Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The New Atomic Age Requires New Nonproliferation Strategy

Frederick Kempe, The Wall Street Journal:
Accuse the U.S. State Department's Nicholas Burns of a double standard in advancing the Bush administration's efforts to stop nuclear-weapons proliferation, and he will thank you for the compliment.

"I'm proud of our double standard, so guilty as charged," he says, if that means trying to punish what Washington considers the world's most threatening states -- North Korea and Iran -- while embracing India, the world's largest democracy, which U.S. officials insist has a clean record in protecting against leaks of weapons technology. "You reward positive behavior and you punish negative behavior. Any parent knows that and any national-security expert knows that," Mr. Burns says. READ MORE

So even as the administration rallies support for multilateral initiatives against North Korea's and Iran's nuclear ambitions, Mr. Burns and a host of others have been lobbying lawmakers hard to pass an Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear pact. India would gain access to civilian nuclear trade while opening some of its programs to international monitors, after sitting in the penalty box more than 30 years for going nuclear.

The administration shrugs off critics who say the deal would encourage proliferation, responding that such narrow thinking misses the greater gain of India's friendship in a region where Iran grows more potent, nuclear Pakistan could unravel and China remains a wild card. "If we want India to be part of the solution, we have to bring them into the system," Mr. Burns says.

This double standard makes sense, but it doesn't go nearly far enough to address a new atomic age that is emerging. A perfect storm is brewing, with the Middle East in flames and North Korea and Iran engaged in nuclear brinkmanship, at a point when those who make the bombs won't necessarily be the ones who use them. The latest outbreak of Mideast violence also has renewed the focus on Israel's nuclear capability, which its friends call an invaluable deterrent and its enemies see as an ironclad argument for an Islamic bomb.

This leaves the Bush administration in need of a nonproliferation strategy that goes far beyond rewarding friends and punishing allies. That will require a shift from temporizing to a comprehensive effort to block the largest and most destabilizing emergence of new nuclear states since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968. Washington should reject those who want to discard the NPT and instead plug its holes, as negotiating any new agreement would be near-impossible in today's world.

India, Iran and North Korea "are like soccer fans who have leapt over the fence and got onto the field," says Ashton Carter, an administration arms controller under President Clinton who with former Defense Secretary William Perry raised considerable dust with the argument that the U.S. should have taken out North Korean missiles before they were launched July 4. "That doesn't mean the fence isn't worth having."

Indeed, since the Cold War, the U.S. and others have successfully denuclearized Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and South Africa, and convinced countries like South Korea and Taiwan to abstain. "We told them it's either the bomb or us, pick who you want to protect you," says Mr. Carter.

Rather than tearing down the fence and trying to replace it, Mr. Carter suggests the following repairs:

Tougher membership rules: Current NPT membership is voluntary, which allowed India and Israel not to join and North Korea to withdraw. To prevent more countries from "breaking out," NPT cheaters who get caught, such as Iran, should be automatically sanctioned, and those that withdraw from the treaty, such as North Korea, should be punished -- as should those who choose not to join.

Further restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing: Current rules allow NPT signatories without nuclear weapons to come dangerously close to arms capability through their energy programs. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana is going after the problem with an advisory group working toward a new fuel-cycle understanding. The aim would be to get all current uranium enrichers to supply the material to any nation that wants nuclear power so that nonweapons states don't engage in work that produces the fissile material needed for bombs. This is at the heart of what Russia still has on offer to Iran. The Iranians insist their program is for civilian use only, but few in the world believe them.

Tougher efforts to keep nongovernment actors from getting the bomb: The original NPT authors never imagined the post-Sept. 11 world, in which terrorists might be the most likely users of nuclear weapons they obtained from others.

Russia and the U.S. struck a deal during the weekend that aims to further limit the possibility of rogue states and terrorists from gaining nuclear capability, by agreeing both to combat the spread of weapons and to start talks toward a pact under which nuclear waste from U.S.-produced plutonium around the world would be stored in Russia.

What is needed now is tough enforcement and expansion of national responsibilities for controlling all nuclear material.

None of this, however, will make any difference if world leaders aren't willing to go to the mat with the most dangerous offenders.

That's why Mr. Carter called for the attack on North Korea. "If you think taking out the missiles would have been too much, wherever are you going to draw a line" if not at testing missiles that can reach U.S. targets with nuclear weapons? says Mr. Carter.

While poverty-stricken North Korea would be relatively easy to contain, Iran is potentially a far greater problem, with its energy riches, a track record of supporting terrorists and the ability to disrupt oil supplies -- and the resources to create a comprehensive nuclear-weapons program if it chooses.

So a new nuclear age has opened. Its long-term dangers demand a policy that goes far beyond helping friends and hurting enemies.

Write to Frederick Kempe at fred.kempe@wsj.com