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Nuclear nonproliferation ayatollahs

The Good Ol’ Boys Club of 1968 is dead.  Move on.

On his blog, Michael Krepon revisits the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement today and asks whether it was a worthwhile project, when considered against the backdrop of existing nonproliferation norms and the idea of “Indian exceptionalism” that led to the eventual implementation of the nuclear deal. This comes on the heels of additional criteria laid out by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) curbing Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) technology transfers to non-NPT signatories.  It appears that the nonproliferation ayatollahs in DC have awoken from a long slumber and have once again set their sights on India and the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider some of the arguments put forth by Dr. Krepon:

One, even with the positive outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, nonproliferation norms took a hit from the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal and, at best, will take time to reinforce. The deal has added to the IAEA’s woes and has made the NSG a weaker institution.

Two, negative nuclear trend lines within Pakistan have grown steeper and will be harder to reverse.

All good DC nonprolif ayatollahs like to make the case that Pakistan’s nuclear mess is inexorably linked to India’s status as a nuclear power.  But Pakistan has been operating outside the nonproliferation system for decades to develop nuclear weapons and build up its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems.  A gentleman by the name of AQ Khan can provide full and complete information about how Pakistan managed to develop a nuclear program in the first place.

And contrary to popular myth, Pakistan sought to build a nuclear weapons program well before India conducted a nuclear test in 1974.  Pakistan was up to no-good decades before the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal; the only difference post the nuclear deal is that it is far more brazen in admitting its violation of nonproliferation norms.  The rhetoric has changed, but actions haven’t.

Three, the arc of U.S.-Indian relations has improved, but with far less loft than the Bush administration’s deal makers conceived. Trade and investment will grow, as will defense sales and cooperation in some areas. This would have been the case whether or not the Bush administration had decided to pursue the civil nuclear deal. Indeed, these advances were delayed because it took five years of high-level attention to close this deal.

That Indo-U.S. trade would have grown with or without the nuclear deal is perhaps a fair argument. But the question here is not about if Indo-U.S. trade will grow, but by what magnitude.  Since 2000, Indo-U.S. trade has grown at an average of 13% year over year, and while Indo-U.S. trade dipped in 2009, it can largely be attributed to the global economic downturn.

Despite this, Indo-U.S. trade grew by 30% in 2010 — faster than at any time during the decade.  Bilateral trade will likely grow further were the U.S. to participate in India’s nuclear energy market, valued at $150 billion.  Let’s also not forget the the civil nuclear deal was passed in Congress in 2008.  Three years is an insufficient period of time to draw such broad conclusions on the utility of the nuclear deal — especially given the financial crisis.

Four, the notion of India joining the “nonproliferation mainstream,” as advocates of the deal predicted, has been a mirage. Instead, New Delhi has closed ranks with NAM states balking at stronger nonproliferation norms. India remains in limbo on the CTBT, seemingly far from ready to sign or to resume underground tests. Fissile material production for nuclear weapons continues; India, like Pakistan, may have doubled its inventory of nuclear weapons over the past decade.

Again, this is disingenuous.  It was Brazil and Egypt via the NAM that raised (valid, in my opinion) concerns about the nature of Additional Protocols articulated by the NSG; India for its part has always opposed the NPT in its current structure.  Its position on the discriminatory nature of the NPT has not changed, pre- or post-nuclear deal.  Yes, India hasn’t signed the CTBT, but if it is truly as spectacular as some would like us to believe it is, then why hasn’t the U.S. ratified the CTBT yet?

Further, comparing India and Pakistan on nuclear weapons production is absurd.  Yes, India has increased its inventory of nuclear weapons, because serious production only commenced after Pokhran-II in 1998.  Even this was severely curtailed because India’s CIRUS reactor was shut down for repairs in 1997 and was only reopened in 2003.  Contrast this against Pakistan, which went from having about 60 nuclear weapons in 2007 to an estimated 110 in 2011.  Still think India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs are comparable?  I guess not; but then the ability to distinguish between problem and solution has never been a hallmark of nonproliferation ayatollahs.

