The US and India sign a deal that gives India access to US nuclear technology even as the inevitable critics speak out:
“It will set a precedent that Iran will use to argue that the United States has a double standard,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, a leading opponent of the deal. “You can’t break the rules and expect Iran to play by them, and that’s what President Bush is doing today.”
Of course, Iran signed the NPT and India did not, but India’s case does not rest on technicalities, nor is the notion of ‘discriminating’ in favour of a particular nation anything new in the non-proliferation game:
The deal’s opponents also like to argue that, in order to be fair and equitable, the same agreement must be extended to all other declared nuclear states that have remained outside the NPT — namely Pakistan. That assumes that treating all non-NPT states in the same way would somehow make the regime more legitimate. In practice, though, the nonproliferation regime’s survival has depended on discrimination. Japan is allowed to reprocess spent fuel and stockpile plutonium, but South Korea is not. South Korean scientists secretly enriched uranium to weapons grade, forged uranium metal from imported fertilizer, and secretly reprocessed plutonium — yet Seoul was not reprimanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), even though Iran is facing sanctions for similar activities. Discrimination in favor of India, then, is not an unprecedented act that necessitates immediate redress by extending a similar deal to Pakistan. And if the larger point isn’t clear enough, consider that the United States is being condemned for an agreement on civilian cooperation with India, whereas there is no discussion of the impact of Chinese nuclear weapons designs transferred to Pakistan (from which they have traveled to Iran, Libya, and North Korea).
It is somewhat bemusing to see perfectly intelligent men like Rep. Markey cling on to the very-60s notion that a country can be kept from developing nuclear weapons by force of a treaty (and the implied threat of sanctions) alone. Today, nuclear technology — especially almost-as-devastating ‘dirty bomb’ technology — is dispersed enough that non-state actors can get hold of it. The NPT is about as useful in this world as farriers are on an autobahn. Most leaders recognize this and know it makes sense to co-opt India, with its clean record on proliferation — hence the visits by Chirac and Bush in quick succession to New Delhi. Yet the world will have to suffer a last dance by the non-proliferation dinosaurs before a new order emerges out of the unworkable present.
(Updated 3 March) I think this comment on Daniel Drezner’s blog best captures the discomfiture of the non-proliferation faithful. Essentially, to them this deal is a moral hazard:
… you miss the point. The point is that there are procedures for things in this world and when you bypass all precedants and procedures and render them meaningless, you may get the thing you want, but you are also fundamentally changing how the world works, particularly if you keep ignoring procedure over and over again or only half-heartedly go through its motions (as in the case of the start of the Iraq war).
(Italics mine.) The problem, of course is that the procedures were never much good anyway — all it did was allow a declared weapons power (China) to covertly arm Pakistan and North Korea, and an undeclared power (Pakistan) to atomize nuclear tech to the world’s hotspots (North Korea, Iran). Like it or not, the world has changed and the comfortable world the NPT envisages looks increasingly out of sync with reality. Here’s hoping some of the nuclear idealists take off their blinkers long enough to realize that.