Thursday, March 15, 2007

What nonproliferation means to them

Dr. Lewis over at ACW picked up on an article by Jofi Joseph in the National Endowment for Democracy's Democracy Journal [ed. Democracy Journal is actually different from NED's similarly titled Journal of Democracy publication. Thanks to Jofi for pointing that out.] about the intrinsic flaws of the Bush administration's approach to nonproliferation.

Joseph's article is even-handed and well reasoned. My only criticism is that he didn't thoroughly explore why the Bush administration's preference for strategic decisions and disdain towards coercive diplomacy. How does an administration that appears to be obsessed with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction willingly accept the cost of its 'tough guy' policies? How do policy makers on the National Security Council and in the President's cabinet deal with the fact their emphasis on the strategic decision is often the reason why their policies fail?

A Bush administration critic would probably point to negative qualities, such as a lack of creativity and flexibility or an undeserving sense of self-righteousness?

I think there is a logical explanation for Bush administration policy that goes beyond personalities and simple partisan arguments. The key is taking all of the elements of Bush nonproliferation policy together at once (they are arranged in no particular order):

+ The 'Axis of Evil' statement

+ Torpedoing the Biological Weapons Convention implementation talks

+ Abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

+ Fielding national missile defense

+ The Moscow Treaty

+ The Proliferation Security Initiative

+ Rolling on Congressional pressure for the Reliable Replacement Warhead

+ The Bush-Singh nuclear deal

+ Strategic decision-based policy towards Iraq and Iran's nuclear programs

+ Foot-dragging on renewal of the START verification process

There appear to be a few common themes here. The most glaring one is a belief that weapons proliferation is inevitable. Another is an emphasis on the maintenance of U.S. preeminence instead of U.S. leadership in the international community. Quite possibly the most significant theme is a rejection of the classical notion of nuclear stability through mutual vulnerability.

Preparing for a more proliferated world: If you take together the Bush administration's push to field national missile defense (and acceptance of the RRW), its willingness to 'blow a ginormous hole' in the NPT for India while simultaneously allowing the most significant nuclear confidence building measure ever lapse, and its clear preference for the conclusiveness of military action over diplomatic negotiations, I think the White House's proliferation pessimism becomes pretty clear. Each one of these characteristics have been carefully crafted to maximize the flexibility and relative strength of the U.S. in a more proliferated world.

U.S. preeminence instead of U.S. leadership: This idea dates back to Condi Rice's "Promoting the National Interest" from the January/February 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs and extends all the way through the run-up to the Second Persian Gulf War to today. The goal of U.S. nonproliferation policy is not to prevent proliferation by establishing norms and constraints on would-be proliferators. Instead, it is a more subtle policy calculation that values enhancing U.S. advantages against proliferators more than improving the disincentives for proliferation. The Bush administration's different approach to each member of the 'Axis of Evil' epitomizes this theme.

No more MAD: There are three key examples of this characteristic. The first is the Bush administration's willingness to field a national missile defense before most of the components are even ready. The second is the 2002 revision of the Nuclear Posture Review, which put nuclear weapons on the same footing as conventional capabilities. The third was early Bush administration initiatives to enhance the 'usability' of nuclear weapons, including very small yields, 'reduced collateral damage' warheads and the robust nuclear earth penetrator.

In the context of these three themes, every policy initiative listed above certainly seems logical. The problem is that these policies convey the deep proliferation pessimism and skepticism they are based on to the international community. As the most powerful state in that community, Bush administration policy has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy if it continues to cast off the vestments the arms control and nonproliferation institutions built between the Cuban missile crisis and September 11th.

These institutions were not perfect, but they were definitely successful. Is the long-term cost of continuing to abandon them over the next few years really worth the short-term victories the Bush administration seeks?

Note: Sorry about the reformatting. Feels like I've been using right-align too often.


Stephen Trimble said...

This is Stephen Trimble, of the The DEW Line. Thanks for the link. I'll return the favor as soon as I can. The blogging business is still a little new to me. Reading your site is one of the reasons why I started a blog in the first place.

Robot Economist said...

Stephen - I appreciate the comment, this blog is really a labor of love for me.

Between work and grad school, I often found myself without a convenient place to jot down the ideas. Blogging is really a great tool for 'brains on the go,' as it were.

Jofi Joseph said...

Thanks for the post on my article. One clarification: Democracy: A Journal of Ideas was started only last year by two former Clinton Administration officials seeking to give a voice to progressive ideas across the policy spectrum, from arms control to housing policy. It is not in any way affiliated with the National Endowment for Democracy, although I understand the NED runs a similiar titled journal.

On a substantive point, I agree with your thesis. I often have thought the NRA's old slogan, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" captures this Administration's perspective on proliferation, with WMD replacing guns. In other words, it is OK to carve out an exception for India from the nuclear nonproliferation regime because India is a good guy and we don't have to worry about their nukes. START can expire because we don't worry about Russian nukes any longer. But Iran cannot have a civilian enrichment capacity because we don't trust them.

The flaws of this perspective deserve another journal article in of itself, but it is the approach these guys have taken. Bill Potter from Monterrey has done some writing on this subject.

Jofi Joseph

Robot Economist said...

Jofi - I appreciate you taking the time to read my post, I imagine Sen. Casey keeps your pretty busy.

I corrected the confusion between DJ and NED's DoJ - I only have about 2-3 hours a week to photoshop and write on my blog, so quality control sometimes takes a back seat to content. I apologize for the slip-up.

Potter's piece on the U.S.-India nuclear deal from the July 2005 Nonproliferation Rewview is a solid summary of the new "Bush consensus" on nonproliferation. An even better primary source example of this mindset is Ashley Tellis's May 2006 testimony before the House Committee on International Relations. Just read the second and third paragraphs of the testimony and you will see the basis for our common perspective (and concern).

I'm worried that the Bush administration may be fulfilling Sharam Chubin's old prediction that nonproliferation will fall apart by taking on a "powerful country vs. weak country" image.

A.E. said...

This is interesting. But the problem is that it assumes that DoD and State are headed by rational actors who have rationally assumed that the current arms control frameworks are doomed to failure. Without getting into armchair psychology here, the question I have is, given the record of this administration, can we make that assumption?

Robot Economist said...

I think we can make that assumption. Like I've said before, all you have to do is look at the tone of Bush's speeches regarding the "nexus" of WMD and terrorism to see how pessimistic the White House is about proliferation.

Frankly, I think the onyl way you can resolve the contradictions between Bush administration rhetoric on "Combating WMD" with the RRW, the Bush-Singh agreement, the Moscow Treaty and footdragging on START CVID renewal. The langauage from the still-classified 2002 Nuclear Posture Review really laid the basis of Bush administration policy.

It really has nothing to do with rationality. They are pursuing a rational policy in the context of their views of proliferation. The problem is that their views may not really match up with the realities of proliferation and proliferation norms.

A.E. said...

Your post also makes sense given the administration's spacewar policy.