Disarmament Insight


Friday, 16 May 2008

NPT: States in the Sin Bin

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills
(Missing Dates by William Empson 1999)

Sin is a concept that has resonance in most cultures. It is variously described as wrongful behaviour in specific situations or even a state of mind. Immoral, shameful, harmful, or alienating acts (or thoughts) are considered sinful. The designation of immoral and shameful varies from culture to culture, even within a single religion or philosophy.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the spectrum of good and bad behaviour. From lesser or venial sins (stealing cookies from the tin, lying to save another’s dignity etc.) to those of the grave or mortal variety (murder, rape, pedophilia and so on) the range of sinful behaviours is broad.

The degree of seriousness attached to each type of sin prescribes its future impact on the sinner and the sinned against – and each exacts a different penalty ranging from small penitential acts to utmost damnation. For example in Islam, there are several gradations of sin ranging from mistakes to transgressions to utmost wickedness and depravity. Buddhism has a code of ethics, the Pañcasīla, and in Hinduism, sin is an intentional transgression of divine law – a course of action that results in negative consequences. Judaism teaches that sin is an act, not a state of being. There is intentional sin, accidental sin and transgression through being unaware and through no fault of your own.

Then there is the distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. The sin of omission is a failure to act when one should. It is a failure to achieve goodness, rather than a deliberate act of evil. It is therefore seen as less grievous than a sin of commission which involves a deliberate act of bad – an intentional act of evil.

One of the key features of the 2008 NPT PrepCom has been an emphasis on what constitutes compliance with all articles of the Treaty. In carrying out an article-by-article assessment of compliance with the Treaty, we get a much better sense of overall compliance with the Treaty and passion for the aims of the NPT.

But, it’s important to look at compliance in the context of the gravity of non-compliance. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to examine what possible non-compliance actions may occur through the lens of different types of sin.

Let's take Articles I and II of the 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.
Article II Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transfer or whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
A mortal sin against the Treaty would be the sin of Commissioning (acquiring, manufacturing, transferring, receiving…) a nuclear weapons programme. A less appalling, but still mortal, crime would be one of commissioning a nuclear weapons hedge programme – i.e. a programme that would develop the technology necessary to make nuclear weapons but not go as far as to make them. Both of these serious sins would probably involve deceit, betrayal of trust, bare-faced lying and theft. Most certainly the perpetrators would be guilty of pride, lust and envy while about it (a reminder here of the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride). Both would strike a mortal blow at the essence of the Treaty. More venial sins committed against Article I could include, for example, turning a blind eye to front companies and their exports, excusing government scientists carrying out “little experiments” or not even prosecuting those caught red-handed at such exploits.

In Article III, States Parties undertake to accept safeguards from the IAEA and to do so within a given timeframe. A generous interpretation for the forty or so states that have yet to conclude their safeguards agreement with the Agency would be to call that failure a sin of omission. A more grave sin would, for example, be the supply of nuclear material without the application of full-scope safeguards.

Article IV regards to the inalienable right of all the Parties to the NPT to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of the Treaty. Transgression of this inalienable right could well take the form of denial of license to companies wishing to sell and export technical know-how to a State that is suspected of violation of key NPT provisions, although this could be the result of a false judgment. On the other hand non-conformity with Articles I and II whilst attempting to import nuclear knowledge would constitute the more serious sin in that it would involve lying continually. It would constitute a fundamental betrayal of trust.

In the case of Article VI in which: “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” context is all important. States without nuclear weapons, while being required to comply with the article, do not possess the same degree of responsibility for the execution of Article VI as the nuclear weapons states.

Failure to pursue negotiations year after year on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament is, at the very least, a repeated sin of omission. As Ogden Nash put it, repeated acts of omission are the second kind of sin, that lays eggs under your skin (see reference at end). They lie there, irritate, cause agony and eventually hatch, affecting the health of the sinner, sometimes in a grave manner. When coupled with more serious sin – such as bad faith in negotiations or a profession of desire for disarmament while saying how nuclear weapons are fundamental to the security of the possessor state ad infinitum – then the soul of the Treaty is in mortal danger.

At the end of the Treaty text, Article X reads:
Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.
If a state withdraws from the NPT when in violation of the Treaty – perhaps causing others to withdraw for the reason that their supreme interests are thus jeopardized – then it has committed a heinous sin. Such a act has betrayed just about every substantive article in the Treaty either before or during the act of withdrawal (of course if it then fails to notify properly, well that is indeed something to get worked up about). If afterwards, the state refuses to repent and continues to commit crimes against the Treaty (such as carrying out a nuclear weapon test), then what can be done to restore faith in the NPT and in the whole regime?

This brings us to the issue of repentance and atonement. In all the world’s main religions and in the humanist philosophical approaches, there is a way back from sin. This almost always takes the following form:
  1. an admission of guilt;
  2. an apology;
  3. penance/atonement of some kind - usually in the form of righting the wrong committed;
  4. Forgiveness of the sinner by the sinned against.
In the case of the transgression, betrayals, sins of commission, omission, venial and mortal against the NPT over the last forty years, there must be a way for the sinners to atone and for the rest to forgive. In many cases the sinners are also the ones sinned against, so considerable tolerance on all sides is required – as is an understanding that to go forward, we have to put the past with all its wrongs behind us.

This will require a huge amount of trust among all parties – which is of course, for the most part, sorely lacking in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. But for all that, we must start somewhere.

One way to right a wrong and begin a process of building trust would be for the US and other signatories to ratify the CTBT and bring it in to force. This would restore trust in the process (including in the CD) and in the countries not yet party to the CTBT.

Another important step would be to engage all states in the Middle East in a negotiation towards a zone free of WMD. Another would be to ensure that all transgression of Articles I and II are taken to court either within the country that they are committed or within another country that has an interest. Also all NPT States could ratify the Additional Protocol and make that a condition of supply.

There are many more suggestions for atonement and building trust I could make but I suggest instead that you click on www.wmdcommission.org and read “Weapons of Terror” if you haven’t already done so. I can’t resist one last critical suggestion however and that is to resolve the DPRK nuclear weapons problem with full disclosure and complete, verified disarmament, so that North Korea could, one day, return to the fold.

This is a guest blog by Dr Patricia Lewis, UNIDIR Director. Patricia’s other blogs on the NPT can be located by typing ‘NPT’ into the search box at right.


“It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin, that lays eggs under your skin. The way you really get painfully bitten is by the insurance you haven't taken out and the checks you haven't added up the stubs of and the appointments you haven't kept and the bills you haven't paid and the letters you haven't written”. (Portrait Of The Artist As A Prematurely Old Man, Ogden Nash).

Picture: William Hogarth, Satan, Sin and Death (A Scene from Milton's `Paradise Lost') circa 1735-40, part of an exhibition at the Tate.