Friday, June 03, 2005

NPT? We don't need no stinkin' NPT! 

Whoa! Where did May go? Rumors of my death were just wishful thinking run amok.

Daniel Drezner recently laid a bit of smack down of Anne-Marie Slaughter's critique of the Bush administration's diplomacy, in which she used the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a prime example of incompetence.
[W]e have managed to generate still more global animus by apparently refusing to take the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review seriously, even though Iran and North Korea are front-burner issues and there is general consensus that the NPT needs amending to prevent states from getting to the edge of nuclear capability in complete conformity with the treaty and then legally withdrawing and making a bomb.
He rightfully slaps about the idea that the PSI would, for some nebulous reason, be somehow better if it were institutionalized vice ad hoc. But another tiny fragment of an idea in Anne-Marie's piece betrays one of the fundamental differences in view that leads her to the assumption:
[Make] all nuclear fuel generating facilities part of multinational consortia, so they are not controlled by a single state (emphasis added)
There are some who simply seem to embrace centralized control via legalism as a panacea for all ills. A problem with guns in schools? Make more laws. A problem with nuclear proliferation? Make more international laws. At the risk of broadbrushing it, these individuals seem to generally fall to the left of the aisle and look longingly upon any vestiage or intimation of multilatteralism or international cooperation, in my eyes investing their confidence based more upon the form than the results. How else may one explain the naivitae exhibited by suggesting an international consortia to control the world's nuclear materials even as the UN is falling over itself to continue the Oil-for-Food coverup. One commenter specifically cited "the problem with the 'ad hoc' approach [being] that it is essentially acting 'above the law'," an argument based upon the assumption that international law is an answer to this matter. Those who tend to blindly worship at the alter of legalism don't seem to realize that in a vast number of cases the greater problem lies not with a clear understanding of morality, propriety or legality but rather with the ability and will to enforce those well understood and recognized standards. For example, there was nothing at all ambiguous about Iraq's legal requirements to comply with international law following Desert Storm. In the face of demonstrated unwillingness by the UN to enforce those requirements Saddam simply chose to ignore them. Can anyone explain how the provisions of the NPT are substantially different?

Citing the situation with DPRK as a good reason to work with and reform the NPT defies credulity. What in the NPT has ever stopped DPRK from doing anything it wanted with regard to nuclear research? They regularly closed off facilities to inspectors whenever they wanted, suspected plutonium reprocessing was discovered up to three years after the fact and their participation as a signatory was brazenly used as a bargaining chip for material and political concessions. On May 10, 1993 in response to a threatened withdrawal the U.N. Security Council demanded DPRK to stay in the NPT "though no penalties for noncompliance were specified," a demand they promptly thumbed their noses at before prolonging the drama by suspending the withdrawal.

Blind faith in the NPT demostrates a neo-Luddite gun-control mentatity approach to the problem of nuclear weapon proliferation. Sometimes I'm guilty of trying to sound smart or educated to the distraction of clarity, so I'll try to say this as simply as I can:
The problem with nuclear weapons proliferation is not nuclear weapons.
If Spain or Canada announced tomorrow they were starting a nuclear weapons development program I wouldn't loose a wink of sleep. How many people are aware that at one time South Africa had a nuclear capability, one they voluntarily dismantled as secretly as they developed it. The problem with nuclear weapons proliferation is the presence of despotic regimes with the resources to pursue the technology coupled with the desire to subjugate, intimidate and oppress or the willingness to unscrupulously share the technology with third parties. The bottom line is that there is one and only one free, democratic nation that did not develop its nuclear weapons as a direct response to a nuclear weapons threat (or potential threat) from a unfree, undemocratic nation, and that was Isreal, who was surrounded by hostile neighbors and had already fought three conventional wars of defense. I may be accused of missing the big picture, but the answer seem intuitively obvious to me:
If you don't want bad guys to have nuclear weapons the answer is not to try and lock up the weapons. The answer is to concentrate on taking the bad guys out of power.
This does not mean invading everyone we don't like, but to my knowledge, the NPT has never stopped any determined nation from pursuing its nuclear weapons goals, and I highly doubt if additional laws would change this. The NPT is completely unnecessary to prevent Finland or Thailand from becoming nuclear powerhouses and is relatively ineffective against countries like DPRK, Iran, Libya, Iraq or Pakistan. Simply put, free nations don't need nuclear weapons to protect themselves from other free nations and have better things to spend the resources on than what basically amount to symbols of power. There will always be a need for strong free nations to maintain a nuclear capability, but absent a specific threat there is simply no incentive for a democratic government to try and join the club.

While one of Dan's commenters bemoans that "the likelihood of these ad hoc arrangements standing the test of time ... is pretty questionable," I see that as boding well for the commitment behind the effort. Flexible ad hoc partnerships to handle specific bad actors eliminates a "one size fits all" approach to diplomacy and imparts an immediacy to action. The only way non-proliferation concerns remain in place long-term is if we only treat the symptom of technology transfer while ignoring the human root cause of our concern, the despotic governments themselves. The only real long-term solution to nuclear weapons proliferation if the same prescription Dr. Bush has written for terrorism: individuals living in democratic freedom, with liberty and justice.

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