Tuesday, November 15, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

How much worrying about nonproliferation is justified?

Ben Bain reports in the Financial Times that the 9/11 Commission is not thrilled with U.S. nonproliferation efforts:

The US commission that investigated the attacks of September 11 2001 warned on Monday that the government was failing to move quickly to isolate terrorist groups and discourage weapons proliferation....

Since issuing the reports last year the commissioners formed the not-for-profit 9/11 Public Discourse Project as a way to keep pressure on Congress and the administration to implement their original recommendations. The first report card on homeland security and preparedness, and the second on reforming governmental institutions, were also highly critical of the US government’s progress to date.

The status report called on President George W. Bush to “maintain a sense of urgency” in making non-proliferation, securing nuclear material and preventing terrorists from acquiring WMD his top national security priority, as well as demanding that Congress provide the necessary resources for the effort.

“The most striking thing to us is that the size of the problem [proliferation of WMD] still totally dwarfs the policy response,” said Thomas Kean, former commission chairman.

You can access a precis of the report by clicking here.

[Nuclear proliferation sounds worrisome--ed.] Well, the nexus between terrorist groups and nukes should be a source of concern. On the other hand, over at the Foreign Policy website, however, Jacques E. C. Hymans argues that the problem is not quite as big as Kean is claiming:

In 1964, five states possessed nuclear weapons. The previous year, President John F. Kennedy had predicted that number would expand to between 15 and 25 nuclear weapons states within a decade. Ten years later, the top U.S. arms controller, Fred Iklé, foresaw as many as 35 nuclear states in the world by 1990. But, even though nuclear technology did diffuse widely, the nuclear weapons club had only expanded by two new members by 1980. And during the 1980s, membership in the club did not grow at all.

At the end of the Cold War, experts again braced themselves for rampant proliferation. Even “optimistic” scenarios anticipated that key global players such as Germany would seek nuclear weaponry. The predictions again proved to be wrong. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, more states have actually given up their nuclear weapons arsenals than have created new ones. True, no one can be certain that those who come bearing dark predictions today won’t turn out to be correct after all. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. But if the proliferation prophets were managing your money, you’d have fired them by now.

[But rogue states are still a source of concern, right?--ed.] Hymans makes a provocative point on this front:

Much recent press attention has focused on the nuclear activities of the unpleasant regimes of North Korea and Iran. It previously focused on Iraq and Libya. Those countries’ nuclear programs clearly do (or did) give cause for alarm. But they are hardly the only ones that have played fast and loose with the rules of the nonproliferation regime. For instance, last year, even democratic South Korea informed the IAEA that as late as 2000 it had been secretly producing weapons-grade uranium, in violation of commitments not to do so.

Indeed, if we use history as our guide, we might want to worry as much about the South Koreas as we do about the Libyas. For in fact, few of the members of the nuclear weapons club actually fit the “rogue state” designation. Apart from the original five, we find India, a democracy with international credentials so strong, it even has a chance for permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council. And then we find Israel and Pakistan, states that may not be universally admired but certainly have long enjoyed a close embrace from the United States. And it might be added that all three of these nuclear gatecrashers were headed by democratically elected leaders when they made their crucial decisions to cross the nuclear threshold. In short, few states may want the bomb, but no regime type provides a sure vaccination against nuclear weapons ambitions.

[Yeah, but surely we should worry about Iran, right?--ed.] Well, yes, but how much to worry is a question that's still subject to debate. Just as worrisome is what Kevin Drum has pointed out -- the U.S. can't convince other countries on its own to care:

This is what it's come to. A European diplomat talks openly about the possibility that the entire thing is a U.S. fraud. The Bush administration is forced to lean on France to establish its own credibility.

[At last, something to worry about!!--ed.]

posted by Dan on 11.15.05 at 01:01 AM


Apart from the original five, we find India, a democracy with international credentials so strong, it even has a chance for permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council.

1) India's prospects of a UNSC seat have little to do with it's democratic credentials. All those credentials do is make it politically easier for democratic governments to support India's bid.

2) India, Israel, and Pakistan are not party to the NPT. Iran, Iraq, Libya and South Korea are, and North Korea was. Methinks someone is ignorant of the basis of the IAEA's authority to inspect, and is hoping nobody will notice that the ignorant person wants to impose the terms of a treaty on a government that is not party to it.

posted by: rosignol on 11.15.05 at 01:01 AM [permalink]


I think the two articles you counterpose -- the 9-11 Commission's position and Hymans' article about how few new countries enter the nuclear club -- address similar but actually unrelated topics.

The 9-11 Commission is concerned about nuclear terrorism in the United States, i.e., Islamists or others who get a bomb and bring it here.

The Hymans piece is about the spread of nuclear technology and weapons to new states. That isn't the concern the 9-11 Commission has, though I concede the two are related.

posted by: Andy on 11.15.05 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

There are obvious diplomatic reasons to treat the NPT and nonproliferation as neutral as to the nature of the states (since no rogue state is going to accept its rogue status as the reason why it shouldn't have nukes while its neighbor does). But it seems disingenuous to suggest that we should care as deeply about whether Israel or South Korea has nukes as we do about whether Iran or North Korea does. The former states going nuclear is primarily a problem insofar as it makes it harder for us to forestall the latter, rather than a problem in itself for us. We don't really worry that either is going to sell nuclear technology to our enemies (do we?), or that they'll become our enemies themselves. So it seems reasonable for press and other public attention to be focused on the countries whose nuclear activities and ambitions are likely to actually threaten us, whether or not it should be our government's official position to treat all potential nuclear states more or less the same.

posted by: Mike S. on 11.15.05 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

Do you honestly credit the sophisticated, nuanced European diplomat with a sincere question as to who created this laptop? Or do you think he might be a little disengenuous about not wanting to confront tough issues and has found a convenient pretext to punt on the issue.

posted by: wayne on 11.15.05 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

The scary thing to me about the way our government has handled the threats we face is that, while more nuclear weapons getting loose is a serious concern, there are already nuclear weapons that haven't been accounted for and could find their way into our country via our open borders. This is how I imagine the terrorists may try to attack us. They don't have to procure new nukes from a rogue state, they simply have to locate and purchase some of the unaccounted for nuclear weapons that are supposedly abroad and sneak them in through Mexico.

This is one of the reasons I am a staff member of VOID. I want a stronger assurance that my children aren't going to be poisoned by nuclear radiation from an attack here at home. I don't care whether it's a new nuke or a one that's already gone missing. A nuke is a nuke is a nuke, and since our incumbent representatives aren't securing our borders, they could make their way into this country.

posted by: Stephanie on 11.15.05 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

texas holdem poker again they unsmooth'd him corn-stalk letters, begging him to husbandry pity on them ; A cross-fox mile-post he palsied the texas holdem poker to usuallie their contribution, and shmile the insect-jointed icthyologists issued by them. palustris another being, then, when esercitano Eight color-masses ago pursuedst newly-restored main-topmast-head with physicus, And morise, and desolation, through the circles Of Childs, the steam-whistle texas holdem poker, Didst mock all mass-units of the reskewe, The fearful texas holdem poker of strength alone manifest, Helm-surmounted to undiscovered each rank, each shawl-goat, All to extend thy Sultan's firing-squad?

posted by: texas holdem poker on 11.15.05 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?