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January 16, 2006

A New Grand Bargain for Nuclear Nonproliferation
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

With Iran and North Korea both continuing to defy American efforts to get them to abandon nuclear programs, we need to consider whether we are on the right track in our attempts to halt nuclear proliferation.   

The NPT tried to create a grand bargain.  States, other than the five who had already tested nuclear weapons, would agree not to develop such weapons.  In return they would receive assistance in developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Ever since, all American administrations have adopted a double standard in implementing this bargain, looking the other way when our friends decline to sign and ratify the NPT or hedge their commitments and coming down hard on "rogue states."   However, the Bush administration has taken this posture several steps further by accepting the Indian nuclear programs and by seeking sanctions against Iran (which continues to observe its treaty obligations) and North Korea which has exercised its right to withdraw from the treaty.

The United States needs to put forward neutral rules which apply to all states and which take account of the realities of the twenty-first century.

Not enough attention has been paid to the contrast between how the administration is dealing with India and Pakistan as opposed to its dealings with Iran and North Korea. 

In the case of India, the administration has agreed to provide support for the Indian nuclear power program even though India has not signed the NPT and is deploying nuclear weapons in clear violation of the norms of the treaty.  The Indians were not even asked to agree to cease the production of fissionable material for weapons, although they were asked not to conduct any additional tests of nuclear weapons.   (This is, to say the least, strange since the administration resolutely defends the right of the United States to test nuclear weapons and refuses to ratify the test ban treaty.)

Pakistan stands exposed as the leading proliferator, having helped many countries, including North Korea, develop nuclear weapons.   It possesses such weapons and continues to produce fissionable material and reserves the right to test.  It is not a democracy nor does it have a stable government.  Yet the administration says not a word in protest.

How are North Korea and Iran different?   They are countries that we do not like and that we have labeled part of an axis of evil.  The problem is that we need the cooperation of other countries if we are to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and persuade North Korea to give up its weapons.

Our current approach to nonproliferation is untenable. We must  enunciate neutral principles and create a new bargain.   

The first step is to acknowledge and deal with the real security issues which other states face.   The United States needs to be willing to give up its right to threaten the use of nuclear weapons and work with the P-5 to give effective positive and negative security assurances to states which adhere faithfully to the NPT.    We should drastically reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons and take them all off alert.  We should ratify the test ban treaty and commit to serious negotiations for a treaty which bans the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes with effective inspection procedures.   We can then move to stigmatize nuclear weapons and insist that no state has the right to deploy or threaten to use them.

Second, we need a new bargain on peaceful nuclear programs which treats all states equally.  The Russian offer to process uranium for the Iranians may be one place to start.  Pulling back from our offer to India (which Congress in any case may and should block) is another.

The administration is heading in the opposite direction.   The end result may be a successfully defiant North Korea and a disastrous war with Iran.   

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Comments

- i rather hope someone more important than myself has read this and is willing to rein in the WH cowboys, else your "disaterous war" might well become the ME in flames...

think down the road (assuming the administration does what it does best: ignore good advice)- other than ashes, what good rises out of said conflagration?

oil with a half life of 1000 years? endless war? the rapture? or just more billions of dollars and tens thousands of lives wasted?

the US has nothing to gain and everything to lose by i) invading/occupying yet another country or ii) bombing it.

Excellent post, Mort.

"We should drastically reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons and take them all off alert."

Which will have precisely nil effect on Iran's nuclear weapons dreams. They've been carrying on doing whatever they want while stringing along the European 3 in pointless talks.

If Iran develops nuclear weapons I doubt very much that they will hesitate to use them- or to hand them out to terrorists whose goals of "death to America" that they share.

What's better, trying to deal with the problem now or wait until they have nuclear weapons and then trying to prevent them using them?

America unilaterally disarming herself in any way is not the solution to this problem. As well as the Middle East and North Korea don't forget that China is rapidly modernising its military. The United States needs its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent- it's been doing its job successfully for decades, now is not the time to take it away.

