Now, as Mark Hibbs reports, the IAEA seems to have unilaterally informed members that under new "State-Level" safeguards each country will be subject to a unique but also non-negotiable safeguards regimen. The entire safeguards system appears to be morphing into a bizarre extra-judicial Rube Goldberg contraption that even signatory nations don't understand.
There is obviously a limit to how far the non-nuclear-weapon states will allow themselves to be placed under such increasingly onerous and labyrinthine (and at times, even contradictory) safeguards requirements while the nuclear-weapon states show little interest in taking their own disarmament obligations seriously. That limit is now being reached. This is not because most states without nuclear weapons have any interest in acquiring them -- or even acquiring nuclear energy for that matter -- but because the perception of the equitable bargain at the heart of the NPT has been destroyed. It's simply a matter of dignity and fairness even before any legalese is parsed.
The so-called "gang of four" -- George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn -- put it well: the "continued reliance on nuclear weapons as the principal element for deterrence is encouraging, or at least excusing, the spread of these weapons, and will inevitably erode the essential cooperation necessary to avoid proliferation."
So what's the way out -- what would an NPT 2.0 look like? A bold new bargain would offer a "more-for-more" deal. The nuclear-weapon states -- or at least Russia and the United States, with a hefty 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons between them - would offer swift and drastic reductions in their weapons stockpiles in exchange for the outright elimination of nuclear fuel processing activities (such as dual-use uranium enrichment and plutonium processing) in non-nuclear weapon states.
The chief of the Air Force's Strategic Plans and Policy Division recently argued that the United States could easily go down to 311 nuclear weapons -- instead of the 8,000 or so (deployed and reserve) we now hang around our neck as "bling," out of little more than Cold War inertia. Russia and other nuclear-weapon states could also make similar dramatic cuts in their arsenals without affecting deterrence one iota. In fact, such cuts ought not be seen as a concession at all: as Prof. Martin Hellman has persuasively argued, nuclear deterrence is not risk-free -- the 60-odd years of no accidental or unauthorized nuclear war only places very weak limits on how much longer our luck will hold out. Offshore oil drilling was also considered very safe for 50 years until the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Nuclear deterrence is perfectly safe until it isn't. The point is that any more nuclear weapons than the absolute bare minimum entails extra risk for us -- not to mention cost. It is in our own self-interest to dispose of them as soon as possible.
And, in return for such cuts, instead of individual non-nuclear-weapon states processing their own nuclear fuel, multinational fuel banks could be set-up to centralize and control nuclear material transfers. With the enormous amounts saved by slashing the budgets for nuclear weapons upkeep, the United States and Russia and other nuclear-weapon states could also help fund the IAEA to run and oversee such fuel banks. There would also be plenty of money left over for boosting the budget of the IAEA safeguards department so that it could better monitor nuclear transfers from the fuel banks in signatory nations. While certain non-nuclear-weapon states may be hesitant to give up fuel cycle activities altogether, inducements could be offered to reduce such activities to research-level programs.