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The Nuclear-Weapon State of Israel


Every five years, the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons hold a formal and extensive review of the Treaty’s successes and failures since the last formal Review, all with an eye toward identifying the Treaty’s strengths and weakensses, and strengthening it overall. (At least one can hope.)


The 2005 Review Conference is fast approaching, scheduled to begin at the United Nations on May 2.

To quote the U.S. Department of State’s literature on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT has been “one of the great success stories of arms control,” and an “indispensable tool in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.” The NPT has been “remarkably successful in achieving its main goals.”

Notice these last two words: main goals. The State Department tells us that the NPT has been “remarkably successful in achieving its main goals.” But it leaves us hanging as to what, exactly, the NPT’s main goals are.

In the contemporary world, the answer to this question breaks down into two basic camps.

The first camp—call it the American—holds that the NPT’s main goal is the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. That is to say, the NPT’s main goals include a prohibition on the transfer of nuclear weapons capabilities from the Nuclear Haves to the Nuclear Have-Nots; the agreement by the Nuclear Have-Nots not to develop nuclear programs for anything other than peaceful purposes; and, finally, the additional agreement by the Nuclear Have-Nots to accept on-site inspections of their nuclear programs, in order to provide the rest of the States Parties to the Treaty the assurances that these programs have been developed for peaceful purposes, and peaceful purposes alone.

The second camp—which at this crucial stage in the world’s nuclear-weapons-mania still comprises pretty much the rest of the world (perhaps with at most a handful of exceptions), and I will call the non-American camp—affirms the same basic non-proliferation goals that the American camp affirms. But it also affirms one goal that the American camp rejects, and affirms it ahead of all of the other goals: Disarmament.

That is to say, the non-American camp holds that the main goal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the very reasons that there are an NPT and nuclear arms control in the first place, is expressed by Article VI of the Treaty (and all similar articles and proclamations in the field of arms control, disarmament, and international peace and security):

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.

Thus the two major camps in the contemporary world on all questions beginning with and returning back to nuclear weapons turn on one issue, ultimately, and one only: The preservation of a world governed by its nuclear-weapons regimes, or some form of conversion of the world itself into a nuclear-weapon-free regime.

(Quick aside. Here it is very much worth recalling that in the mixed series of advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice in the case, On the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (July 8, 1996), the ICJ did rule unanimously in favor of the proposition, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control” (pars. 98-103). “[T]he Court appreciates the full importance of the recognition by Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of an obligation to negotiate in good faith a nuclear disarmament,” we read. “The legal import of that obligation goes beyond that of a mere obligation of conduct; the obligation involved here is an obligation to achieve a precise result ‹nuclear disarmament in all its aspects‹ by adopting a particular course of conduct, namely, the pursuit of negotiations on the matter in good faith” (Par. 99). “The obligation expressed in Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons includes its fulfilment in accordance with the basic principle of good faith” (Par. 102). “In the view of the Court, it remains without any doubt an objective of vital importance to the whole of the international community today” (Par. 103).)

Disarmament has always formed the core of the NPT. Unfortunately, the American camp opposes disarmament.

Now. As some of you may have seen, Haaretz reported on Sunday that “The State Department Saturday called on Israel to forswear nuclear weapons and accept international Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all nuclear activities. This is the second time in about two weeks that officials in the Bush administration are putting the nuclear weapons of Israel, India and Pakistan on a par.” (“U.S. says Israel must give up nukes,” Amir Oren, April 3, 2005.)

Haaretz also mentioned recent public statements by State Department officials “who hold middle-level and lower ranks,” in its estimate, namely, Mark Fitzpatrick and Jackie Wolcott Sanders, and who have referred to “Israel’s military nuclear capability, as distinct from ‘nuclear option‘,” and that the “rare use of these terms contradicts the custom of senior administration officials to avoid any possible confirming reference to Israeli nuclear weapons.”