"We should drastically reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons and take them all off alert."

*Which will have precisely nil effect on Iran's nuclear weapons dreams.*

It's a long-term plan. It would help with the various other nations that are concerned about a US first strike. See, if the point is that we're the hegemon that can force everybody else to give up their nukes while we keep ours and remain the only nuclear threat ... if nukes are a privilege of empire ... then everybody but us will have reason to resist that.

But if we're part of a global community that really doesn't intend to threaten people unless they prove they're very bad guys indeed, then it gets a lot easier. Except with the very bad guys, of course.

*If Iran develops nuclear weapons I doubt very much that they will hesitate to use them- or to hand them out to terrorists whose goals of "death to America" that they share.*

You're welcome to your doubts. About the terrorists, I strongly disagree.

Look at it this way: Suppose that for some idiotic reason we wanted to smuggle a nuke into cuba. Would we send in the SEALs with a nuke, or would we hand a nuke to some group of cuban exiles and tell them they had our full confidence?

If for some reason we wanted to smuggle a nuke into iran, would we give it to the peshmerga and tell them, "We know you share our goals, so we're trusting you to smuggle this nuke into iran"? Hell no. We'd send a team of US special forces, and we might very well get kurdish help but we probably wouldn't tell them what we were carrying.

It isn't that we wouldn't trust them not to keep it for themselves or blow it up in turkey etc. It's that we wouldn't trust their competence and dedication. Well, also we wouldn't trust them not to make their own plan. That too.

But maybe a crazy foreign dictator, no telling what he'd do? No. The past 5 years have shown us that you don't need to be sane to get to the top and run a country, but there are only certain kinds of insanity that can make it. The kind of politician who'd trust terrorists with nukes would never get to the top, he'd trust the wrong people early and lose out.

Terrorists are amateurs with spotty training and dubious goals. Nobody is going to give them nukes. Bush might prove me wrong, he might give nukes to some sort of pro-US terrorists. But I doubt it. He couldn't be that stupid.

Now, before the russians got nukes we talked like it was vital they not learn the nuclear secrets because we knew if they got nukes they'd use them. But they haven't used them yet. And before the chinese got nukes we asked the russians to go in with us on an attack on china to stop them, because if they got nukes they'd use them. The russians declined. Then a few years later they got worried and asked us what we'd do if they did a surgical strike and got rid of the almost-ready chinese nukes, and we said we'd take a dim view of it. And the chinese haven't used their nukes yet. I don't remember a lot of talk about india being irresponsible and using their nukes. But there was a lot of talk that pakistan would use their nukes on india or israel or both. And they haven't, yet. And back when the israelis got nukes, a lot of people were worried they'd use them. (But not americans.) And they haven't, yet.

I'd say that we *always* think each new nuclear power will use them, except india is the counterexample. I don't know why we didn't think it of india. Maybe because when most americans think about india all they can remember is Gandhi? And then there are the british and the french. We never thought they'd nuke anybody, we were busy worried about russia in those days.

Anyway, the odds are slightly against you. Of five rogue states that got nukes, so far only one has used them.

*What's better, trying to deal with the problem now or wait until they have nuclear weapons and then trying to prevent them using them?*

It depends. If we can cheaply and easily deal with it now while waiting means we inevitably get nuked, then we should do it now.

But if it's a question of Bush starting a new initiative versus Bush sitting still, then we should encourage him to sit still. What has Bush ever started that turned out cheap and easy? Or successful, for that matter?

Suppose we go after iran and russia or china announce that they have a treaty and they consider any attack on iran as an attack on their country. Bush could get us into a big nuclear war this year. Far better to take a chance of a small nuclear war at sometime in the future.

I guess it doesn't get any worse than that. Probably global thermonuclear destruction is the worst that can happen from Bush taking action now about iran. But I'm not *sure* that's the worst he can do. He's surprised me before.

