The NPT


The US talks a lot about non-proliferation, and regularly joins with the world community to levy sanctions on nations that are not complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran and North Korea being prime examples of countries that have had a great deal of pressure (in the case of North Korea, the population has been starved) against their nuclear ambitions.

If you read the document, it’s surprisingly thin. [un] There’s a fair amount of “quid” and not a lot of “pro quo.” It can be interpreted as either an aspirational document – “it sure would be nice to control those nuclear weapons” or a statement of nuclear primacy. Because I am suspicious of state-craft, I tend to interpret it as the latter. Especially given how it has been enforced, which is extremely arbitrary. As you know, we are told that national sovereignty is very important except where it means that the nuclear-armed nations are going to get together and tell another country “you cannot have nuclear weapons.” The United Nations is used, sometimes, to produce resolutions saying “this country must comply with the NPT.”

Consider North Korea: they withdrew properly from the NPT by giving notice (as the treaty requires) in 2003. Of course, there were immediately sanctions slapped on them for that, but they were already under a pile of sanctions, so presumably they shrugged. The US and a few of its allies, naturally, made public comments about attacking the country, and publicly leaked that they had military plans for an assassination mission against Kim Jong Un. When the state that is threatening you has nuclear weapons, and you don’t, it’s hard to avoid seeing the situation as nuclear blackmail. According to Feroz Khan in Eating Grass Pakistan felt it was in just such a situation with regard to India – having gone to war with them already, and facing constant military threat backed by nuclear weapons, the Pakistani government stepped around the NPT and designed their own systems. I say “stepped around” because they didn’t exactly design their own nuclear weapons: chief Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan learned centrifuge-making and enrichment processes from Siemens, A.G. Of course the “international community” was incensed, i.e.: the US and India were extremely unhappy. The US was unhappy because its presumption of authority was flouted, and India was unhappy because they could no longer safely engage in nuclear blackmail. We cannot say for sure, but it may be the case that India and Pakistan have more or less grudgingly gotten along ever since.

The German “300 Meter-Per-Second” centrifuge is … interesting. What’s the speed of sound? Feroz Khan says the Pakistani RP-1 is supersonic.

Nuclear blackmail is difficult to clearly fix, because the countries that engage in it are usually somewhat circumspect, though I think it’s appropriate to mention that the US mused loudly about using nuclear weapons in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Gulf War I and Gulf War II. A friend who was a U.S. Army Major commanding an artillery unit in Gulf War I told me about the “special weapons” ammunition carrier that tagged along with his MLRS battery: it parked separately from all the others and was guarded by a special guard detail 24/7. Saddam may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but there were weapons of mass destruction deployed to Qatar and then out to the field.

Proliferation is an even more interesting and complex problem, because it’s a bunch of engineering secrets, mostly. As Richard Feynman once said, “the secret of making a bomb is that it works; it’s all engineering.” The question is what engineering shortcuts you can make. A.Q. Khan, for example, designed the Pakistani RP-1 centrifuge, which was pretty much a Pakistani-buildable version of a German enrichment system (that the Germans learned to make from Canada) The elephant in the room is, of course, Israel – which never signed the NPT and never has declared itself as a nuclear power, but which has done some very interesting things, indeed. It appears that Canada was the teacher, or France (it is uncertain) and South Africa provided the uranium in return for allowing a test off its coast. The US has been willing to levy brutal economic sanctions on any country that does not sign the NPT, except Israel. Israel has done an effective job of nuclear blackmail, itself, by referring to “the samson option” (the myth of samson, who pulled down the building he was in, in order to kill a bunch of palestinians, uh, philistines) The US and its clique (NATO) have been very quiet about Israel doing everything that they accused Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea of doing. But, nobody should expect anything but hypocrisy from the US and the US-controlled United Nations.

There are several chunks of jaw-dropping hypocrisy in the NPT. Almost immediately after it was signed, the US decided that the part of the treaty that says “do not go handing out nuclear weapons like they are candy” did not really apply to NATO as an entire entity. In other words, if you deploy nuclear weapons to Turkey, they are not “Turkish” they are still “American nuclear weapons” they’re just in, you know, Turkey. And the Turks won’t use them because there are some Americans guarding them with rifles. That was the same kind of ‘sharing’ arrangement that freaked out the US when the USSR attempted it in Cuba – but we’re different. The problem is that the NPT says giving “direct or indirect control” is not allowed, but the US somehow decided it doesn’t apply because, well, actually they never said: it just doesn’t. You can bet your last dollar that if North Korea offered to share some nuclear weapons with Iran, the US would not find it appropriate. Meanwhile, all NATO aircraft carry standard weapons-delivery interfaces that can support delivering nuclear weapons. So, depending on how dishonest you’re willing to be, the US has proliferated nuclear weapons to Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Turkey and the UK.

