As if the UN Security Council isn't having enough trouble persuading Iran and North Korea to verifiably disavow nuclear weapons, Europe and North America are busy championing nuclear weapons as the ultimate security trump card and constructing a political/security context that is increasingly hostile to non-proliferation.

Three Western initiatives in as many weeks tell the story.

At the end of November, in Riga, NATO leaders may have quarreled over Afghanistan, but they were of a single mind in reaffirming the political and security advantages of nuclear weapons. The leaders declared the continuing relevance of, and their full satisfaction with, the alliance's 1999 strategic doctrine, which declares "the Alliance's conventional forces alone cannot ensure credible deterrence. Nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the risks of aggression against the Alliance incalculable and unacceptable. Thus, they remain essential to preserve peace."

It is an assertion that begs an obvious question: If NATO, with its collective command of some two-thirds of global conventional military capacity, feels unacceptably vulnerable without a nuclear back-up, what are North Korea and Iran likely to conclude?

It is true that North Korea and Iran joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states and solemnly pledged to permanently disavow nuclear weapons, but so did most of the NATO states, including Canada, that have just proclaimed their enduring commitment to nuclear weapons.
Five non-nuclear weapon states (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Turkey) even host nuclear weapons on their territories.

The United Kingdom followed the NATO paean to nuclear weapons with its own unilateral version. In its just released Defence White Paper, the Tony Blair Government promises a new generation of submarine-based nuclear weapons, albeit reduced by 20 per cent from its current arsenal of about 200 warheads. As the leader in the Guardian put it, "the words 'nuclear deterrent' occur more than any other in the defence white paper published (Dec. 4), but at no point is the document clear about who or what a new generation of British nuclear weapons is intended to deter."

Whitehall, of course, denies its nuclear modernization program is in violation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which commits all nuclear weapon states to eliminating their nuclear arsenals, or a betrayal of its pledge, made at the 2000 treaty review conference, along with other nuclear weapon states, of "an unequivocal undertaking ... to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states parties are committed under Article VI."

Others will not be so charitable, recognizing that disrespect for the letter and spirit of disarmament obligations inexorably yields a political climate of disrespect and distrust in which non-proliferation will not flourish.

Then the U.S. administration and Congress banded together to reward India for its nuclear weapons tests in violation of non-proliferation norms. The U.S.-India nuclear co-operation agreement accepts India as a de facto nuclear weapon state and ignores, even rewards, its continuing violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1172, which calls on India and Pakistan "immediately to stop their nuclear weapon development programs, to refrain from weaponization or from the deployment of nuclear weapons, to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons."

Implementation of full civilian nuclear co-operation with India will arguably put the United States in violation of Article I of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits nuclear weapon states from assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to acquire nuclear weapons. Providing India with civilian nuclear fuel assists its nuclear weapons development by freeing up limited domestic supplies for the production of fissile material for its expanding arsenal. And as to encouragement, there is little doubt that India draws succor from its new found favour in Washington and the equanimity with which its violations of the Security Council are met.

For North Korea and Iran, the lessons will be unmistakable. Western non-proliferation policy is not about eliminating nuclear arsenals or even stopping their spread. Instead, it is practised as a crude art of selection - states within, or being wooed into, a U.S.-defined orbit of friendliness are permitted to violate global non-proliferation norms, while states outside this axis of temporary convenience are to be punished to the full for their, in the case of Iran, much lesser violations.

Hans Blix and his Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission warned against this kind of selective non-proliferation. Non-proliferation efforts will fail if based on the premise "that nuclear weapons in the hands of some pose no threat, while in the hands of others they place the world in mortal jeopardy."

If it is the intention of European and North American governments to build a political climate that is hostile to non-proliferation, then they will be well-pleased with their work of the last few months.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.