Nuclear treaty 'not a failure' despite challenges, says first U.S. arms control general counsel

May 2005 opened with a bleak couple of weeks for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Delegates from 189 countries struggled to settle on an agenda for the seventh 5-year review of the Treaty, North Korea announced a new extraction of plutonium from its reactor to make nuclear weapons, and Iran stood firm against European attempts to dissuade it from pursuing a nuclear energy program that could be diverted for weapons-making. Yet CISAC's George Bunn, in an interview with BBC's "The World," cautioned against despair.

As the first general counsel to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Bunn has watched the NPT weather many diplomatic storms since it entered into force in 1970. Far from a failure, the treaty prevented nuclear weapons from becoming a commonplace in nations' defense programs, he said.

"I think that if there were no NPT, there would be something like 35 to 40 countries with nuclear weapons," Bunn explained. "When you think that at the time of our negotiations in the 60s, Sweden and Switzerland both had programs to explore the possibility of making nuclear weapons"--ambitions that the NPT helped dissuade--the treaty has provided incalculable benefits to world security. "If Sweden and Switzerland had nuclear weapons, think how many other countries would have them," he added.

Today the treaty's main weakness is its focus on states' possession of nuclear weapons, at a time when terrorists' ambitions to acquire the weapons is a major concern. At the treaty's outset, "terrorism wasn't perceived by us as a threat. The treaty hardly deals with the threat of terrorism," Bunn said.

The radio interview with George Bunn and his son Matthew Bunn, also a nuclear arms expert, is available at the link below. (Windows Media Player is required.)