No Nukes?

Last night, my colleague Charlie Quidnunc exposed an internal State Department message board that was discussing who should — and should not — be allowed to have nuclear weapons. I didn’t “dip” my toe into the waters over there, but it strikes me as the whole question seems moot — there are already rules in place that govern such things: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Countries that do not have nuclear weapons have a simple choice: they can sign it or not. If they sign it, then the nuclear powers are then obligated to help them develop peaceful use of nuclear technology: power generation, medical applications, and the like. If they don’t, then they can do whatever they like, but with zero help from the nuclear powers.

Oddly enough, the Dips actually mention the NPT, but don’t actually discuss what it says and means — especially when one considers that not every nation chose to sign it.

Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, I recall two countries that chose to say “thanks, but no thanks” and go it alone on nuclear matters: South Africa and Israel. And both nations were believed to have developed nuclear weapons without any overt assistance from other nations — all perfectly legal and valid.

The real issue comes up when you have a nation that signs on to the treaty, then violates it. That’s what North Korea did. That’s what Iran and Iraq allegedly did.

It’s also what India and Pakistan did, but that one situation didn’t have a ready solution. Their mutual violations and barging into the “nuclear club” seems to have brought a slight dose of sanity to their conflicts, stabilizing things a bit, so the rest of the world informally agreed to look the other way and let it slide.

The notion that “any nation that wants nuclear weapons should be free to develop them” is just fine and dandy — right up until you remember that inconvenient truth that those nations in question freely foreswore such things years ago, and didn’t bother to withdraw from that agreement before breaking it.

And I find myself utterly fascinated by the fact that the very same people — or the heirs thereof — who were pushing for nuclear disarmament back in the 70’s and 80’s.

I guess “consistency” is too much like “integrity” to them.

Juan Cole, The Dumbest Ph.D. in History
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