Tracking Number:  389021

Title:  "The Real Story of the NPT Negotiations." The US ambassador to South Africa attempts to dismiss misconceptions South African readers might have developed about the renewal of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). (950427)

Date:  19950427

THE REAL STORY OF THE NPT NEGOTIATIONS (NPT: Nuclear spread danger "becoming more serious") (1540) By Princeton Lyman U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Over the last several weeks there have been numerous stories in the South African press -- the Star, the Pretoria News, the Sunday Times, the Weekly Mail and Guardian -- about the negotiations over the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As the United States was mentioned prominently in these stories, indeed my name was used frequently, I waited for a single journalist -- or one of the experts quoted in the articles, for that matter -- to contact the Embassy for comment, for verification, for any input into the stories. The phone never rang. So I am writing the facts of these negotiations for those who would like them. Perhaps one of the South African papers would like to print them.

THE NUB OF THE MATTER Not one of the stories, nor any of the experts quoted, has focused on the technical problem which is driving the debate over how to extend the NPT. The fact is that the NPT permits only one further extension. Any extensions beyond that would require the treaty to be returned for ratification by its members. We know from other experiences -- for example, the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed in 1993, but still not ratified into force -- that such a process can take years, and the outcome is never certain.

Thus if the NPT were extended for five years, or ten, or even with some "rolling" formula, the treaty would come apart after the first period designated. At that point, the legal force, the obligations, all the enforcement mechanisms would cease to operate until the new ratification process was complete. Not only would the treaty cease to operate, the certainty that it would operate again would be gone. The nuclear field would become one of temporary if not permanent anarchy.

The prospect is chilling. There may be many things wrong with the present treaty, and much that should be fixed. But certainly, the problems of "inequality," lack of security for non-nuclear states, and pressures for further disarmament would not be ameliorated by having the number of nuclear states go from five to ten, or twenty, and for international norms and mechanisms to disappear. I am horrified to see the NPT described as an "apartheid treaty," as if the spread of nuclear weapons was some desirable good to be enjoyed by everyone. It is in fact the poorer (or more responsible) nations, who cannot or will not spend the billions of dollars to acquire nuclear weapons, that are most threatened by neighbors who would.

It is ironic, moreover, that the debate over the effectiveness of the NPT occurs at a time when we are witnessing unprecedented progress toward nuclear disarmament, at a pace virtually unthinkable a few years ago. Treaties already signed have ushered in the process of destruction of two-thirds of the world's nuclear weapons. The remainder are no longer targeted, lifting the terrible weight of momentary Armageddon from the shoulders of the world for the first time in decades. (Up until just a few years ago, school children in the U.S. regularly underwent nuclear bomb raid drills).

At the same time, the danger of nuclear spread is becoming more serious, as controls in some states become lax and the technology becomes both more widely known and smaller to manage. We have all witnessed the horror of the bombing in Oklahoma City, and we are grateful for the outpouring of condolences we have received. Imagine what horror would have occurred if terrorists, of any nationality including our own, had access to nuclear weapons. No one in the world could feel safe.

THE U.S.-SOUTH AFRICA DIALOGUE I know it sounds good, especially for those who prefer drama over reality, to say that diplomacy is carried out by "threats," "bullying," "pressure," etc. It sounds good (or dramatic) but it is not the way it is done. In thirty-four years in the service of my country, ostensibly the most powerful on earth, I have rarely if ever seen such tactics used, and when tried they normally backfire.

The reasons are these. First of all, the relations between countries are complex and serve a variety of interests. To pit all those interests on one matter, or one U.N. vote, is to shoot oneself in the foot. And if one is bluffing, the likelihood is that the bluff will be called. Second, all nations -- large and small, rich and poor -- have pride and dignity, especially when their sovereignty is threatened. Small states do not take kindly to bullying, all states react negatively to it. For years, the vast majority of U.N. members, large and small, many U.S. aid-recipients, voted against the U.S. on critical U.N. issues. They were never "bullied" into doing otherwise, even when their votes created great anguish in the U.S. Nor were their aid levels ever cut as a consequence.

The actual way in which a nation conveys a matter of great importance to it is in the intensity and level of communication. On the issue of the NPT, which is of great and vital importance to us, we have communicated with great intensity and at the highest level with South Africa and all other member states. Those communications convey not threats, but why we feel the issue is of importance to us and, in this case, to the other members. Other nations do the same. South Africa conveys to us with intensity and at the highest level issues of great importance to it, for example peace and security matters in southern Africa, trade and development issues, etc.

We did not tie this dialogue to South Africa's membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The U.S. communicated its support for South African membership in the NSG more than a year ago, before the NPT issue was on the books. South Africa became a member before its position on NPT was developed. We did not threaten to withhold nuclear cooperation with South Africa. We have too many reasons to pursue such cooperation.

THE SOUTH AFRICA RESPONSE Contrary to reports that South Africa "buckled" under U.S. pressure, or made its decision on this matter because of threats of non-cooperation in nuclear matters, or that South Africa had failed to use its moral ground effectively, the South African response has been careful, responsible and above all principled. From the first discussion of this matter with us, the South African Government made clear that it would make up its mind only after carefully investigating the issue, and after discussing it with its OAU and NAM partners, with the Parliament, and in the Cabinet.

South Africa did its research. The Government did an extensive legal analysis of the treaty and concluded, as did other experts, that the treaty permitted only one further extension without opening up the whole process of re-ratification. At the same time, South Africa consulted widely with southern Africa, other OAU and NAM members. It assembled an analysis of their concerns with the treaty and demands.

South Africa conveyed back to us that unless these concerns were addressed the large majority that we and others sought for indefinite extension could not be obtained. Going further, South Africa took on the task of trying to formulate both the means and substance of such assurances that would both address these concerns while preserving the essence of the NPT. South Africa emerged as a key contributor to the debate and the resolution of this critically important subject.

The communications between us thus consisted mainly of technical papers, analyses, comments and exchanges over these matters. I am sure the same was done with other interested governments. We listened carefully to South Africa and to others raising these issues. President Clinton moved to strengthen the U.N. Security Council guarantees to non-nuclear states, and to press forward with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Up to the day Foreign Minister Nzo left for New York, we were in high level communication with South Africa on how to move ahead together on South Africa's proposals, and this consultation continues in New York.

Minister Nzo's speech to the NPT conference was thus not a "capitulation" to the U.S. or other nuclear states but the product of a careful and principled investigation of the issue. President Mandela, from the outset of his administration, has pledged South Africa to the cause of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Deputy Executive President Thabo Mbeki made this a major theme of his first address to the U.N. South Africa continues to build upon those principles. It has become an active sponsor of the African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty and the Indian Ocean Zone of Peace. The NPT, with its international expertise and mechanisms, is critical to the achievement of these goals. We share the same principles and want to work with South Africa to achieve them.

This is the real stuff of diplomacy. And it is in this case diplomacy at its very best: serving the interests of all parties and indeed of all mankind.