Israel’s secret nuclear weapons and the NPT

Israel has nuclear weapons.  The United States supports universal ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Israel should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treay.  Q.E.D.  Right?

Not according to some.  What should be a simple, logical extension of standing U.S. policy is being swept up into a fit of paranoia that, as The Washington Times‘ headline screams, a “secret U.S.-Israel nuclear accord [is] in jeopardy.”  The faux controversy has emerged because Rosa Gottemoeller, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State present at the NPT preparatory committee meetings, made the following outrageous comment:

“Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea … remains a fundamental objective of the United States,” Gottemoeller told the meeting…

Since Israel developed a nuclear weapon, about 40 years ago, the prevailing convention has been for Israel’s allies all to know that it had the bomb, but just not to talk about it.  If this seems silly, it’s because it is.  What’s more, though, is that, as several experts and administration officials assured The Cable‘s Laura Rozen, Gottemoeller’s comments — which a State Department spokesman somehow characterized as “dramatic” — emphatically do not signal a shift in U.S. policy.

This makes sense — of course the administration supports Israel’s right to defend itself.  But it has also made global nuclear non-proliferation a paramount goal.  Articulating the need for worldwide cooperation — that means by every country — toward the target of zero nukes is fundamentally not about U.S.-Israel relations or Israeli security.  The United States will have to give up nuclear weapons, too — a hell of a lot more of them, in fact — and the NPT is simply a framework toward reaching that goal.

(As an aside, I was also pleased to learn that the United States did not use the NPT meetings, as per prior Bush Administration custom, simply to rail on Iran and North Korea.  There is a time and place for censuring those countries, but allowing the NPT forum to degenerate into accusations always struck me as far too similar to Iran’s and North Korea’s own distasteful habits — attempting to drown the focus of meetings in tirades against the United States and Israel — to be a worthwhile policy.)

(image from flickr user kolya under a Creative Commons license)