Pantelis Ikonomou, a former IAEA nuclear safeguards inspector who holds a PhD in nuclear physics from the University of Vienna, writes:
Nuclear capability is a key factor in global alignments and strategic balances. President Trump has upset both:
- He has failed to block North Korea’s nuclear program or insist on its adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
- He has encouraged US friends such as Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to obtain nuclear weapons, in breach of the NPT, which could initiate such efforts by other middle powers, including Turkey and Egypt.
- During his visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel, Trump did not refer to a Middle East Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone, a goal set by UN Security Council Resolution 687 (April 1991) and reinforced in the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Neither did the US president urge the Saudis to abandon the notion of a possible nuclear capability under “certain circumstances,” as often expressed by Saudi Arabian officials.
- The US president has suggested abandoning the P5+1 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which would end the related International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring mission that provides unprecedented transparency for the Iranian nuclear program.
- President Trump additionally disrespected basic international commitments (NPT article VI and the New Start Treaty) by planning to extend and upgrade the US nuclear arsenal.
These moves cast a shadow over the NPT, which is the cornerstone of global arms control and non-proliferation efforts. Lack of US adherence dramatically weakens the treaty, since universality is already its Achilles heel.
The May 2015 NPT review conference in New York failed to produce conclusions, which demonstrated the gap between the nuclear weapons states (and their allies) and the rest of the world. Most UN member states have now joined an effort to produce this year a legally binding global treaty to make nuclear weapons illegal. The objective is to pressure the nuclear powers to eliminate nuclear weapons.
German chancellor Angela Merkel at the Munich Security Conference this year questioned the President’s understanding of the UN and EU. She wondered “will we be able to act in concert together or (will we) fall back into parochial policies?”
Trump has not offered a clear vision of a new world order. Nor does he (and the rest of the Western world) appear ready to accept the ongoing redistribution of power and international realignments. Aristotle defined the “final cause” as “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done.” Trump’s purposes remain obscure. The world remains concerned and uncertain.