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Not worth the paper

Various treaties exist concerning different types of weapons of mass destruction but all of them contain escape clauses and ambiguous formulations that facilitate routine violations

According to newspaper reports, a number of geologists have suggested that the recent nuclear explosions in India and Pakistan may have triggered an earthquake in northern Afghanistan. Whether or not this is the case, many people are likely to have suffered residual damage from the global wave of hypocritical vibrations which rapidly followed. Unquestionably the decision by the rulers of two such economically troubled countries to engage in a futile and costly nuclear rivalry should be regarded as insanely foolish. Nevertheless, such folly is hardly likely to be constrained by moralising lectures from the very governments who were content to make huge profits supplying the nuclear materials and technologies in the first place. Especially when those same governments continue to pursue their own strategic programmes with single-minded zeal, the US military alone admitting to no less than 1030 tests. Classified documents yet to be released are expected to reveal that there were more.

The posture currently adopted by the senior members of the nuclear club as concerned guardians of the environment, although unconvincing, is perfectly consistent given the demented system of logic they embrace. Not one of them signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty until their own experiments were satisfactorily concluded and greater technical expertise, together with improved computer simulation, rendered further testing unnecessary. At the same time they have all promised under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to strive in "good faith" to halt the nuclear arms race and work towards nuclear and general disarmament. It is a promise that is being cynically betrayed.

One of the few remaining jobs for life in capitalist society is that of disarmament negotiator-an occupation demanding the analytical brain of chess grandmaster combined with the duplicity of a card-sharp. Since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 (making the world safer for penguins) a further nineteen have been drafted dealing specifically with nuclear weapons, as well as others concerning chemical, biological, conventional, environmental and-er -"inhumane" weapons. Some are still to be signed or ratified but all of them incorporate escape clauses and sentences sufficiently ambiguous to admit interpretations facilitating routine violations. In any event, should even the most binding agreement become inconvenient, it would simply be ignored. As Richard Perle US Defense Secretary at the time of the Star Wars (SDI) hysteria wrote on 8 October 1982 with reference to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty "… we would not hesitate to renegotiate and failing Soviet acquiescence… I hope we would abrogate the treaty". The examples that follow typify the sort of trickery employed.

Outer space treaty 1967

Article IV decrees: "States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in Orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner."

At first sight this seems quite unequivocal but if it were it would never have been sanctioned. During the lengthy discussions prior to signing, a memo to the American Secretary of Defense from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (23 November 1965) stipulated: "… the provisions of this treaty should not preclude the conduct of intelligence activities deemed essential to security." Nor does it! Significantly the agreement fails to prohibit the launching of nuclear reactor powered satellites and, consequently, there are dozens of nuclear reactors orbiting the globe. Should their deep space disposal boosters malfunction then highly radioactive debris would fall to earth, adding to that already deposited from earlier mishaps in space.

To a disarmament negotiator words seldom mean what they appear to say and Article IV of the OST is no exception. One contention is that it only excludes nuclear weapons if they are intended for mass destruction and would not apply to any positioned in space to intercept missile attacks. This kind of sophistry merely fuels the suspicion that the reality was accurately encapsulated in the famous declaration by Senator Barry Goldwater: "Space is just another place where wars will be fought." A view that is widely echoed (though not publicly endorsed) by policy makers in the Pentagon. In 1976 a convention was established that required any object being fired into space to be registered by the United Nations. Curiously, it does not demand an independent examination to verify the nature and objective of satellites-an omission that could be construed as ominous.

Non-proliferation treaty 1968

Since coming into force in 1970 (extended indefinitely in 1995) this treaty has been signed by all but five states-India, Pakistan, Israel, Brazil and Cuba-and is widely regarded as the most successful of modern times. But the promise of the nuclear signatories to work for disarmament and not to supply, or assist others to obtain, nuclear weapons has manifestly been broken. The arms race continues and the capacity for other powers to make nuclear weapons has markedly increased. Indeed, after the Gulf War ended in 1991 it was discovered that they were about to be built in Iraq despite the pledge of that government not to do so under the terms of the NPT.

Because of the comparative ease in evading the existing monitoring mechanisms of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a provision was added to the NPT in 1997 granting wider powers of inspection and control. Unfortunately it is only obligatory for the members who voluntarily accept it which, so far, is only a small minority. Yet 60 countries now have nuclear reactors and if the rulers of any one of them decided they needed a nuclear bomb, the NPT could not stop them getting it. Most conveniently, under Article X each party has the right to withdraw at three months notice "… if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country". In certain circumstances, of course, the notice given might be a little less!

