The nonproleferation regime is under fire. First, Israel rebuffed the integrity of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by its vigilante action against Iraq's Osirak reactor. Then, in his June 17 press briefing, President Reagan indicated it didn't really matter that Israel did not forswear nuclear weapons and become an NPT party, since many of the 114 current parties were probably developing them anyway. This treaty "doesn't lend itself to verification," he asserted.
The final blow came June 19, when former IAEA safeguards inspector Roger Richter stated before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iraq's intent to develop nuclear weapons was "obvious" and IAEA safeguards as currently constituted were "totally incapable of detecting the production of plutonium" in Baghdad.
The Reagan and Richter remarks are bombshells as potent as those which Israel dropped on Osirak. Perhaps Mr. Reagan's resulted from inadequate briefing, or from confusion between verifying SALT agreements and the safeguards of the NPT. One hopes. It is unsettling when the President of the country which, since Eisenhower, both promoted peaceful nuclear energy worldwide and designed the international rules to prevent its military diversion shows such little faith in the system.
Equally unsettling is the testimony of roger Richter. Mr. Richter explained, quite accurately, that "safeguards" represent an accounting system whereby the IAEA balances the books for the world's nuclear material flows. The agency sends its inspectors to the countries it serves on regular checkup missions to peer into reactor cores and verify if the number of fuel elements corrsponds to the inventory declared for that facility.
Knowing that Iraq could be undertaking activity not officially declared to the agency, however, and seeing no IAEA provision to warrant "snooping," Mr. Richter substantiated President Reagan's cynicism. Said Richter, "Perhaps the most disturbing implication of the Iraqi nuclear program is that the NPT agreement . . . absolve[s] the cooperating nations of their moral responsibility by shifting it to the IAEA."