(Quick aside. More real-politically, Haaretz very carefully qualified this: “Israeli experts on Bush’s nuclear policy say that the president is focusing on objecting to the nuclear process of North Korea and Iran, and even approves aid to India – in nuclear energy among other things – and to Pakistan (selling F-16 planes), while far lower ranks abound with verbal formulas to excuse the withdrawal of the NPT regime during the Bush era. Sanders and Fitzpatrick refrained from calling on Israel, India and Pakistan explicitly to renounce their weapons. The expectation of these three states was phrased in terms of a vow – a verbal pledge to forswear, rather than real action. Nor was this demand accompanied by a time table, conditions and sanctions.”)

At this moment, I’m curious to determine whether any of this been reported in the English-language media beyond Haaretz’s report? And if so, how has it been reported?

Among its many activities, the U.S. Department of State’s International Information Program publishes several semi-annual Electronic Journals, one of which is the e-journal Foreign Policy Agenda.

Sure enough: The March, 2005 issue of Foreign Policy Agenda is titled, Today’s Nuclear Equation. The entirety of this particular issue is devoted to nuclear-weapons-related topics—but above all, to the 2005 NPT Review Conference scheduled next month at the United Nations.

In Today’s Nuclear Equation we find an article that appears under the byline of Jackie Wolcott Sanders, “How To Strengthen the NPT.”

In “How To Strengthen the NPT,” under the curious heading “Universality,” Jackie Wolcott Sanders writes:

The Review Conference should reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states. Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states would have to forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities to join the Treaty. At the same time, we recognize that progress toward universal adherence is not likely in the foreseeable future. The United States continues to support the goals of the Middle East resolution adopted at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, including the achievement of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

Next we have a statement delivered on March 17 by the State Department’s Mark Fitzpatrick before a meeting of the Organization of American States’ Committee on Hemispheric Security in Washington (“Meeting Nonproliferation Challenges: UNSCR 1540 and the 2005 NPT Review Conference“):

The [NPT Review] Conference must make clear to all that NPT Parties will hold states accountable for violations. Iran and North Korea must not be permitted to violate the NPT without consequences. We must make clear that we have the necessary political will to support the regime. States that forgo nuclear weapons under the Treaty cannot be left vulnerable to actions by those that would violate the Treaty.

The Conference should also reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states. Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states should forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities.

So here, then, are the basic parameters, according to the State Department: The operative articles of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons cover the non-proliferation concerns of the U.S. Government to the exclusion of all else. Namely, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. But the Israeli nuclear program merits a mention only insofar as Israel may join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state. Nothing is asserted about the fact that Israel already is a nuclear-weapon state. Or that Israel ought to become a non-nuclear-weapon state. Or that Israel ought to suffer any sort of consequences for being a nuclear-weapon state, even as it continues to occupy the legal netherworld that exists in-between nuclear-weapon statehood (along with India, Pakistan, and North Korea), on the one side, and nuclear-weapon non-proliferation and disarmament (along with 170-plus other states), on the other side.

In plainer English: The Haaretz report was unduly alarmist: The actual policy of the U.S. Government remains unchanged. The undeclared nuclear-weapon state of Israel will continue to get off scot-free, as far as the “international community” is concerned.

The Americans regard the NPT’s call for non-proliferation and disarmament, as well as next month’s important NPT Review Conference, as instruments to further the main goals of American Power. Nothing more.