Five, New Delhi continues to titrate improved strategic cooperation with the United States, especially given domestic political sensitivities about U.S. infringements on Indian sovereignty. New Delhi also continues to improve ties with Beijing. It is folly to presume that Washington can leverage New Delhi’s dealings with Beijing. The civil nuclear deal was a poor choice to help India become a stronger counterweight to China.

Why, then, did the Bush administration make this deal the centerpiece of bilateral relations during its second term? Why tackle the toughest nut first, incurring unnecessary and perhaps long-lasting damage to nonproliferation norms? It’s obvious why New Delhi embraced the Bush administration’s gift horse of a civil nuclear deal. Those in India who argued that it was a Trojan horse have been proven wrong on every count. So far, U.S. backers of the deal have also been proven wrong on every count. [Arms Control Wonk]

First, India, left to its own, will always pursue an independent foreign policy; this was true in the decades past as it is true now.  Next, with the U.S.’s relative decline, it is not in a position to dictate to other countries whom they should or shouldn’t befriend, particularly when those countries are aspirant future powers.  If New Delhi continues to improve ties with China, so does the U.S.; it is the reality of the world we live in.

Now, India has dithered in the recent past on ties with the U.S., and those of us hoping for better bilateral relations have called on New Delhi to do its share of heavy-lifting too, and not just issue a litany of demands to the U.S. with a sense of entitlement, as is sometimes its wont.  But let’s also be clear that the reason why India and the U.S. ought to forge better ties with each other is because they share the same fundamental ideals about the global order, and not because one can be used as leverage against a third power.

In the end, DC’s nonproliferation ayatollahs are stuck in a time and place far removed from the present.  The nonproliferation order requires a major overhaul if it is to be relevant in the world today.  What does it say about the NPT’s value and enforceability in the world today, when a sitting NWS member scoffed at established rules and provided nuclear technology to anyone willing to pay, without any repercussions?

The Good Ol’ Boys Club of 1968 is dead.  If Nuclear Weapons States were really concerned about nonproliferation, they would bring India in as a member nuclear weapons state.  This requires structural reform, and unless the regime is reformed to reflect the realities of the 21st century, it will continue to grow less relevant with each passing day, as will its cheerleaders.

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About the Security Council

Step away from the NPT!

One of my favorite blogs,  Armchair Generalist,  has a blogpost out on President Obama’s endorsement of India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.  The blogpost, while appreciative of  India’s desire of joining other permanent members at the UNSC, disagrees with the decision, at this time.  It reads:

It’s just that this action, at this time, reinforces the concept that the price of influence in international politics is possession of a nuclear weapon. This directly counters the message that the nonproliferation community has been trying to set for the last decade or more.  If India is “rewarded” with a permanent seat while not having to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke? It doesn’t make sense. If Obama is serious about changing the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, he needs to start with Brazil, Japan, and Germany. Reward those nations who want to follow international norms first. [Armchair Generalist]

Notwithstanding the tremendous odds that would need to be overcome for Mr. Obama’s endorsement to translate into reality,  I have several issues with the logic in the blogpost.

First, if the price of influence in international politics is indeed, the possession of a nuclear weapon, why haven’t similar cases been put forward for other nuclear weapons states? North Korea? Pakistan? Even Israel?  A country’s power and influence in international affairs is a function of multiple factors, –  economic, military and demographic – and all three have played their part in how India is viewed, by itself, and by the rest of the world, today.  Its growing economy has played a critical role in India’s elevated global profile — we’ve seen this at the more recent G20 summits, at Copenhagen and at the World Economic Forum. It is only natural, then, for India to want (and for its friends to support) a greater presence at the UNSC.

Second, about the NPT.  Armchair Generalist asks, “why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke,” if India were to be “allowed” to join the UNSC without signing the NPT.

