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Humanity and the Issue of Nuclear Security

By Parviz Olamaei, Ettelaat Newspaper; translated by Iran Review

US President Barack Obama played host to an international conference on the nuclear security in Washington last April.

The agenda revolved around nuclear security in the world and possible access to nuclear weapons and materials by terrorist groups. The meeting was aimed to increase security of nuclear materials, especially through international cooperation and by preventing terrorist groups' access to nuclear materials.

The conference, which was attended by dignitaries from about 50 countries, was held just a few days after Washington proclaimed its new nuclear strategy and concluded a new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia, known as START II. Before the conference, Obama had announced that possible access to nuclear materials by terrorist groups was the greatest threat against US security while mentioning short-, medium-, and long-term access of a terrorist organization to nuclear weapons as the greatest risk facing the United States.

The United States developed its nuclear arsenal in the first half of 1940s within framework of Manhattan Project in the absence of powerful rivals. Other countries continued to develop their own nuclear weapons within the next decades. The former Soviet Union built its nuclear bomb in 1949 followed by UK three years later. France and China respectively became nuclear-weapon states in 1960 and 1946. The international community has been aware of various risks ensuing development of nuclear weapons since early 1950s. Therefore, after extensive debates in 1956 the United Nations decided to establish its nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in order to promote peaceful use of nuclear technology. IAEA then formulated Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. The treaty was signed on July 1, 1968 and entered into force after adoption by proposing countries (US, UK, and USSR) as well as 40 more countries on March 5, 1970.

The treaty was to be enforced for a total period of 25 years and was indefinitely extended in 1995. NPT was based on discrimination between nuclear-weapon states which had detonated a nuclear bomb before January 1, 1967 and other countries which lacked nuclear weapons. The first group of countries (the United States, the Soviet Union, UK, France and China) consisted of permanent members of the Security Council and promised to avoid of helping other countries to develop nuclear weapons. The second group was obligated neither to develop nuclear weapons, nor make any attempts to get them.

NPT also encouraged peaceful use of the nuclear technology and emphasized that countries were entitled to use of nuclear energy in research projects for nonmilitary purposes. At the same time, all countries, especially those with advanced nonmilitary nuclear technology were required to facilitate widespread exchange of information for peaceful use of the nuclear energy. Of course, there are countries with nuclear arsenal which have not acceded to NPT.

India tested its first nuclear bomb on May 18, 1974. The country then changed course and announced that the explosion only served peaceful purposes, though nuclear tests were resumed many years later. India is now a nuclear-weapon state and has conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998. Pakistan developed its nuclear weapons under supervision of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. In reaction to India's nuclear tests, Islamabad tested six atomic bombs in 1998. On June 11, 1998, a unilateral ban on nuclear tests was announced by Pakistan. Also, during a conference in Beijing in September 2005, North Korea, which had quit NPT two years earlier, announced that it would cease pursuit of nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees and access to nonmilitary nuclear know-how. Pyongyang, however, conducted an underground nuclear test on October 9, 2006. Then it signed an agreement with Beijing to pave the way for the establishment of a nuclear free zone on the Korean Peninsula.

The situation of Israel is, at best, ambiguous. An Israeli technician, revealed in an article published in October 1986 issue of the Sunday Times that Israel possessed nuclear weapons, though Israel experts already knew about it. Israel is said to possess more than 200 nuclear warheads. Tel Aviv conducted a nuclear test in the Indian Ocean in cooperation with South Africa on September 22, 1979. Although Israel has noted that it would not be the first party to deploy nuclear weapons, geopolitical situation of the region and aggressive nature of the Israeli regime has been source of grave concern for observers. Before his arrival in the United States to take part in the nuclear conference in Washington, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani assured international community that his country's atomic facilities were in "safe hands." In his talks with President Obama, he noted that the government of Pakistan considered nuclear security a very serious concern and will spare no protective measure to guarantee that.

On the other hand, the French President Nikolas Sarkozy said in an interview with CBS television that he would never give up nuclear weapons, which guaranteed his country's security. The nuclear conference in Washington may be a first step toward harnessing this massive destructive force, but a more important issue is to ensure global peace and cordial relations which will finally obviate the need to nuclear weapons. Although use of nuclear weapons and massive destruction they cause leaves no room for complete trust in any guarantee, nuclear-weapon states should avoid the application of such weapons and provide legal guarantees about their awareness of the consequences of nuclear destruction.  Humanity is looking forward to the day when the world would be free of nuclear weapons and human beings would not need such weapons to achieve their goals and only suffice to peaceful applications of the nuclear technology.

The nuclear conference in Washington and similar events are based on a simple idea: terrorist and outlawed organizations should not have access to fissile nuclear material; that is, plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Therefore, it would suffice to keep these materials out of the reach of such groups. This is a simple, though difficult, goal pursued by big powers and nobody has been able to say how close humanity is to that dangerous point. The reality, however, is that nuclear arsenals of big powers and few countries which have no respect for nuclear treaties is the most imminent threat to humanity and life on the Earth. Despite reduction of nuclear weapons through various treaties, such arsenals are still capable of terminating life on Earth time and time again.

About Iran Review: Iran Review ( is the leading independent, non-governmental and non-partisan website - organization representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran's political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.

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