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1970-)

Model Protocol Additional to the Agreement(s) Between State(s) and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards (INFCIRC/540), September, 1997
List of State Parties to have signed the Additional Procotol

Pugwash Online (Homepage)
Reaching Critical Will (Homepage), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
On the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, International Court of Justice, July 8, 1996
First Committee: Disarmament and International Security, UN General Assembly (Woefully underserviced and out-of-date)
United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research
Disarmament Resolutions and Decisions of the UN General Assembly (UNIDIR)
In Focus: IAEA and the NPT (Good resource)
Expert Group Releases Findings on Multilateral Nuclear Approaches,” IAEA, February 22, 2005
Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security, George Perkovich et al., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March, 2005 (For the PDF version of the same. And the accompanying Media Release)
2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, UN Headquarters, New York City, May 2-27, 2005

Bureau of Non-Proliferation (Homepage), U.S. Department of State
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (i.e., as seen by the U.S. Government), Bureau of Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State
2005 NPT Review Conference (again, as seen by the U.S. Government), Bureau of Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State
How To Strengthen the NPT,” Jackie Wolcott Sanders, Today’s Nuclear Equation, U.S. Department of State, March, 2005
Meeting Nonproliferation Challenges: UNSCR 1540 and the 2005 NPT Review Conference,” Mark Fitzpatrick, U.S. Department of State, March 17, 2005

U.S. says Israel must give up nukes,” Amir Oren, Haaretz, April 3, 2005

June 6, 2002 (S/2002/649) [Letter dated June 6, 2002 from the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the UN Secretary-General calling to his attention the 21st Anniversary of Israeli bombing of Osirak nuclear facilities]

“Israeli Nuclear Capabilities and Threat” I, September 3, 2004
“Israeli Nuclear Capabilities and Threat” II, September 27, 2004
Iran IV, March 2, 2005
Iran V, March 6, 2005

FYA (“For your archives”): To date, I’ve been able to find a grand total of six items that mention the alleged, and indeed false, U.S. policy-change towards Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities: The official smokescreen-like statements by Jackie Wolcott Sanders (March, 2005) and Mark Fitzpatrick (March 17); the unduly alarmist Haaretz report (April 3); and three others that picked up on the Haaretz report: the Hindustan Times (April 4); Ma’ariv (April 5?); and the Mideast Mirror (April 5). (For copies of these last three, see below.)

Hindustan Times
April 4, 2005 Monday 1:29 PM EST
HEADLINE: US stays rigid on NPT
BYLINE: Hindustan Times
DATELINE: NEW DELHI, India

NEW DELHI, India, April 4 — STICKING TO its rigid stand, the United States wants the upcoming review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to reaffirm that India, Pakistan and Israel could join the treaty only as non-nuclear weapon states.

“Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states would have to forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities to join the treaty,” says US Ambassador for Disarmament Jackie Wolcott Sanders.

The 35-year-old NPT, a treaty that India regards as discriminatory, comes up for review every five years. The seventh in the series, to be a month-long affair, gets under way in New York on May 2.

Indications are that the US focus at the conference will be more on today’s threats stemming from non-compliance by signatory nations like North Korea (which eventually quit the NPT in January 2003) and Iran. It will also highlight the global reach of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan’s illicit nuclear procurement network.

BBC Monitoring International Reports [EXCERPT]
April 5, 2005
HEADLINE: BBC MONITORING QUOTES FROM ISRAEL’S HEBREW PRESS 5 APR 05

The following is a selection of quotes from editorials published in 5 Apr editions of Hebrew-language Israeli newspapers available to BBCM.

…………

Ma’ariv (From commentary by Dan Margalit)

A US minister who would not coordinate a statement with the White House soon becomes “former” minister; officials all the more so. Therefore, it is necessary to listen with much attention to the call by two middle-rank State Department officials to Israel to agree to supervision of its nuclear weapons by International Atomic Energy Agency. The innovation in the statements by (Jackie Wolcott) Sanders and (Mark) Fitzpatrick is recognizable in several layers of gentle debating: they no longer talked about the ‘nuclear option’ but about ‘nuclear weapons’ in the Israeli arsenal. This is an important toughening of attitude. Until now the Americans always repulsed every international pressure saying the US had no reliable information that Israel had a bomb. A lack of Israeli reaction to the unusual statements in Washington could be interpreted as acquiescence in silence or with conditions. There is no such acquiescence, not even conditional.