Here, by the way, is the reasoning why the NPT does not apply to NATO: if there is a condition of general war against NATO, such that the US’ command/control capability has broken down, the assumption is that general war applies and the NPT no longer holds. In other words: “if we’re losing badly enough, we’re going to make sure you lose worse.” This all sounds rather sketchy, but if you don’t believe me, you can fact-check wikipedia. [wik] If anything, I am understating the case. Here are the relevant words: [npt]

Article I

Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage,
or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.

Like most international agreements, this one has been written and vetted by lawyers; it’s pretty clear. The US just chooses not to understand.

The second gigantic bit of the NPT that makes my mind boggle is this one:

Article VI

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Huh? Yes, you read that right. Disarmament is baked right in.

What has the US done regarding Article VI? Nothing. Oddly, the US has not called for the imposition of any kind of sanctions for this blatant violation of the NPT. Actually, the US withdrew from the antiballistic missile treaty with Russia, so it could produce highly destabilizing new weapons systems. No sanctions for that, either. To top it off, the US has embarked on a $1 trillion program to produce more precise variable-yield H-bombs which will also destabilize mutual assured destruction.

The UN has not discussed any sanctions against the US. The international community’s attitude is probably, “why bother?” They know the NPT is just a weapon for the nuclear club to beat everyone else over the head with.

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I support a form of “mutual assured destruction” – in the event there is a nuclear war, the president’s guards should shoot the president through both knees, both elbows, and in the stomach. That way, the president will have a chance to experience the cost of failure while the missiles are on the way. The last person that we should struggle to save in the event of a nuclear war is one of the useless fools that started it.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    The UN has not embarked on any sanctions against the US. The international community’s attitude is probably, “why bother?”

    Well there’s that whole Security Council veto thing.

  2. Dunc says

    if you deploy nuclear weapons to Turkey, they are not “Turkish” they are still “American nuclear weapons” they’re just in, you know, Turkey.

    Well, yeah – that’s how empires work. When the empire deploys military assets in some satrapy, they remain under the control of the empire. (Well, until they don’t…)

  3. says

    Dunc@#2:
    Well, yeah – that’s how empires work. When the empire deploys military assets in some satrapy, they remain under the control of the empire. (Well, until they don’t…)

    But, the NPT is for Peace and sovereignty. Lots of both!

  4. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#1:
    Well there’s that whole Security Council veto thing.

    Yeah, it’s as though the Security Council was not actually created for its stated purpose.

  5. says

    This reminds me of debate tournaments I participated in several years ago. Debate topics about international conflicts were present in every tournament, and I particularly remember a debate about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and trade sanctions as a response to them. Back then everybody in the room (including the adjudicators) seemed to have a bunch of shared assumptions:
    – Non-NATO countries having nuclear weapons is bad: they are crazy and they might actually use them and kill countless civilians.
    – NATO countries having nuclear weapons is OK. Those are necessary in order to deter other “bad” countries from detonating their nukes. After all, NATO member states are the good guys. They would never detonate any nuclear weapons. They only stockpile them.
    – The double standard isn’t a problem. When NATO countries have nukes, it’s safe (because they won’t use them). When other countries have nukes, it’s no longer safe; hence, the double standard is justified.

    Back then I wasn’t as cynical as I am now. Besides, at that time people in Europe didn’t know who Donald Trump is. In debates winning means saying what the adjudicators want to hear. By now, it has gotten hard for me to debate about international conflicts with a straight face and just say what the adjudicators expect to hear.

  6. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#5:
    When NATO countries have nukes, it’s safe (because they won’t use them).

    Yes, I always thought this one was funny. The US is the only country that has used them, and it used them on civilian targets. And the US proliferated nukes to the Germans. Not that I am saying there is something wrong with Germans but the Germans did cause a lot of problems in the late 1930s and early 1940s – and the argument against letting Iran or North Korea have nukes is “they will cause a lot of problems.”

