NTI’s Richard Johnson on Strengthening the NPT

NTI’s Richard Johnson on Strengthening the NPT

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Read the full written statement here.

Opening Remarks:

Chairman Deutch, Chairman Bera, Ranking Member Wilson, Ranking Member Yoho, thank you for inviting me to testify this morning.  I will give a short summary of my written testimony, which I have submitted for the record.

I would like to make three main points:

  1. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) – the cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation regime – is under strain due to growing frustration on the part of the non-nuclear weapon states about the perceived slow pace of nuclear disarmament.
  2. While the NPT has been largely successful over the past 50 years in preventing proliferation, the distinct cases of North Korea and Iran are clear exceptions that provide lessons for how to strengthen the treaty’s implementation by:
  • enhancing the international nuclear safeguards system,
  • effectively using tools like sanctions and export controls, and
  • encouraging the peaceful uses of nuclear energy while preventing military uses.

3. Universal adherence to the NPT remains the fundamental goal, but we must also prepare for the worst-case scenario and prevent states from abusing the withdrawal provision of the Treaty.

Let me now elaborate on these three points.

First, the NPT has proven to be a durable legal foundation for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, and we must preserve and strengthen it.  Today, though, many non-nuclear weapon states increasingly question whether the five recognized nuclear weapon states are committed to upholding their end of the NPT bargain.  The nuclear weapon states – led by the United States and Russia– must demonstrate a good-faith commitment to progress on disarmament.  A necessary first step in this regard is for the United States and Russia to agree to extend the New START Treaty.  The United States and Russia – and eventually other states, including China – should also commit to beginning discussions urgently on further steps to reduce nuclear risks, including further reductions in nuclear arsenals.

Second, what have we learned from our experience with North Korea and Iran? The North Korean case is a cautionary tale that it is far preferable to prevent a state from acquiring nuclear weapons than to try to roll back a fully developed nuclear weapons program. This lesson was applied in the case of Iran, which unlike North Korea, does not have a nuclear weapon.  This is because the international community came together on the basis of the NPT using economic sanctions and diplomatic engagement to address Tehran’s undeclared nuclear activities, its nascent weapons program, and its lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  

The IAEA safeguards system remains essential to preventing proliferation, but more can be done to strengthen it.  A key goal is to encourage all NPT parties, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, to adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which has become the new standard for monitoring and verifying the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in a state.  The Iran nuclear deal incorporated innovative detection and monitoring procedures that should be considered for broader application.  The IAEA should also continue to develop advanced technologies in sampling and data analysis to increase detection levels.

Export controls are a critical element in preventing the diversion of dual-use equipment or technologies to non-peaceful activities.  Key states – including China – should work to strengthen export control enforcement.  Future UN sanctions regimes should follow the model of establishing “panels of experts” to improve enforcement of sanctions.

Encouraging innovative forms of peaceful nuclear cooperation can bolster the Treaty.  The “Nunn-Lugar” model of Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR), which was central to helping the states of the former Soviet Union eliminate and reduce weapons of mass destruction, could be repurposed for use in North Korea.  Such a program could incentivize North Korea to take nuclear dismantlement steps in return for technical and economic assistance on denuclearization.  The involvement of multiple countries in a CTR effort would enhance the sustainability of a denuclearization process.

Third, and finally, the North Korea case highlights the importance of addressing the potential abuse of the NPT’s withdrawal clause.  North Korea is the only state to have withdrawn from the treaty, after violating its obligations and pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program.  NPT states parties should make clear that a withdrawing state would remain responsible for any violations it committed while still in the treaty and be subject to international sanctions and limitations in nuclear cooperation.  

I appreciate the opportunity to provide my views to the subcommittees today, and I look forward to answering any questions.

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