Friday, July 28, 2006

Nuclear proliferation

The U.S. House this week gave approval to a nuclear cooperation deal with India.

Though the agreement deals with civilian nuclear cooperation, and in any event India has already built nuclear weapons using material that they already have, some concerns were raised that this may send the wrong message.

And I agree that it might. But maybe we need to reconsider the message in the first place.

First of all I have no problem with the United States working cooperatively with India or any other friendly nation in a matter that is ultimately one of commerce. If the Indians want to purchase nuclear reactor parts and fuel and we don't consider it a security threat to sell it to them, then by all means we should sell it to them.

The problem that this raises is that as we consider that India is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and has in fact developed nuclear weapons, it seriously undercuts any grounds for objection we might have to China, Russia or other nations selling nuclear components or material to nations like North Korea or Iran, which we have in the past cited the non-proliferation treaty to argue against.

And certainly the Russians or the Chinese will take note of this congressional vote (which itself is only a small step in the sequence of events which will need to take place before a single American nuclear component or fuel rod is shipped to India) next time Condoleeza Rice or someone else tells them not to sell things like this to Iran and say, "Well, you're doing it." The perception that Iran is a bigger threat to peace than India is an American perception. The Chinese, whose relations with India have always been chilly and who fought a war with India in 1962, but have always had cordial relations with Iran and especially with North Korea, have much the opposite view to ours about which nation is a greater threat.

While this argument is valid, I would suggest that we consider a different approach entirely.

To begin with, we must realize that the idea that we can prevent anyone from developing technology that we had sixty years ago (including the ability to enrich uranium) is ridiculous. That genie left the bottle years ago. We must also realize that India, Pakistan and North Korea have essentially made a mockery of the whole idea of non-proliferation in the first place. If we want the world to take this all seriously, then we need to draw a new line, which acknowleges where we are now, not where we were during the Cold War, and which the world can get behind. Then show enough leadership to get the world committed, instead of mucking it up with a 'go it alone' agenda.

In fact, I made such a proposal a year ago. It was when I made my second post, On Nuclear Proliferation and Iran. I'm not sure very many people saw it because I didn't even advertise that I had a blog outside of my immediate circle of blogger buddies. And the proposal would otherwise have been very controversial, and certainly frought with danger, but it is realistic. If you read the whole post you will see the whole analysis, and with the benefit of hindsight I believe it would be better for the U.S. to work towards getting a commitment in advance from other nations than to try and do it ourselves, but here is what I said last year (with the inclusion of ideas to make it less unilateral):

How about a nuclear version of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ that focuses not on the development of nuclear weapons, but rather makes it plain that any nation which uses them in war will be at war with the United States and a coalition of other countries that signed the 'anti-use' treaty (replacing the anti-proliferation treaty) and can expect a ‘regime change?’. How can a country avoid this? Simple, build your nukes, fight your wars, but DON’T USE THE NUKES IN THE WARS. Is this fail-safe? No. And where we can make it as difficult as possible for other countries to get nukes, we should still do so. But instead of invoking a now routinely violated line that countries should not build nukes (which Pakistan, India and North Korea have already made a joke out of), we have a better chance of making a new line stick, and I suspect it is a line which, despite its unilateralism, would be welcomed by the world. The beauty is that such a direct statement does not make any distinction between nations, either based on current or future alliances or rivalries. And in case a terrorist group blows up a nuke, develop the intelligence (which we already pretty much have) that can analyze the results and determine where the bomb came from. Uranium from different sources has different types of impurities so it would not be that hard to determine.

Is this controversial. Absolutely. But it is a more realistic approach than a haphazard approach of 'Tweedle-dee can build nukes and we'll help him build them, but tweedle-dum can't, because we trust tweedle-dee but not tweedle-dum.'

1 comment:

Chuck said...

"To begin with, we must realize that the idea that we can prevent anyone from developing technology that we had sixty years ago (including the ability to enrich uranium) is ridiculous."

Exactly. And really, nation-states at different levels of technology will not be able to keep the humans on this planet from blowing themselves up. A true concerted effort is the only one that will allow us to survive.

This society truly is (and really always has been) one of interdependency) and socially, we are a mess, so I don't see it (our survival) happening unless there are some serious and drastic changes in the way we co-exist, communicate and interact.