Sea bed treaty 1971

This treaty bans nuclear weapons from being fixed to the seabed beyond a twelve mile coastal limit. Its inadequacy becomes immediately obvious if you imagine a similar restriction being applied to aircraft on runways. Unhindered by the treaty an unceasing high-tech war is being waged at sea. In the attempt to counteract the threat of nuclear submarines the oceans has been transformed into a gigantic listening station, with underwater sensors fixed to the seabed, others suspended at different levels up to the surface and still more towed by ships. Smart mines with in-built computers are able to distinguish between the different sounds made by various vessels, while hunter-killer submarines-with their own delicate sensors-patrol in silence, armed with nuclear rockets (SUBROCS) and torpedoes. But whatever expensive or extravagant countermeasures are devised (including the deployment of specially trained dolphins) they can do little to diminish the awesome threat posed by submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The Trident carrying boats, for instance, are almost 200 metres long and can remain submerged deep below the surface for several months. Each one can deliver nearly 200 warheads with a range of thousands of kilometres and costs in excess of a 100 billion dollars. Trident missiles, already capable of devastation on an unprecedented scale, are currently being updated to make them more efficient. At any given time there are almost two thousand warheads at sea, the majority of them under US command.

Not surprisingly there is a chilling legacy from all this activity. Over three thousand naval accidents have occurred during the nuclear age, leaving eleven nuclear reactors and at least fifty nuclear warheads on the ocean floor. Since they are not "fixed" however, they do not contravene the SBT.

Chemical weapons convention 1993

This Convention which came into force in 1997, requires the destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles within 10 to 15 years. Although the failure to dispose of old stocks is highly dangerous, the programme is already well behind schedule and despite the considerable powers granted to inspectors under the CWC cheating about production is still possible. One obvious reason is that so many of the chemicals produced for quite different purposes can be used in combination to make weapons. The stockpiles of chemical weapons held in America and Russia are at least 30 thousand tonnes each and both of these governments have authorised the use of chemicals in war and in experiments on civilians.

When a stockpile of nerve-bombs was destroyed by the US in the 1970s they kept the "remnants" in case the "Russians had some" (they did). These "remnants" were theoretically capable of killing 140 billion people. Johnston Island in the South Pacific, previously the target for nuclear test explosions, houses a vast incinerator complex for the disposal of enough chemical waste to kill most of the inhabitants of Earth.

Biological and toxins weapons convention 1972

Signatories agree not to develop, stockpile or acquire "microbial or other biological agents or toxins . . that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes" or "weapons… designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict".

Once again the wordsmiths have displayed their special skill. Here the key phrases are "other peaceful purposes" and "hostile purposes", leading to repeated claims by Western and Russian governments that they are only producing "antidotes" in their laboratories which is permitted by the Convention. The legitimate use of toxic microbes in the production of vaccines only compounds the difficulties of the highly complex mechanisms for verification, making deception even easier than it is with chemicals. Many governments, including those of Britain, America and Russia are known to have authorised the use of biological agents in war and in experiments upon civilians.

The important thing to remember about treaties is that no government is forced to sign them and, if they do, they cannot be made to keep them. One thing is for sure: for as long as we live in a system in which the protection of minority economic interests is paramount the arms race will continue. Even if the nuclear powers had a genuine desire for disarmament, which they don't, the cost of disposing of the massive, highly toxic arsenal (100s of billions of dollars) remains. The very size of these arsenals creates another problem-the decommissioning of nuclear reactors will take hundreds of years. The automatic response has been to attempt to solve the problem as cheaply as possible, with scant regard for the environment or the safety of those who inhabit it. Even the penguins are not really safe since the Antarctic treaty does not forbid the presence of "peaceful" nuclear reactors.

While defence expenditure by the major military powers is declining-dramatically in Russia and by over 5 percent annually in the US-weapons research, refinement and development continues to expand. For some projects in the US funds have actually been increased and the current defence budget of the US is still a staggering $242.6 billion. The projection of the present administration is that it will begin to rise again after 2001.

One of the justifications for this is GPALS (Gee, Pals, we can still make a buck or two)-Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. Even if the Start II reduction program is completed on schedule (2003) which is highly improbable, each side would still be entitled to keep 3500 deployed nuclear warheads and the only ones likely to be discarded are those it is no longer considered necessary to keep.

Meanwhile, secret military budgets continue to finance research into a new generation of weapons. Already a huge and fast expanding military-cybernetic complex has been established and experiments of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) as a weapon continue unabated. EMR signals which cause neurological alteration and can induce sickness or death are known to have been beamed upon civilians in both Russia and America. Some scientists believe that transmitting these highly powerful waves may not only cause earthquakes but "airquakes" as well…