Well for starters, both Iran and North Korea were signatories to the NPT when they embarked on programs that violated aspects of it.  While Iran today remains a signatory, North Korea withdrew its membership when it became an inconvenience.  India, on the other hand, while never actually signing the NPT (more on India’s opposition), has strongly adhered to many of its core principles (even moreso than some, ahem, NPT/UNSC permanent members).

Moreover, India has indicated on multiple occasions that it does want to join the NPT as a nuclear weapons state (NWS).  Of course, per NPT, the status of NWS was only accorded to countries that had tested or possessed nuclear weapons as of 1968.  Convenient. The solution to this though, is to structurally reform the NPT to allow post-1968 nuclear powers to gain membership as NWSs, and not to plug away with demands that a country do what it has already agreed to do, in principle.

There is a bigger issue here, though.  Let us not turn every Indian attempt at playing a role in shaping the global order into a debate about whether or not it must accede to a structurally flawed nuclear non-proliferation regime.  When the UNSC was established, membership to the council was not awarded solely on the grounds of countries possessing nuclear weapons (none of the UNSC members, with the exception of the U.S., had conducted nuclear tests prior to 1946).  Nuclear weapons were not the sole indicator of power or influence in the world back then, and they certainly aren’t now.  To that end, India as part of the so-called G4, has been unequivocal in its support for permanent UNSC memberships for Brazil, Germany and Japan.  The U.S.’s own support for Germany and Japan’s permanent membership dates back to the 1990′s.

Similarly, and by extension, accession to non-proliferation regimes was never a requirement during the UNSC’s formation (NPT was only brought into force in 1970); it would therefore be wrong to make this a requirement for future members. New Delhi seeks an expansion of the UNSC because it believes that for it to be an effective body, the council’s membership must reflect the shifts in global power and influence from being concentrated in hands of one or two superpowers to the presence of multiple power centers, of which India is one. It would be wrong to suggest that India’s quest, and the U.S.’s subsequent endorsement, is anything other than a recognition of this reality.

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Big leaky tent

The Economist’s article on India and the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The Economist ran an article (h/t Anantha Nageswaran) on June 24, 2010 on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.  Or so the title of the article suggested.  However, a closer inspection will take you, the reader, through an elaborate labyrinth of half-truths, baffling arguments and sweeping generalizations. They all come to a close, not as one might expect, with a stern rebuke of China and Pakistan’s nuclear shenanigans, but with an admonition of India’s “growing nuclear arsenal.”

The writer should have stopped writing when it was clear that this was going to be the article’s first sentence:

China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan will intensify nuclear rivalry with India.

The Economist fails to makes no attempt to substantiate the statement.  The argument is lazy and fallacious, and deserves to be challenged. But the fun doesn’t end there.  With regard to the India–U.S. nuclear deal, the  article contends:

America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that bringing it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t).

Raise your hand if you’d like an explanation on India’s supposedly blemished non-proliferation record.  Let us say, for argument’s sake, that the  writer is alluding to India’s use of fissile material from the CIRUS research reactor towards its first nuclear test in 1974.  This act by India could be called a lot of things, but nuclear proliferation, it most certainly wasn’t.  Moreover, India’s actions were neither an infraction of any international treaties nor of agreements it had with Canada or the U.S.

The article’s final paragraph, though, is an absolute zinger:

If Pakistan really is worried about India’s growing nuclear arsenal, diplomacy might work better than an arms race. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, a think tank, says Pakistan should lift its veto on a ban on the production of fissile materials for bombs. That would put India (which claims to support a ban) on the spot. Like enriched uranium, hypocrisy can be costlier than it seems.

Really? India’s growing nuclear arsenal? Just last year, U.S. CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen, commented on Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arms in a testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Adm. Mullen’s observations were further corroborated by reports by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The Federation of American Scientists. That being the case, it should be pretty clear which country’s been adding to its nuclear stockpile like nukes are about to go out of fashion.

