measure. Nor can it be considered a credible non-proliferation measure. In fact, Prime Minister Gujral in May 1997 made an unambiguous statement at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), declaring that India would not sign the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty which was about to be negotiated by the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva. Many in Iindia believe that this treaty has no other motive than at first capping and then eliminating the nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan only.

While it is obvious that the ultimate objective of the ban is to get India, Pakistan and Israel to sign the ban, there seems to be a greater understanding of the Indian position in certain quarters—some concessions therefore, may be offered to India and may be some vague commitments made to the cause of nuclear disarmament in terms of setting up of ad hoc committees to deal with the issue of disarmament, as such. What needs to be seen, keeping in view the existing reality and the changed environment, is what would serve India's interest as well as the cause of comprehensive nuclear disarmament.

Confidence Building Measures

A Fissile Material Ban with a limited mandate would neither be a disarmament measure nor would it be a credible non-proliferation tool. In order to be effective and acceptable it would need to move top to bottom and not from bottom up. As a first step forward it could begin with confidence building measures undertaken by the NWS:

* Production of plutonium and HEU should be stopped for any purpose which means such production would not be undertaken for naval propulsion or research reactor. This would not affect the NWS who have surplus stocks to cater to their requirements. On the other hand, this would set an example for others and prove to be a confidence building measure.

* The facilities for the production of fissile materials should be dismantled, the recycling of existing material should be outlawed.

* The construction of new facilities to produce fissile materials should be stopped.

* All FBRs should be closed down or their operation suspended until such time enough confidence is generated in others to follow the example.

* All reprocessing of waste to acquire plutonium should be suspended.

* Both the US and Russia should place all the plutonium, HEU and tritium acquired from disamantled weapons under international safeguards under a truly representative agency to implement those. Other NWS stocks should also be placed under internationally monitored safeguards.

* All NWS should undertake not to transfer any fissile material to any country (such as the pact between Russia's Minatom and Euratom for the supply of HEU for use in Germany's FRM II) including each other, for purposes of fuelling their research reactors.

* Production of tritium, because it is required for further research for providing limitless amounts of energy, should be placed under international safeguards. Other countries desirous of cooperating in the international effort may be incorporated in the current research which is being carried out in the field of fusion.

* A register of stocks of plutonium and HEU should be established and the manner of their disposal decided and explained. Such transparency would go a long way in creating confidence in others

* Concurrently, Japan and Germany should also stop producing plutonium and declare existing stocks and place them under international control. Reprocessing of spent fuel for separating plutonium should also be stopped.

The verification of these steps should be multilateral including representatives of all concerned states (states expected to give up their capabilities in the future) and some representatives from the NNWS.

These steps are imperative if a fissile material ban has to be a truly non-discriminatory disarmament and non-proliferation measure acceptable to all. It is not too much to ask of those who have somehow inadvertently created this problem. It has been rightly stated:

"The creation of vast quantities of fissile materials has accentuated all the incertitudes that we are heir to. The present global predicament with respect to weapons-usable fissile materials, whose half-lives are far greater than the longevity of human institutions, has arisen in large measure because governments and their nuclear establishments did not even consider the question of what future generations might do with these materials, if society did not want them. A failure now to recognize the threat to overselves and to future generations and to deal with it urgently would compound tragically that historic mistake. We must attempt to minimize the risk for our children, even as we recognize the weaknesses of our solutions."25

 

Notes

1. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, called for a "Standstill Agreement" in April 1994. The proposal was repeated at the UN General Assembly by Krishna Menon, in October 1994.

2. UN General Assembly, 37th Session, Resolution 37/100A.

3. United Nations General Assembly, 44th Session, Resolution 44/117D.

4. Arms Control Today, March 1995, (Vol. 25, No. 3, p. 23.

According to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimates, the US stockpile currently has 750 tons of HEU in weapons or in reserve for potential weapons use at Department of Energy sites, and 85 tons of weapons grade plutonium.

5. Resolution 48/75L of December 16, 1993 (adopted without a vote)

6. For details see, "Fissile Material Ban Gains Supports But Still Seeks Mandate," Arms Control Today, May 1994, p. 17.

7. Oleg Bukharin, "The Future of Russia's Plutonium Cities" International Security, vol. 21, no. 4, Spring 1947, pp. 131-32.

8. Jack Mendelsohn and Dunbar Lockwood, "The Nuclear Weapon States and Article VI of the NPT," Arms Control Today, March 1995, vol. 25. no. 2, p. 15.

9. Dunbar Lockwood in Arms Control Today, vol. 25, no. 2, March 1995, p. 30.

10. Prof. Gerald M Steinberg, Political Studies Bar IIan University Ramat Gan, Israel. Email: gerald@ vrms. huji. ac. il.

11. n. 6, p. 17.

12. Ibid., pp. 17, 23.

13. "Fissile Materials Facts and Figures," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 1997, p. 9.

14. Tom Zamora Collina, "Cutoff Talks Delayed," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 1995, p. 16.

15. Rebecca Johnson, "Little Orphan Fiss Ban" The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May-June 1997, p. 4.

16. Frank von Hippel, from "Addressing the International Overhang of Fissile Material," February 12-13, 1996. Available on the internet.

17. Brian G. Chow, Richard H. Speier, Gregory S. Jones, "The Proposed Fissile-Material Production Cutoff: Next Steps," Rand Study 1995.

18. Matthias Kntzel, "Germany, Plutonium and Proliferation—The Unstated Threat," Greenpeace International & Transnational Institute DT: Amsterdam, January 1995

19. Ibid.

20. Richard T. Kennedy, from "Addressing the International Overhang of Fissile Material," February 12-13, 1996. Available on the internet.

21. Ibid.

22. According to the latest information available on Bruce reactors, most of these are ailing and one wonders if the CANDU option is a way of solving the problem of excess stocks of plutonium or saving the Canadian reactors from collapsing under the weight of poor performance and heavy loads.

23. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—Nuclear Non-Proliferation Project Proceedings: Philip Campbell, "Addressing the International Overhang of Fissile Material," February 12-13, 1996. Available on the internet.

24. Arjun Makhijani and Annie Makhijani, selected chapters from Fissile Materials in a Glass Darkly: Technical and Policy Aspects of the Disposition of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium (January 1995) Second Edition.

25. Ibid.