The NPT is the cornerstone of the international norm against the spread of nuclear weapons, and is the only legal document committing all states to abandon nuclear weapons and to general and complete disarmament. The NPT is based on three basic pillars: nonproliferation, disarmament and the peaceful development of nuclear technology. In 1995, the agreement was extended for an indefinite term and in 2000, the parties approved a consensus document that included an unequivocal statement by nuclear weapons states to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Yet, in the run up to this year's meeting, many negative developments have taken place including North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT, evidence of Iran's hidden nuclear efforts and the discovery of the A.Q. Khan nuclear black market.
North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT, and its violation of the agreement before Pyongyang withdrew pose a serious threat to the NPT. But the problems with the NPT run far deeper than just one country. Questions about Iran's past violations of its safeguards agreement, the growing concern about the ability of states to acquire uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing - technologies that can contribute to a weapons program - under the protection of the NPT, and the perceived lack of progress on nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapon states all raise difficult questions for the treaty members in advance of their meeting, which begins May 2.
South Korea is well placed to contribute to the review of the agreement in all three areas. The extreme threat North Korea poses to South Korea puts Seoul in a special position to speak and act with authority on nonproliferation issues. South Korea's advanced nuclear power and research programs give it a strong position to speak on issues related to peaceful nuclear uses. And as a state whose security is used by the US, in part, to justify the continued need for nuclear weapons, South Korea's is uniquely placed to talk about the issues of disarmament and the need to continue progress towards a non-nuclear world.
Yet, to date, Seoul has been relatively quiet in the lead up to the NPT Review Conference. While Seoul is rightly focused on its continued diplomatic efforts to bring North Korea back into compliance with the NPT, the efforts by Seoul must go beyond this one issue. To play a bigger role, the government must dedicate additional staff and resources to the preparation for the meeting in New York and ensure a large, expert and empowered delegation is sent to the meeting in New York. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have a large staff and priority access to top officials to ensure that the South Korean delegation can play an active role in all of the Treaty's review efforts. Anything less is a missed opportunity by South Korea to have a more prominent role on the international stage.
It may be too late to achieve a consensus document out of the Review Conference, a traditional standard of success. But by playing an active and constructive role on more than just the issue of North Korea, Seoul can help develop broad areas of agreement on issues related to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the need to improve the treaty's terms to prevent illegal nuclear transfers and to help define more precisely the ways in which nuclear weapons states will pursue disarmament. By making the effort now, Seoul can help achieve a greater status for itself on the international stage and play a leading role on these critical issues in the years to come.
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