Why the discourse over nuclear arms controls needs to start with objectivity
Over at the New York Times Opinionator, Robert Wright gives you a timesaving preview of his deep thoughts before Armageddon. The NPT review conference next month will amount to nothing because, essentially, because “change is impossible when lots of those 189 nations are annoyed with the nations that are pushing for change.”
So far, so good. But Mr Wright gets the whole plot wrong as to why many nations are annoyed with the nations pushing for the change. “(Some) nuclear have-nots unhappy with the United States,” he writes, because “we seem to be fine with India, Pakistan and Israel having nukes, whereas we go ballistic (figuratively) over the possession of nukes by North Korea.”
It doesn’t cross Mr Wright’s mind that the annoyance could be due the fact that there is no real sign that “pledge that the big five would gradually get rid of all their nukes” will ever be redeemed. This is typical of what some Indian commentators term “non-proliferation ayatollahs” (why insult ayatollahs?). So steeped is their sense of entitlement to nuclear weapons, so complete is their rewriting of nuclear history, that the NPT is presented merely as an instrument to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of everyone but the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. The reality that it represents a bargain—disarmament (by the five countries that had tested nuclear weapons before 1969) for non-development of nuclear weapons (by the rest)—is distorted into a discourse over who can ‘legitimately’ have nuclear weapons.
Mr Wright goes on. North Korea, he writes “having dropped out of the treaty around the time it got a nuke, has the same status in international law as India, Pakistan and Israel.” This is not only smugness and ignorance. It is a failure to apply elementary logic. There is a huge difference in international law between a countries that have willfully violated a treaty it has signed—North Korea and Iran—and a country that have not signed the treaty at all. Anthropomorphic analogies are best avoided while discussing international relations, but this one makes sense: It is absurd to accuse an unmarried person of adultery.
Mr Wright might argue that his point was that he meant that North Korea was a sovereign state, just like India, Pakistan and Israel. In which case, he should know, that so is the United States. If his point is that the United States shouldn’t discriminate between allies and non-allies when it comes to accepting their ownership of nuclear weapons, then he should answer just why the United States should accept its own nuclear status.
If all this stinks of hypocrisy, it is because that’s what it is. Realists will have no problems with that—in the amoral world of international relations, discriminatory behaviour in the pursuit of self-interest is par for the course. But in that tragically amusing world of US politics, ‘liberals’ like Mr Wright will argue that it is only the conservatives that do the hypocrisy thing. That is hypocrisy.