    I have heard Serious People say that Iran should not have nukes because “they are led by crazed religious fanatics.” Obviously, anyone who says that has not looked at the US – we are desperately struggling all the time to keep our crazed religious fanatics’ fingers off “The Button.” Strategic Air Command supremo Curtis Le May was a hard core death cultist who was at least as much of a nihilist as the most psychologically damaged ISIS ideologue. He would not have hesitated to use nuclear weapons in a variety of situations; he had to be held back.

  7. says

    It’s probably not worth a whole separate posting, which is why I’ve spared you all, but:
    The US/NATO specs for delivery systems are really interesting. It’s not just the national air force’s bomb-rails, it goes deeper than that. Japan, for example, could suspiciously easily re-purpose their satellite launch systems. South Korea has built short-range ballistic missiles (I.e.: ballistic missiles that can cover anywhere on the peninsula) and cruise missiles [nti] those mostly have payloads in the suspicious 300-500kg – just the right throw weight for the basic US H-bomb. A ballistic missile is a lot of work to make, just to carry 300kg of high explosive, and the range requirements for things like MLRS systems are much lower. In other words, the South Koreans have built nuclear delivery systems. Presumably that’s OK because they’re not crazy like North Koreans are or something.

    Most other NATO countries have stopped bothering to make their own nukes, because they are so expensive, and prefer to ‘host’ US nukes. They still practice dry-runs in case, you know, the US needs to fly a Canadian F-16 to deliver a bomb somewhere or something.

    I should probably research this and do a posting but it appears that the US told the Brits how to make Polaris sub-launched ballistic missiles, and/or perhaps sold/gave them to them. A system like Polaris is darned complicated stuff, which is why the North Koreans’ accomplishment in pulling off a sub-launch was such a sphincter-clencher for the US: it means they have a credible deterrent strike capability (depending on the stealthiness of their subs). Anyhow, the Brits have, literally, US Polaris systems – imagine the shitfits that the US would be having if China decided to share cruise missile technology with, well, anyone, under some kind of treaty. Technically, since China and North Korea have a mutual defense treaty, that would be a reasonable thing to do, for China to station some Chinese missiles in North Korea. The Chines, of course, are not insane imperialists like the US; their strategy appears to be more aimed at keeping the US out of their business. Imagine what Israel would do if anyone sold sub-launched ballistic missile capabilities to any of the arab countries. Israel, meanwhile, acquired a German-made sub that appears to have been built to retrofit into a ballistic missile boat – Israel is clearly interested in being able to wipe out the entire Middle East if they look like they are going to lose a war. “Mad mullahs” indeed.

  8. komarov says

    Saddam may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but there were weapons of mass destruction deployed to Qatar and then out to the field.

    A war zone where enemies might potentially show up and sabotage or even capture things seems like a terrible place to keep nuclear munitions. Especially when you could keep them far away, yet still be able to use them. In a different country, for example, or a ship a few times over the horizon (and under the ocean?) or on a different continent altogether. Poor old USA. The military must think the world a terribly unfair place, sometimes. Here they have all these wonderful weapons, kept safely out of harms way but always available at a moment’s notice. But if they used those weapons there would be all these other countries who’d get so upset they’d use their own nukes. Awww.

    But bringing nukes into said war zone seems to be an announcement of sorts that the conventions can go hang. What can you do with a nuke that isn’t a war crime? You wouldn’t lug these things straigth into a conflict zone if you have no intention to ever use them. What were they for? Maybe to glass a few valleys in case the valiant American liberators are repulsed? And when the fallout blows into the nearest city, irradiates the crops, kills the livestock and poisons the watertable, prevailing wind patterns will dragged before a tribunal in The Hague. For justice! And I’m almost positive “deterrence” isn’t an argument when the enemey is defending their home country. There’s that pesky “sovereignty” issue again.

    Frankly, I sometimes wonder if total nuclear proliferation isn’t the only realistic way forward to stop certain countries from targeting whomever they please. I’ve also been wondering what a world where the nuclear bomb had never existed might look like. Did the US get this way – attacking smaller nations pretty much at will – because of the power and protection afforded by their nuclear arsenal? Or were they always like this and might be gleefully trampling over countries like Russia and China because there wouldn’t be an arsenal to deter them and no military to match them?

    Iran’s remark that they could restart their nuclear programme made for the most predictable headlines this year and all I could think was, “fair enough”. I’m sure some US military planning groups are already updating the invasion plans filed under “Iran”. On second thought, those plans are probably kept up to date at all times. (I’m sure the digital file cabinet those plans reside in would make for interesting reading, too.)