Mideast Mirror [EXCERPT]
April 5, 2005
SECTION: ISRAEL
HEADLINE: Disengaging from the state

…………

MEANWHILE, WE’LL BE A WOLF: In the wake of a U.S. State Department comment saying that Israel will have to subject its nuclear programs to international inspection, Maariv’s Dan Margalit writes that it is too soon to allow such inspections. “American democracy is not similar to Israeli anarchy. An American minister that does not coordinate his or her statements with the White House will very quickly become a former minister. And that goes double for officials. So it is very worthwhile to pay close attention to two mid-level officials in the State Department who called on Israel to agree to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It would be very easy-but very misguided-to sarcastically and cynically say, who do they think they are, that Jack Walcott Sanders and Mark Fitzpatrick, to tell Israel what to do with its nuclear capabilities. They spoke with authority and with permission from their superiors.
Haaretz’ Amir Oren reported this week on their comments. True, they were cautious and minor. Just a test balloon. No timetable was mentioned. No operative plans were detailed. There was no demand for immediate response. But it was something that has not been said very often, at least not since Nixon and Kissinger reached an understanding with Golda Meir.
The essence of that understanding was this: as long as Israel maintains its nuclear ambiguity, without admitting it actually has such weapons, and as long as it does not conduct any nuclear tests, the U.S. will not dig too deeply into what takes place in the Dimona reactor, and will stick to the formula that it has no credible information that Israel has weapons of mass destruction.
Israel made sure to keep its end of the deal. It did not admit to anything, except for some unnecessary chatter and some comments by ill-wishing people. It also did not conduct nuclear tests. The claim that it did so in the late 1970s is sheer speculation-and nonsense.
The innovation in what was said this week is evident in some layers of the delicate deliberations. They did not speak about ‘a nuclear option’ but about ‘nuclear weapons’ in the Israeli arsenal. That is very important. Until now, the U.S. has rebuffed international pressure on the issue, by saying that the U.S. does not have credible information that Israel has the bomb.
They also dropped the position that America does not advise Israel what to do. After all, Israel has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. On the contrary, even though it does not enjoy any of the benefits of signing it, and it did not accept any constraints, Washington is calling on it to do so-and in the realm of constraints.
It is true that Sanders made his remark ahead of a tactical discussion held once every five years by the signatories to the NPT. And it is true that there has been heavy pressure on Israel in the past, for example in 1995.
Nonetheless, these comments make things very difficult for Israel-particularly since the NPT seems to be collapsing in front of the entire world. The events in North Korea and Iran show that the NPT is unable to monitor what takes place in totalitarian countries; and especially because the leaks from the soon-to-be completed report on American intelligence say that the U.S. doesn’t really know anything about what is happening in Iran’s nuclear program. An American deviation from protecting Israel to an admittedly weak innovation calling on Israel to be subject to the IAEA is a worrying sign. Iran signed the NPT, and ignores its commitments. If Israel were to accept any commitment whatsoever, it would not be able to disengage from it in the future.
It is possible to allow these things to pass by ignoring them, to hope that next month the signatories of the NPT will meet but then the matter will fall into dormancy again. That is an ostrich’s policy. In light of the American statement, some things must be clearly stated:
The possibility that Israel’s nuclear facilities might be placed under IAEA inspection is not up for debate. It is a red line. Forever? Yes and no. In effect, yes; but in a future vision, no. When there are no more totalitarian states in the Middle East, when there are no longer any states calling for Israel’s destruction, and when it is proven that there is no nuclear weaponry in any of the countries between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, and there are no plans for manufacturing such weapons-only then will Israel agree to discuss its own situation in this sphere. Not a minute sooner.
The lack of response from Israel to the unusual comments from the U.S. could be interpreted as silent agreement, or perhaps conditional agreement. As Shmuel Gorodish once said, even where there is a biblical peace in the world, when the sheep lay down with the wolves, Israel will have to remain a wolf.”

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