Peer recognition does not a nuclear power make

Effective non-proliferation needs to create incentives for responsible behaviour

Regardless of whether the ‘official’ nuclear powers find it acceptable or not, India possesses nuclear weapons. While the Bush administration has taken major strides towards basing its policy on this reality, many in American policy circles continue to believe that it is possible to ostracise India into signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty as a non-nuclear state.

“Why should the United States sell controlled nuclear goods to India?” asked Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts after announcement of the agreement. “We cannot play favorites, breaking the rules of the nonproliferation treaty to favor one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons.”[NYT]

Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “This is the triumph of great power politics over non-proliferation policy.” [‘BBC’]

Under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), countries that promise not to develop nuclear weapons are provided with nuclear reactors and fuels under international safeguards. This creates an incentive for these countries to adhere to the letter and spirit of the NPT. Those who fail to comply, theoretically, can be referred to the UN Security Council to face all kinds of gory punishments that the international community can mete out. Unfortunately, great power politics bails the offenders out and they usually get away with nothing more than a damaged reputation or less. China’s role in arming Pakistan, North Korea and Libya receives little mention. North Korea pulled out of the NPT and the international community, including the likes of Congressman Ed Markey, have no real answer other than appeasement. Pakistan was allowed to escape with not as much as a rap on its wrists. Joseph Cirincione has just stated a truism — great power politics has always triumphed over non-proliferation policy.

An effective non-proliferation policy needs to create incentives for responsible behaviour even outside the NPT. So it is eminently sensible of the Bush administration to engage India — not just because a growing strategic bilateral relationship, but primarily to reinforce the advantages of adopting a responsible nuclear policy. Right now, North Korea, Iran and Pakistan are unflattering examples of the failure of the NPT. The world needs positive examples and India has set one. Even Mr Markey would agree with that.

4 thoughts on “Peer recognition does not a nuclear power make”

  1. Hi Nitin,

    Nice post. For once, I approve Bush’s unilateral move. I hope the other members of the NSG approve this too. The old hands of the State Department will raise the issues Bolton, Cohen, et al at the various fora like Pak Caucus. France and Russia were always keen on getting on with us. Now the market is between the Russian companies, French ones like Areva and American ones like GE, Westinghouse.

  2. Who says that only the five so called nuclear have a ‘right’ to hold nuclear weapons. This excuse is used by western nations to control us further, the Americans may wish to use us a bulwark against China, I feel this would be detrimental to our long term desires for economic advancement. I mean we do not see china allowing USA ti dictate its policies and as such China has pushed its own agenda of becoming an economic giant.

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