Transparency in Nuclear Arms: Toward a Nuclear Weapons Regi

Arms Control Today, October 1994 | Go to article overview
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Transparency in Nuclear Arms: Toward a Nuclear Weapons Regi


In his press conference to present a "10-point non-proliferation initiative" last December, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel included a proposal calling for an international register for nuclear weapons, analogous to the UN Conventional Arms Register. When German diplomats explained the initiative to their allies in London, Paris and Washington, they were sharply rebuffed. Apparently the three nuclear-weapon states were strongly opposed to the idea and therefore discouraged Germany from pursuing it further in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, where the ad hoc group on transparency in armaments would be an appropriate forum for further discussion. Faced with these cold responses, German diplomats shelved the idea for the time being and concentrated on initiatives that promised better chances for agreement, such as the comprehensive test ban (CTB) treaty currently under discussion, a fissile material cutoff agreement and an international plutonium management regime.

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME?

Among the comments heard was that this was another example of German idealism and overachieving attempts at disarmament. Indeed, as Mark Hibbs points out in his August 18 article in Nucleonics Week, the idea was seriously circulated in government circles in all three Western capitals that recent discoveries of small amounts of (presumably Russian) fissile material in Germany were actually German government fabrications to bolster the request for more controls in nuclear-weapon states.

But a nuclear weapons register is far from being an exclusive German idea. It is part of a growing chorus on the subject.

During negotiations on the UN Conventional Arms Register, a significant number of developing countries wanted to include weapons production, current arsenals and weapons of mass destruction. Because chemical and biological weapons are, or soon will be, legally banned, the additional reporting requirement would have applied only to nuclear weapons in the five states where they are temporarily legalized by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it would have resulted in a complete register of ready-made nuclear arms.

This proposal was not included when the UN General Assembly passed its December 9, 1991 resolution creating the conventional arms register. And while the issue of including weapons of mass destruction and transfers of high technology with military applications was seriously debated in August by the 1994 UN group of government experts (GGE) charged with preparing and reviewing the register performance, it remains unresolved. Despite Egypt's insistence that these items should be included, other experts from various countries argued that these items are to be dealt with in the CD in Geneva and through other treaties. Nonetheless, this is not a "dead issue" for Egypt and a number of other countries that wanted these items included from the outset.

Argentina also submitted a working paper in August 1993 on transparency in stocks of weapons of mass destruction to the CD's ad hoc committee on transparency in armaments. Coming as it did from Argentina, the idea has added weight and should be taken seriously. Among the developing countries, Argentina has become a "non-proliferation hero" in recent years: it terminated its nuclear weapons development program; put the quadripartite agreement with Brazil, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials into full force; ratified the Tlatelolco Treaty; gave up its ballistic missile program; and, established such impressive export controls that it has been invited to join the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

In its January 1994 study on dismantlement and disposition of excess weapons plutonium entitled "Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium," the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control included the recommendation to establish "declarations of stockpiles of nuclear weapons and all fissile materials, cooperative measures to clarify and confirm those declarations.

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