UN to issue alert over spread of nuclear arms

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The world system to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons is being rapidly eroded, threatening a “cascade of proliferation,” a high-level panel on UN reform will say this week.

The report, due to be released on Thursday, will recommend the UN Security Council slow the spread of weapons using an explicit pledge of “collective action” against any state or group that launches a nuclear attack or even threatens such an attack on a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Kofi Annan, UN secretarygeneral, last year established a panel of 16 veteran politicians and diplomats from around the world to identify the main threats facing mankind. It identifies nuclear proliferation as a particular danger and it warns: “The nuclear proliferation regime is at risk because of lack of compliance with existing commitments, a changing international security environment, and radical advances in technology.

“We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the nuclear regime could become irreversible, and result in a cascade of proliferation.” In 1963, only four states had nuclear arsenals. Today eight states are known to have one, and several others are suspected of developing them. Close to 60 states operate or are building nuclear power or research reactors, and at least 30 possess the infrastructure to build nuclear weapons at relatively short notice. Terrorists are also believed to be seeking them.

To help prevent secret weapons programmes, the panel will also urge all countries to stop building enrichment or reprocessing facilities, until a global scheme is designed to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency to guarantee the supply of fissile material to genuine “civil nuclear users”.

The panel examined a wide range of threats, including terrorism, disease, poverty and environmental degradation. But the risk of nuclear Armageddon may be the most pressing of all, and has led to growing disagreement over how to tackle nuclear advances in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

It argues that nuclear weapons states “must honour their commitments to move towards disarmament”, and reaffirm promises not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. The Security Council pledge for “collective action” could help ease non-nuclear states' concerns.

All de facto nuclear states, including Israel, Pakistan and India (which are not named), should “pledge a commitment to non-proliferation and disarmament”, ratify the comprehensive test-ban treaty and support talks on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. In order to reduce supply, the panel says the IAEA's additional protocol should become the standard, and urges a new system whereby peaceful nuclear technology users could be guaranteed fissile material although the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes “must be preserved.”

In a possible bow to Washington, it also calls on “all states” to join the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative, with UN Security Council backing.

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