A week or so ago, before the fire, I tried to show that there are many levels of detail at which one may study history. All are important, but which level a policy-maker focuses on can make a difference to the policy that results. There’s a failure of American policy on multiple levels, coupled with similar failures by its critics, that has been bothering me for a few years now.
Back in 2006, George Bush pushed through a nuclear trade deal with India. This was extraordinary because India, along with Pakistan and Israel, has never joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits nuclear trade with countries that have not agreed to its provisions. The deal was even more extraordinary because the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) had to endorse it. The NSG was formed in response to India’s detonation in 1974 of a nuclear device fabricated with plutonium from a reactor supplied by Canada for peaceful uses. Immense political pressure must have been applied to NSG members.
Michael Krepon is also considering the history and consequences of this agreement. His summary is excellent, and I have no serious disagreements with it. I strongly urge you to read both posts. As a bonus, commenter neel123 provides a very typical Indian response.
As Krepon points out, the agreement was highly flawed, in terms of the goals of both the Bush administration and the arms control community. None of the good things that were promised have come to fruition, and a number of unfavorable consequences have ensued. Krepon gives some of the reasons for that, but it’s not what I want to consider in this post.
What I want to consider is the opposition to the deal as it was being worked out. I believe that one reason the opposition was so ineffective is that it approached the deal from a perspective at the wrong historical level.
The response of the arms control community to the deal was NO. No deal with India, no approval by Congress, no approval by NSG, no breaching of the NPT. These are all honorable and important goals. They were the wrong basis for this fight; they are at an overarching and relatively abstract level. The fight needed to be engaged on the specifics. The arms control community was looking at the wrong part of history.
Only four nations are outside the NPT: India, Pakistan, and Israel never joined, and North Korea removed itself. It’s taken some time to reach that level of international consensus. The NPT was opened for signature in 1968 and gained enough signatures (three nuclear weapon states and forty others) by 1970 to come into force. But the fifth nuclear weapon state to sign, China, waited until 1992, and Brazil brought up the rear in 1998. A number of states joined during the mid-1990s.
Arms control thinking developed during that same time period. The four outside the NPT have nuclear weapons. The NPT says that only nations that tested before 1968 can continue to hold nuclear weapons. So the only way these four could join the NPT would be to give up their nuclear weapons, argued the arms controllers. The probability of that happening now is zero. So, according to the arms controllers, they cannot join, there cannot be nuclear trade, and the NPT remains whole.
But the strategy of the end-game is different from the strategy of the mid-game, and three, maybe four, states with nuclear weapons remaining is the end-game. When many nations, as was the case through the seventies and eighties, were considering whether to join the NPT, the community’s mid-game response was appropriate. But those outside the treaty now require different approaches.
Something like that was part of the Bush administration’s argument, but it appeared to be more a sop to the arms control community than a well thought-out strategy; their primary focus, as Krepon notes, was elsewhere.
What the arms controllers sacrificed by continuing a mid-game strategy was that it would be desirable to bring the nuclear programs of the outlier nations under closer scrutiny. Some of the four have a relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but none allows the same level of oversight that NPT members do. The Bush administration seemed to hope that maybe something like this might happen for India if it got its trade deal, but the negotiation on the American side was shoddy, and little oversight has been gained.
If the arms controllers had recognized that it was the specifics of the situation, rather than the broader historical flow, they might have made a more effective argument. India wanted nuclear trade, a potential inducement to accepting greater controls. The objectives of the NPT are precisely those sorts of controls, so such an outcome would be consistent with the NPT. The exception to testing before 1968 would have to be dealt with, but it is less important than the controls.
But the arms controllers stuck with the arguments they had used before, and they got nothing of what they asked for. There is some increased inspection of Indian nuclear facilities, but far from what is required of NPT signatories.
In contrast, Toby Dalton, Mark Hibbs, and George Perkovich address the specifics of Pakistan’s situation in a white paper, “A Criteria-Based Approach to Nuclear Cooperation with Pakistan.” Since the deal with India, Pakistan, historically closer to the United States than India and consumed with its rivalry with that nation, has been asking for a similar deal. This white paper addresses the motivations that China might have to help put pressure on Pakistan to accept NPT-like requirements.
But Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, doesn’t like that idea at all. He is sticking with the same arguments that didn’t work against nuclear trade with India.
India would now like membership in the NSG, to help decide what nuclear-related items can safely be traded. That won’t happen quickly, nor will a US nuclear trade deal with Pakistan. There’s much more discussion to come.