The bigger issue with the article though,  is its defense of the discriminatory nature of the existing non-proliferation order, and the convoluted arguments it employs to suggest that “renegade” nuclear powers like India have endangered non-proliferation regimes  (most of which came into force, by the way,  after the Big Five had acquired enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over).

And if the hypocrisy of the article isn’t immediately apparent, a gander at the accompanying chart, which displays  the status of all nuclear weapons’ programs, excluding those of NPT nuclear powers (as if they were somehow above scrutiny),  should put all skepticism to rest.

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Sauce for goose

The China-Pakistan nuclear deal: where have all the ayatollahs gone?

The Guardian carried a rather sensationalist piece by Chris McGreal on how Israel had, at one point, offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa.  Some in the United States are fuming at the idea that a U.S. “proxy” considered selling nuclear weapons to an “autocratic, unstable state” (South Africa was under apartheid at the time) — somehow, apparently, this undermines the U.S.’s “moral authority.”  It is another matter entirely that this report had little factual basis.

In fact, the outrage that is non-story has generated has largely obscured the very credible, and potentially significant story coming out of Beijing:

Chinese companies will build at least two 650-megawatt reactors at Chashma in Punjab, the Financial Times said.A statement posted on the website of the China National Nuclear Corporation on March 1 said the financing for two new reactors at Chashma was agreed by the two sides in February.

“Our Chinese brothers have once again lived up to our expectations,” the Financial Times quoted an unidentified Pakistani official as saying of the deal, which would help Pakistan cope with a crippling energy crisis. “They have agreed to continue cooperating with us in the nuclear energy field.” [Dawn]

Some sources indicate that the U.S. is unlikely to broach this issue with the Chinese.  In some ways, the Obama administration may feel that this alleviates its own moral burden, faced with increasing pressure from Pakistan for a civilian nuclear deal.  Of course, the administration would be missing the point — Pakistan’s desire for civilian nuclear energy is subordinate to its desire for parity with India in the eyes of the U.S. In that regard, Pakistan’s quest for a nuclear deal with the U.S. has nothing to do with its need for nuclear energy.

The implications of  specific aspects of the China-Pakistan deal will need to be further examined when more information is made available.  If their previous track records are any indication, these reactors will not be subject to IAEA safeguards or inspections.   Other questions exist — will China seek to “grandfather” the new reactors with those it built in Pakistan prior to joining the NSG?  If not, how could China possibly  ensure that an exception is made for Pakistan at the NSG in the event that the reactors are kept out of IAEA’s purview?

Purely from the perspective of strategic balance in South Asia, this deal may not alter much.  However, a couple of issues need to be considered in light of this deal. First, the impact of this deal is of greater consequence to the Middle East than it is to South Asia — particularly to Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Saudi Arabia’s “nuclear-capacity-by-proxy” strategy has paid rich dividends via Pakistan’s frantic acceleration of weapons production on its behalf.  Two 650 MW reactors will give this cozy arrangement fresh impetus, if any was needed.  By extension, this puts considerable strain on Iran’s own nuclear program.

Second, what does the deal say about non-proliferation ayatollahs in the Obama administration? Clearly, altered dynamics after the economic crisis, and China’s importance in negotiating through the nuclear issue with Iran leaves the U.S. with minimal leverage over China.  China, for its part, is using the opportunity to violate the spirit of those existing non-proliferation regimes on a technicality.  Of course, it has been doing this for ages, rather clandestinely.  Now, it does so brazenly.

There may be little that India can do to prevent the deal from going through.  In this context, the 2010 UN NPT RevCon directive to India (and Israel) to sign the NPT is absurd and deserving of contemptuous dismissal. A world order where global nuclear non-proliferation regimes attempt to shackle, curtail and impose significant costs on those willing to abide by established norms, but lack the capacity to punish those who willfully violate them in letter and spirit is unacceptable.   The necessity for India to be at the forefront of defining a new world order where verifiable, non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament is the objective, is felt more acutely now than ever.

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