The biggest news this weekend was not Senator Obama's This Week interview, or Tom Brady's left knee. Rather, it came out of Vienna, where a somewhat obscure intergovernmental organization--the Nuclear Suppliers Group--succumbed to heavy US lobbying and agreed to allow India to receive nuclear technology and know-how. The quote above is how the Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball describes the decision. The quick back story is this. In 1974, the Indian government detonated a nuclear weapon that was fashioned from diverted civilian nuclear technology. This was a first. Never before had civilian nuclear technology been used to create a nuclear weapons program. To make matters worse, India is not even a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So, to prevent something like this from happening again, countries with nuclear materials and know-how banded together to impose strict conditions on the sale or transfer of civilian nuclear technology. This became the Vienna-based Nuclear Suppliers Group. Fast forward thirty years. India is still not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Nuclear Suppliers Group still refuses to transfer or sell of nuclear materials to India. That is, until Saturday, when the NSG issued a waiver permitting the transfer of civilian nuclear technology to India, thereby unraveling a key tenet of non-proliferation: if a country diverts civilian nuclear technology to a weapons program it will be denied access to civilian technologies. Why the turnaround?
Today is the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The New Republic summons its better half as J. Peter Scoblic explains why this treaty is such a boon to American interests.
Today marks the fortieth birthday of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, one of the most important pieces of paper the United States has signed in the last half century--and one of the most popular. Even Bush officials, who went on a treaty-killing spree during their first year in office, made an exception for the NPT. Why wouldn't they? The NPT is one of the best deals the United States has ever made: It allowed five countries (including the United States) to possess nuclear weapons, but banned the rest from ever developing them. Today, every country on the planet except for India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan is a member. While pressuring the nuclear states to disarm, the NPT's most significant accomplishment has been to reassure non-nuclear states that they don't need the bomb, and in the past four decades more countries have given up nuclear weapons programs than have started them. In hindsight, the NPT seems like a diplomatic no-brainer.While its true that the NPT has generally works as is, it still needs help if it is to remain the foundation of the global non-proliferation regime into the future. The treaty was based on three pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament, and legitimate civilian use. The disarmament pillar, for one, has taken a hit in recent years. Some NPT signatories have shied away from reducing their nuclear arsenal and are even developing so-called tactical nuclear weapons. For the other pillars to remain on strong footing, member states need to recommit to disarmament. In an On Day One video, Matthew Yglesias explains why this is such a critical national security imperative for the next United States president.
If any weapon deserve to be banned, it seems that so-called "cluster bombs" fit the bill. A description from The Washington Post:
The weapons consist of canisters packed with small bombs, or "bomblets," that spread over a large area when a canister is dropped from a plane or fired from the ground. While the bomblets are designed to explode on impact, they frequently do not. Civilians, particularly children, are often maimed or killed when they pick up unexploded bombs, sometimes years later.Despite the bombs' deplorable after-effects, the United States opted not to sign onto an agreement to ban the weapons. I'm not sure which justification is less defensible: that cluster bombs are a valuable part of the U.S. military's arsenal (they have not been used at all in over five years) or that banning them could somehow hinder the U.S.'s disaster relief efforts. Likewise, the fact that the other major users and producers of the bombs -- Russia, China, Israel, and Pakistan -- also did not sign the treaty does not seem to warrant retaining cluster bombs for defensive reasons. That said, there may still be hope for curbing the use of these munitions. Remember: the United States also did not sign the 1997 ban on landmines -- and that has not inspired it to join the lonely ranks of Burma in planting the deadly devices. Perhaps, though, it'd be better to just sign both treaties and come out against weapons that mutilate and kill children.