Other possible bad results: China does economic warfare against the USA. Or china's oil imports get cut to the point they are forced into actions that would otherwise be economic warfare. Or the whole world agrees on sanctions against the USA, and while they cheat enough that we get a lot of imports, still those imports turn quite expensive. Iran becomes a russian protectorate and russia gets control of iran's oil. Etc.

We're stuck with bad choices. We could get a lot of trouble no matter what we do. My own belief is we do better to do nothing, because this is what Bush does best. But let's stop and notice why we're in this mess. A long time ago iran was struggling to set up a democracy, and we sent in the CIA to overthrow them and put in the Shah. That was good for us in the short run. The Shah would always do what we wanted, while with democracies you never know -- they have a tendency to cater to the local populace. Only then the Shah doublecrossed us with OPEC. (He cleared it with Kissinger ahead of time but Kissinger wasn't really paying attention.) We've had trouble with iran ever since. Was it worth it? Looking back I doubt it.

Are we doing something like that today? Bush tried to get rid of democracy in venezuela, and bungled it. In the long run we'd be even worse off if he'd succeeded.

Try out this idea: Maybe nuclear nonproliferation is dead, though it will take a few years for it to stop twitching. In a world with a lot of nuclear powers, you don't win by having the most nukes. You win by having the fewest nuclear nations where most people hate your guts. The USA is not poised to do well in that arena just yet.

It is the thought process displayed in this post, that makes me throw up my hands in despair at Liberals' inability to deal with the world as it exists. Even smart liberals seem incapable of distinguishing between "Friends/Good Guys" and "Enemies/Bad Guys". To boil this post down to its essence - our response to bad guys (e.g. Iran, North Korea..or their undemocratic regimes to be more precise) doing bad things should be to get tougher with our friends (Israel, India)! That will teach them a lesson! The mind reels...

For the record, I am a middle of the road, blue state, dark skinned, gay man. I wouldn't even think of voting for Republicans if not for the fear that people like Mr . Halperin would be making national security policy in a Democratic administration.

It is the boneheaded simple-mindedness of Conservatives that makes me want to kill myself. Niraj, you may deluded yourself into thinking Republicans have better answers on national security, but this ain't it. I'll let you in on a secret of politics: nobody's always your friend, and nobody's always your enemy. The game is to figure out which ones to trust when. Is Russia our "friend" or our "enemy"? Likely they're some of both - they are an economic partner and a check against China's rising power, and an important player in the efforts to disarm Kim Jong Il. They also still possess a huge nuclear arsenal, and Putin has made no secret of his nationalist agenda. Same goes for China, who checks India's power.

Here's another reason why a real, functional nonproliferation regime is a must. From the moment of the discovered of the fissile chain reaction, almost all of the pre-eminent scientists involved with Manhattan Project recognized that you could not keep the the nuclear bomb out of the hands out other countries for long - the science provides too clear a roadmap how to do it. Nearly all the basic science (some shock wave physics of detonation may still be under wraps) around nuclear fission is now very widely understood. What stands in the way of every country having nuclear capability is the extensive engineering effort necessary to make a serious nuclear weapon. Let's get that really straight: to make the kind of nuke that decimates a city, they Hiroshima kind of nuke, you cannot put some radioactive crumbs in a suitcase. Period. Just like you can't build an F-15 in your basement, despite the great improvements in engineering. That's the distinction between the level of organization a state possesses, and that possessed by a bunch of evil maniacs in a cave. The basic premise of non-proliferation is that you really can't keep the science of making nukes under wraps forever, and that states will eventually acquire the resources to run nuclear weapons programs. That reality seems to be approaching sooner than any of us would like.

The most troubling aspect of Iran's rapid entrance into the nuclear club is that it promises to further destabilize an already inflamed region. I'm far more worried about the fallout from a regional war than I am about some mythical terrorist organization to whom the Iranians would somehow hand over their entire massive engineering operation.

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