    P.S.: Sorry, more rant-like than usual, even by my standards. Having just read such wonderful things about Haspell that made my blood boil. “Hard lessons” for the CIA (those poor people!), moral something something CIA (*censored*), and promising never to do that whole torture thing again. Right. Cynicism interprets the promise not to “restart” a torture program to mean that it’s running just fine. Could the senate please vote to throw her into the arena with the lions, rather that just waving here through, as per usual?

  9. wereatheist says

    First, some minor nitpicking:

    Siemens, A.G.

    We Krauts never use dots in our legalese abbreviations, like BAFöG or GmbH or the like, and don’t put commas between company names and their legalese status.
    So, “SIEMENS AG”, it is.

    The German “300 Meter-Per-Second” centrifuge is … interesting. What’s the speed of sound? Feroz Khan says the Pakistani RP-1 is supersonic.

    The speed of sound is √(κ/ρ) , where κ means the compressibility of a gas and ρ is the mass density. The first is very similar for most gases (exactly the same for ideal gases), the latter is proportional to the molecular weight, for single compounds. The compound in question is Uranium Hexafluoride, whose molecular weight is about ten times of that of air.
    Therefore, the speed of sound in UF6 is a bit above 100 m/s, and yes, the centrifuges are clearly supersonic.

  10. says

    wereatheist@#10:
    We Krauts never use dots in our legalese abbreviations, like BAFöG or GmbH or the like, and don’t put commas between company names and their legalese status.
    So, “SIEMENS AG”, it is.

    Thanks for the info. So, are you telling me that all the metal bands of the late 80s aren’t really Germanic?

    Therefore, the speed of sound in UF6 is a bit above 100 m/s, and yes, the centrifuges are clearly supersonic.

    Super cool! I knew the density of the ‘atmosphere’ was part of it, but I didn’t realize how much it affected it.
    I believe the inner cylinder of the centrifuge is mostly in a vacuum and some things I have read describe them as “magnetically levitated” – as you can imagine, centrifuge-making is quite an art-form and is very closely held secret.

    One thing that is apparently not used in centrifuge-making is high quality steel tubes – like the ones that the US proclaimed were evidence that Saddam was trying to develop nukes. More lies; shocked!

  11. Dunc says

    Marcus, @ #6:

    Not that I am saying there is something wrong with Germans but the Germans did cause a lot of problems in the late 1930s and early 1940s – and the argument against letting Iran or North Korea have nukes is “they will cause a lot of problems.”

    Well, yeah, but the Germans are… well… let’s say “our kind of people”, whereas the Iranians and the North Koreans… aren’t.

    I have heard Serious People say that Iran should not have nukes because “they are led by crazed religious fanatics.” Obviously, anyone who says that has not looked at the US

    Well, yeah, but they’re adherents of a different religion… Y’know… The wrong religion.

    @ #7:

    Most other NATO countries have stopped bothering to make their own nukes, because they are so expensive, and prefer to ‘host’ US nukes.

    Hey! I’ll have you know that Britain’s Trident system is, like, totally independent! We’re still a first-rate world power! Just because the missiles are made by the US, serviced by the US, and probably rely on targetting information from the US, doesn’t mean they’re controlled by the US. We could totally launch them entirely on our own cognizance! Yes we could. Shut up.

    Oh, and a point I missed from the OP:

    Nuclear blackmail is difficult to clearly fix, because the countries that engage in it are usually somewhat circumspect, though I think it’s appropriate to mention that the US mused loudly about using nuclear weapons in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Gulf War I and Gulf War II.

    There’s this thing the US likes to do from time to time in foreign policy matters, where you have the Secretary of State or some such stand up, lean forward a bit, and very carefully and deliberately announce that “all options are on the table”. They don’t actually wink when they say it, but they might as well, and everybody knows exactly what they mean.

    komarov, @ #8:

    Did the US get this way – attacking smaller nations pretty much at will – because of the power and protection afforded by their nuclear arsenal? Or were they always like this and might be gleefully trampling over countries like Russia and China because there wouldn’t be an arsenal to deter them and no military to match them?

    Well, the US has pretty clearly always been this way, but even so, I don’t think they would be “gleefully trampling over countries like Russia and China” because the US military is no match for geography. I’m pretty sure there’s a large tree of alternative histories in which the US, lacking the deterrence of nukes, tries to trample all over Russia or China and promptly gets its ass handed to it on a plate. Many of those alternative histories are probably better than the one we inhabit.

