Saturday, October 21, 2006

THBT the US Federal Government should Abandon the Non-Proliferation Treaty

Some things simply should not be done at the end of the school week, especially when the weather is not simply cold but miserable i.e. gray. One of them, is stupidly volunteering to ironman (one person team) a debate when you do not know what the motion is. But regardless, here's the government case I came up with and why I would have shredded myself if I were on opposition.

Anyway, simple policy, the US President (he's the only one with the powers to enter into and terminate or abandon treaties under US Constitution) will give the requisite 6 months notice and pull out of the NPT.

Issue 1. Has the NPT failed?

The Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty as the name does not suggest merely refers to nuclear weapons (and nuclear technology that can lead to the weaponisation of nuclear power). So yes, Iran is right in that it does have the right to civilian nuclear power. But I simply tend to laugh at the suggestion they don't wish to gain nuclear weapons.[1]

But the fact remains that instead of the original Nuclear Club of 5, we now have a club of 8.[2] The implicit bargain that in return for not attempting to develop nuclear weapons, everyone else would not develop them and hopefully that would mean no nuclear deverstation. And of course, there still remain the right to civilian nuclear energy. But the prospect of having a nuke is simply too enticing for various reasons and the moment someone else has one, the surrounding neighbours get twitchy enough to consider having one. So see India and Pakistan for example. Japan is playing it remarkably cool by not seeking the nuclear option despite their very real capabilities. But one wonders whether Taiwan and South Korea feel the same way. Similarly, An nuclear Iran may well spur Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the UAE to seek it.

Secondly, the nuclear threshold has been breached. The Nuclear 5 wasn't suppose to aid other nations in their quest for nuclear weapons. Unfortunately China helped Pakistan and through AQ "Nuclear Supermarker" Khan it spread to North Korea. North Korea given enough time and desperation may well start selling its expertise to other nations with even less compunture in using them (hard as it may be to believe.

But President Kennedy's prediction in 1969 that in less than a decade that there would be 25 nuclear nations has not come through because in part of the NPT. The argument I would make is that circumstances have radically changed such that past behavior cannot predict future performance. The fear of nuclear armagedeon has passed and nations seek nuclear weapons for other purposes. Not enough to destroy the world but to serious hurt the other nation in the game we call M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction).

But the other threat is that nukes will be used for terror purposes by non-state actors. The more nukes there are around, the more likely that something will fall into their hands.

But even so, would the world and the US be better off without the NPT to bind them? A strong argument could be made that a freer market in nuclear weaponisation technology and a freer hand the US has in it would make the entire process much more overt as opposed to the covert actions that simply cannot be monitored in any reasonable process.

Issue 2. Would the US be better off on a pure domestic interest assessment?

Two arguments I made here. Firstly, that the ban on testing (and thus necessisating computer simulation instead) made the nuclear arsenal unsafe whether because of the unknown quality of the weapons tested way back a couple of decades ago, or the efficacy of the ones developed since them and upgraded on the basis of computer simulations. Cue your usual doomsday arguments here, although I seriously doubt that nuclear weapons can spontaneously combust. The real problem is their military efficacy, especially if it blows up in the silo itself.

Second, this would free up the US to develop tactical nukes. I called it the "shock and awe for a New World Order". But seriously the agrument was not simply that tactical nukes are good,[3] but more that the US should have a free hand in determining their nuclear weapon R 'n D.

But the biggest and most complete rebuttal to that is that if the Status Quo works fine then this opens Pandora's Box in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and thereby making the US much much more unsafe.

Issue 3. Would the world be a safer place if the US had a freer hand in helping and aiding not just its allies but also in dealing with its enemies?

It boils down to the US not having to play nudge nudge wink wink with such things as the nuclear cooperation treaty they signed with India [4] and actually helping its allies to ensure the nuclear option goes through smoothly and that there are proper transfer of the latest technology and regulations for safety and efficacy and speed reasons.

Alternatively, if the remaining Axis of Evil wants nukes to deter the possibility of an US attack then give them nukes and hopefully that would be enough and be the end of it.

But conversely, do we really want to encourage the proliferation of such weapons? Stopping the proliferation is not impossible but the states need to get their priorities in order. And right now, the fear of the collapse of North Korea is what's staying China's and South Korea's hand. Giving NK nukes or helping them with it is not going to help matters any and could possibly make it impervious to reform and pose a real threat further down the line.

The fact is, the US abandoning the NPT will prompt the other nations in abandoning it as well and there will be a general proliferation of such weapons. MAD only works if the system works. Kashmir and not the Taiwan Straits is the most dangerous place on earth because Pakistan and India simply don't have the Command and Control system that would make the MAD system work. Once you get twitchy about the fact that you dont have second strike capabilities, the imperative is going to getting the first strike out. And handing control over to your field commanders is arguably a very very bad idea. Under the stress of battle, it's a sure fire way of overreacting. And when you're just next door, you simply have no time to react to incoming missiles till it's too late.

Maybe, just maybe we can stem the tide here and now. But I'm honestly not too optimistic about it just yet.


[1] Their deceptive actions count against them, as is their outright rejection of Russia doing the uranium enriching for them instead on Iranian soil, and there's that fact where the nuclear sites being situated don't seem to be able to reach any town if it were really simply going ot generate energy for civilian use

[2] Or 9, depending on whether one counts Israel

[3] To be honest I'm not sure that small nukes fitted on bunker busters are actually better than the conventional stuff, even excepting the radiation fallout bit

[4] And thereby legitimising its nuclear arsenal and opens them up to criticisms of yet more double standards. But conversely why not? If you're fit to have weapons then go ahead, if not, the world for its own sake should strive mightily in preventing from laying hands on them.



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