Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hear that? Its the sound of norm disintegration...

Back in April, I remember hearing rumors around the water cooler that the Israelis were lobbying the Nuclear Suppliers Group for a 'Bush-Singh' type of nuclear trade agreement. At the time, I wasn't able to uncover any news items to confirm such talk, so I dismissed it as Pentagon gossip.

Well, it appears that the rumors were true. According to a piece in today's Post, Israel did lobby the NSG back in March and they are now taking a proposal to Capitol Hill:

The Israeli presentation, made in a "nonpaper" that allows for official deniability, was offered in the context of the NSG's debate over India's bid for an exemption, according to a March 17 letter by the NSG's chairman. Among the nations that have not signed the treaty, only India and Israel would qualify for admission to the NSG under the Israeli proposal.

David Siegel, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, said it would be "grossly inaccurate" to suggest that Israel is demanding an exemption or linking its efforts to any other issue, such as the India debate.

"Israel has never asked the NSG for any exemption to its nuclear supply guidelines, nor has Israel made any Israeli-specific request of the NSG," Siegel said. "Israel, recognized to be a full-fledged adherent to the NSG guidelines, has urged the NSG to consider adopting a generic, multi-tiered, criteria-based approach towards nuclear technology transfers." He noted that some NSG countries previously have suggested such an approach.

"Modification of the NSG guidelines, were it to take place along the lines proposed by Israel, would considerably enhance the nuclear nonproliferation regime," Siegel said.

The Israeli plan offers 12 criteria for allowing nuclear trade with non-treaty states, including one that hints at Israel's status as an undeclared nuclear weapons state: A state should be allowed to engage in nuclear trade if it applies "stringent physical protection, control and accountancy measures to all nuclear weapons, nuclear facilities, source material and special nuclear material in its territory."

If you look at the tenor of Bush administration nonproliferation policy, they should be inclined to agree with such a proposal. Prior to 2000, nonproliferation was about keeping the declared and undeclared portions of the nuclear weapons club as small as possible. Now, nonproliferation is about keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of 'tyrants' and 'terrorists.'

While I would be the last one to advocate for giving a 'tyrant' or a 'terrorist' a nuclear weapon, I would like to point out two flaws in the White House's logic: (1) What exactly are the criteria for applying either label to a nation or group? (2) How do plan on convincing all states with relatively mature nuclear industries to sign up to those definitions?

Right now, the answer to the first question looks a lot like 'those nations or groups who oppose U.S. foreign policy.' If the administration has an answer for the second question, I sincerely hope it does not have the word 'followership' in it. It wouldn't surprise me if it had the word 'U.S. sanctions' in it though.

Fortunately, I think the Bush administration will keep its distance from the Israeli proposal for fear of doing harm to their India deal. This is probably also why we are hearing about Israeli activity on Capitol Hill. If the White House was really receptive to the proposal, the first time we would have heard about it is when a final agreement was ready for signature.

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