The original nuclear-weapons club of five nations remains almost as exclusive as ever, with just nine countries now holding atomic arsenals.
But they are not created equally. And as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is being reviewed during a May 3-28 conference in New York, Iran’s steady complaints about “nuclear hypocrisy” have taken hold among many non-nuclear weapons states.
"The possession of nuclear bombs is not a source of pride; it is disgusting and rather shameful," Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech on the conference's opening day. "And even more shameful it the threat to use or to use such weapons, which is not even comparable to any crime committed throughout the history.
Israel is not a signatory to the NPT, Iranians often point out, yet pays no price for its collection of some 200 warheads. India is also not an NPT member and first tested a nuclear explosive in 1974. Yet in 2008 pressure from Washington prompted waiving of a rule that opens India to nuclear trade with few restrictions. The controversial deal “will free up India’s limited domestic uranium supplies to be used exclusively for bomb-making,” notes a report just released by the Arms Control Association (ACA).
But it was America's unprecedented use of a nuclear bomb in World War II that Iran's President Ahmadinejad specifically called out at the opening of the NPT review conference.
At nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran last month, held just one week after President Obama brought together 47 heads of state for a nuclear security conference in Washington, conferees were shown emotional images of the fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“The deceptive policy by the sole nuclear offender, which falsely claims to be advocating the nonproliferation of nuclear arms while doing nothing substantive for this cause, will never succeed,” said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei.
That message resonated with many delegates. The final communiqué urged Israel to join the NPT and relinquish its atomic bombs as part of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
“The good news of this [Iran] conference – for all the anti-US rhetoric and using the bombs of Nagasaki, etc. – they were simultaneously affirming the NPT, saying that the IAEA was the main agency,” says Jim Walsh, a nuclear expert at MIT’s Security Studies Program in Boston. “That’s great … because the IAEA is telling them they have more to do to get this issue resolved.”
“I think governments are a lot more realistic than their rhetoric would sometimes lead you to believe,” adds Walsh. “This is about narrowing that hypocrisy.