Today's topic: Has the strategy to stop the spread of nuclear weapons through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- in which existing nuclear powers can keep but reduce their arsenals while other nations are barred from developing bombs -- been effective? How should the U.S. and its allies distinguish between stable countries worthy of developing peacetime nuclear energy and regimes such as Iran?
The Non-Proliferation Treaty has become an excuse for inactionPoint: Gabriel Schoenfeld
Andy, we're probably in agreement that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been one of the more successful arms-control agreements of the last few decades. Unfortunately -- and here's where I suspect we will immediately part company -- that's not saying much.
I don't want to slight the treaty's accomplishments. It has helped give the U.S. a better picture of civilian nuclear programs around the world, including those of countries hostile to us. It may have helped in keeping Argentina and Brazil nuclear-free, and we can also ascribe it some credit for South Africa's decision to denuclearize, although the impending end of the apartheid regime probably had more to do with it than the treaty.
But the fact is that the treaty worked best when it was needed least, back when nuclear technology was relatively inaccessible and expertise was rare. Once the technology became more widely available and thousands of people were trained to master the atom and also to gain expertise in easily hidden processes such as uranium enrichment -- in no small part thanks to the technology-sharing provisions of the treaty itself -- the value of the agreement began to drop precipitously. It is in tatters right now.
President Obama clearly disagrees. In Prague, he said that the treaty's "basic bargain is sound." But here's a mystery I hope you can unravel for me, Andy: How can the basic bargain be sound when it is broken without consequence by countries such as North Korea and Iran that are openly threatening their neighbors with incineration.
Let us not forget what we are talking about here: the control of weapons that can destroy entire cities. There are already too many floats in this terrifying parade.
North Korea signed the NPT in 1985 and, before withdrawing from it altogether, repeatedly violated it to wring concessions from its neighbors and us. Meanwhile, it has built one or more nuclear devices and has been covertly shipping nuclear equipment to other outlaw states.
Iraq signed the NPT in 1968. Unbeknownst to the world, and away from the eyes of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, it was months away from finalizing a nuclear device when it was interrupted by American force of arms in 1991.
Iran signed the agreement in 1968 and stands in violation of it today.
Like India and Israel, Pakistan has not signed the treaty at all. Instead, it built a nuclear arsenal in the center of Islamic radicalism and then, with a wink and a nod, it allowed one of its scientists to operate a nuclear bazaar, hawking bomb-making technology to rogue states of every stripe.
Obama seems to recognize that something is awry, but he has refrained from saying precisely what it is. Speaking of the NPT in Prague, he declared that "we need more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We need real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause." Who could possibly disagree?
However, what exactly does the president propose to do if a country refuses to accept inspectors or decides to eject them? That is precisely the problem before us in North Korea.
Or what if a country accepts inspectors and then denies them full access to all of the places they would like to visit? That occurred in Iraq, resulting in a tragic war. The same problem is now being repeated in Iran.
What are the "real and immediate consequences" that Obama expects will discourage rule-breakers or those trying to leave the treaty? He has not said. If you have any insight into this second mystery, Andy, I would welcome hearing it. To my mind, it is the central question, and I hope you will address it.
Frankly, if Obama's idea of real and immediate consequences is to deliver speeches denouncing the violators, or if it is "dialogue" with the violators, or if rests upon, as you suggested Wednesday, getting Brazil, Egypt and Malaysia (why not add Liechtenstein?) to weigh in against the violators, or if it relies on measures to punish the violators that require the assent of all the members of the United Nations Security Council, including China and Russia, then we ourselves might as well sell nuclear bombs to Iran, North Korea and Al Qaeda and at least make a handsome profit before we are all blown to smithereens.
In the 1990s, the assurance provided by the NPT helped lull the world into complacency about the continuing danger of proliferation. Now, a focus on rewriting the treaty is bound to deflect the attention of the world from the urgent problem posed by Iran and North Korea. The NPT has become an excuse for inaction, a mechanism that constrains the democratic powers while giving aspiring dictators time to build their bombs. It has manifestly failed in its basic objective of stopping proliferation. Tell me, Andy, if this is a model of arms control at its best, what does it tell us about the entire enterprise?
Gabriel Schoenfeld, a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., is writing a book about secrecy and national security that W.W. Norton will publish next year.
You're living on planet NeoconCounterpoint: Andrew Grotto
Gabe, you were right about one thing in your essay Wednesday: We are living on different planets.