    Frankly, I sometimes wonder if total nuclear proliferation isn’t the only realistic way forward to stop certain countries from targeting whomever they please.

    I’ve been wondering this too. I keep telling myself it’s crazy, but I’m no longer sure that it’s any more crazy than the alternative…

  12. wereatheist says

    Marcus:

    are you telling me that all the metal bands of the late 80s aren’t really Germanic?

    Nope. Did you notice the diaeresis (a.k.a. Trema) in BAFöG, which is the abbreviation of a German law (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, if you want to know). Metal bands do love them some diaereses. I was speaking of dots……

    I believe the inner cylinder of the centrifuge is mostly in a vacuum

    If with “vacuum” you mean “significantly lower pressure”, that’s true. Acceleration on the very outer parts of the centrifuge may be some hundreds of km/s², reducing the “scale height” of a UF6-atmosphere to a decimetre or so. But the radius of the centrifuge will not be much more than a decimetre, and acceleration is proportional to the distance from the axis.

    some things I have read describe them as “magnetically levitated”

    Magnetic levitation/magnetic bearings would be an obvious solution to friction. No idea if this is really used.

  13. komarov says

    Re: Dunc (#12):

    the US military is no match for geography

    No speculation on how successfully Alternate USA might have fared against larger nations. After all Datum Reality USA has managed to get bogged down in permanent wars with countries that were, in relative terms, practically unarmed.
    But this remark raises another question. Does “Never fight a land war in Asia” as a rule still work? Nukes aside, the main issue is size and the resulting supply chains. But in this day and age where you can have bombers circle the planet (or large chunks of it), level a target and head home, supply chains can be made a lot simpler. You’d have to forgo the occupying (ground) force and be willing to make do with bombing everything to rubble instead, but I have no doubt some militaries could live with that.

    I’ve been wondering this too. I keep telling myself it’s crazy, but I’m no longer sure that it’s any more crazy than the alternative…

    The uncomfortable conclusion would be that it would be safest to have a tyrannical dictator or aformentioned “mad mullah” ruling your country. With a megalomaniac in charge everyone can be certain that the nuclear retaliation will happen if they start loosing. A normal human being might hesitate or even decide that their demise isn’t sufficient reason to end everyone else as well. So it would be better make sure the enemy never doubt your nation’s resolve on this issue.

    Re: jrkrideau (#9):

    I am not familiar with most of them. What the blases was the USA doing in Sumatra in 1832?

    Well, according to the wiki article there was that piracy thing. And nothing says “America!!!” like overkill. Especially literal overkill. It seems the lesson worked for all of six years before a refresher course was required. Gotta spend that “defence” budget somehow. And, as George Carlin pointed out, the US are good at war because they practice a lot – going way back, apparently.

  14. Dunc says

    Does “Never fight a land war in Asia” as a rule still work? Nukes aside, the main issue is size and the resulting supply chains. But in this day and age where you can have bombers circle the planet (or large chunks of it), level a target and head home, supply chains can be made a lot simpler. You’d have to forgo the occupying (ground) force and be willing to make do with bombing everything to rubble instead, but I have no doubt some militaries could live with that.

    Something I remember from the movie “Blue Thunder”: “We tried crowd control from the air. It doesn’t work.” “Where was that?” “Vietnam.”

    You cannot win a war with air power alone. Advocates of air power have been pushing the idea for a bit over 100 years now, and it has never, ever worked. You could, in theory, kill everybody, but that is not actually a realistic war goal. Nobody wants to be the lord of an uninhabited wasteland.

  15. wereatheist says

    I have to correct myself: in #10, replace compressibility with compression modulus, which is the inverse. It’s like the stiffness/hardness of a spring. Everything else holds.

  16. springa73 says

    I kind of doubt that widespread nuclear proliferation would make the world a better place. It reminds me of the NRA argument that the safest society is one where everyone is heavily armed as a deterrent to everyone else.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Adding a mini-rant. I believe the US is also backing out of other nuclear disarmament agreements / treaties with Russia. In short, Russia is actually obeying the treaty, and properly disposing of weapons plutonium. The US is like “well, we’re anti-nuclear power over here, and so we don’t want to do what you Russians are doing, which is burning the plutonium in a next gen reactor, so instead can we mix our weapons plutonium with some other stuff, and bury it, and call it ‘permanently disposed’, even though the process could be relatively easily reversed?”. The Russians are not pleased about this. In other words, the asinine anti-nuclear power position of the greens is actually increasing nuclear weapons proliferation in this one instance.

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