On planet Earth, where I live, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan rate among the gravest challenges to international security. But unlike inhabitants of planet Neocon, we earthlings believe that the United States is strongest when it uses all the tools in its national security arsenal. That includes military force when necessary as a last resort, but it also includes tough-minded diplomacy, even with countries we don't like.
This marks a clear difference between neocons and earthlings. Neocons denigrate diplomacy as appeasement and view military force as the only viable instrument of national power.
Some visitors from planet Neocon (you may recognize them by the bruises on their chests from excessive thumping) actually tried this approach here on Earth from 2001 to early 2009. Fortunately, the pitiless crowbar of events began to pry open at least some eyes in the Bush administration, particularly once Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense in December 2006.
Yet neocons still cling to this fecklessly naive approach to international security. For instance, Commentary, a magazine of record on planet Neocon, ran an article last February entitled "Stopping Iran: Why the Case for Military Action Still Stands." The gist of the article is that the only real option for dealing with Iran's nuclear program is military action against its nuclear facilities, sooner rather than later, in the hopes of setting the program back by a few years.
But what's America's next move? On planet Earth, thinking about "day two," or what happens after the bombing is finished, is something we refer to as "strategy." The previous administration didn't think very carefully about day two in Afghanistan and Iraq, and America is paying the price in blood and treasure.
In the case of Iran, come day two, the mullahs are not going to proclaim, "Mea culpa! We repent!" and give up their nuclear program. Instead, they'll double-down on it, ramp up their support for groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and extend their influence in the region, including to Iraq. They'll have unprecedented popular support for this agenda in the region and among the Iranian people.
As to the neocon fantasy that bombing Iran will inspire the Iranian people to revolt, historically, when a nation is attacked by a foreign power, it tends to rally around the flag, not tear it down. America, Israel and the region lose under this scenario, big time; Iran wins.
Tough-minded diplomacy including sanctions, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton characterized the Obama's administration's policy in congressional testimony Wednesday, is the best way to deal with Iran.
I also suspect translational issues are afoot in our interplanetary Dust-Up. For example, in Wednesday's essay you asserted that Obama thinks that "if only we demonstrate a sincere commitment to total nuclear disarmament then the world, including all of its miscreants, will follow along." Your universal translator must have garbled Obama's speech, because he never said that.
It must also have scrambled my introductory essay, where I nipped this specious interpretation in the bud. Here is what I said: "[Obama's speech] is not targeted per se at countries like Iran or North Korea that seek weapons capability. These countries are likely motivated by other factors, such as America's overwhelming conventional superiority." That seems awfully clear to me, so all I can say is I hope your universal translator is still under warranty.
Obama's Prague speech, as I said Wednesday, was targeted primarily at attracting new allies to the fight against proliferation, countries such as Brazil, Malaysia, and Egypt.
Here we have another fundamental disagreement. Gabe, in both your essays you seem to think these countries are irrelevant and hence unworthy of presidential attention.
But did you know that Brazil has blocked U.S. efforts to promote stronger inspection authorities for the International Atomic Energy Agency, authorities that would make it exceptionally difficult for countries such as Iran to undertake secret nuclear programs? Or that Malaysia has resisted strengthening its export controls, even though rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan made and exported centrifuge parts there for Iran? Or that Egypt, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, has said that progress on disarmament should be "the determining factor" for whether to support Washington's nonproliferation agenda?
The reality is that Iran would not be spinning centrifuges today if Khan's network hadn't existed and the IAEA had the resources and legal authorities to uncover secret programs. Remarkably, these are the very gaps in the nonproliferation regime that you rightly decry today. By endorsing the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world, Obama takes us a step closer to plugging these deadly gaps. Lest this be mistaken for a left-wing trope, moderate conservatives such as Henry Kissinger and George Shultz share this view.
But that is not the whole story. Obama's Prague speech is just one element in the administration's comprehensive strategy for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. It is working with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. It is laying the groundwork for an intensified diplomatic offensive against Iran that combines the threat of sanctions with engagement on issues of mutual concern. And as Clinton's congressional testimony made clear, the United States will use all the tools of statecraft to prevent the disintegration of Pakistan. The administration has also engaged the Russians on an ambitious arms-control agenda and is working to fulfill Obama's campaign promise of locking down vulnerable stockpiles of weapons-usable material.
A final point: Gabe, you're a font of criticism, but so far you haven't offered any new ideas or concrete recommendations of your own for dealing with these problems. You were senior editor of Commentary when it published the aforementioned article on Iran. Do you agree that military force is the only viable option against Iran's nuclear ambitious? If not, what would you do instead?
Andrew Grotto is a senior national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.