Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Neocon lite nuclear agenda: A review of George Perkovich et al.’s "Universal Compliance: A strategy for nuclear security"

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has come up with a liberal counter-proliferation Bible whose selective implementation will likely leave the world more unequal – and dangerous.

11 October 2005
The Hindu

Neocon lite nuclear agenda

UNIVERSAL COMPLIANCE — A Strategy for Nuclear Security: George Perkovich, et al; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and India Research Press, B-4/22, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi-110029. Price not stated.

Ask international security experts to identify the principal nuclear threat facing the world today and most would likely say Iran or North Korea, or perhaps even India and Pakistan. Apart from terrorists getting hold of nuclear weapons, the `danger’ posed by the spread of technology to enrich uranium (for use as fuel to power civilian power reactors) would also figure near the top of the list since the same technology, once mastered, could be used to produce highly-enriched uranium for nuclear bombs. Few experts, however, would be willing to point their finger at the U.S. and the other four `official’ nuclear weapon states (NWSs), which maintain arsenals big enough to blow us all up many times over, and then some.

Of these, the U.S., in particular, poses a unique threat as it is actively developing new, more `effective’ nuclear weapons, and adheres to a doctrine and force posture which emphasises the use of nuclear weapons. Its missile defence programme also raises the prospect of a new nuclear missile race as well as the militarisation of space. Moreover, the doctrines of `pre-emptive war’ and `regime change’ propounded by the Bush administration in the wake of its aggression against Iraq in 2003 have degraded the security environment – particularly in Asia – to the point where the nuclear option has begun to look attractive for some states once again. A case in point is North Korea, which sees the possession of nuclear weapons as a hedge against any aggressive U.S. designs.

Proliferation scenario

In Universal Compliance, George Perkovich and his colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have taken a step towards recognising the integrated nature of the proliferation problem — and the negative role that current U.S. nuclear weapons policies play. And yet, their study falls short. Principally, the authors fail to appreciate that much of the Bush administration’s policies worldwide are driven less by genuine proliferation concerns and more by a wider set of hegemonic impulses which are vitiating the security scenario around the globe, particularly in Asia. This naïveté on the part of Perkovich, et al leads them to recommend measures to restrict the right of sovereign countries to peaceful nuclear technology, as well as an expansion in the role of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as global enforcers. The authors don’t fully see eye to eye with some of Washington’s current policies but, at the end of the day, have come up with Counterproliferation Lite, a slightly less mad version of the neocon agenda minus the mini-nukes and space-based missile interceptors.

The book’s title refers to the authors’ desire for universal compliance with “the norms and rules of a toughened nuclear nonproliferation regime.” (original emphasis) This, in turn, involves six obligations: make non-proliferation irreversible, by banning the acquisition of nuclear fuel cycles by additional states and making it difficult for countries to quit the NPT; devalue the political and military currency of nuclear weapons by diminishing the role of such weapons in security policies; secure all nuclear materials through robust standards of accounting and monitoring of fissile material; stop illegal transfers; commit to conflict resolution so that the states involved have no reason to pursue nuclear weapons; solve the `three-state problem’ of accommodating India, Pakistan and Israel as de facto nuclear weapon states by persuading them to accept non-proliferation obligations.

After dealing with strengthened enforcement through the institutionalisation of tough (and endless) inspection mechanisms of the kind seen in Iraq (Unscom/Unmovic), and the use of force, the book moves on to the importance of `Blocking Supply’. This section consists, inter alia, of recommendations on stopping the spread of enrichment technology, and the use of the Proliferation Security Initiative to interdict shipping on the high seas.

Twin goals

In the chapter on `Abating Demand’, Perkovich, et al state that the twin goals of U.S. nuclear policy should be “to prevent new actors from acquiring nuclear weapons and to reduce toward zero the risk that those who have these weapons will use them.” They then ask how these two goals should be pursued. “Two radically different approaches have been advanced: to acquire new nuclear weapons with more usable characteristics, thus to dissuade proliferators; and to de-emphasise and devalue nuclear weapons, thus to strengthen the norm against their acquisition and use.” The authors favour the second approach, though their recommendations have absolutely zero traction with either the Bush administration or the Congress.

Turning to specific regional issues, Perkovich, et al recommend that India and Pakistan be encouraged to “cease uranium enrichment and plutonium separation, in return for ending international restrictions on nuclear technology and fuel service cooperation.” They also call on the U.S. to “promote stable conventional force balances in the subcontinent” and between India and China, and to “not provide U.S. weaponry capable of delivering nuclear weapons such as fighter-bombers or of destabilizing the strategic balance, such as ballistic missile defence.” On missile defence and fighter-bombers, the authors are clearly out of sync with the Bush administration, though their suggestion on plutonium separation echoes the recent call made by analysts close to the Bush administration to use the July 18 Indo-U.S. nuclear deal to wean India away from its plutonium-breeding three-stage nuclear power programme. Incredibly, Perkovich et al also argue that India and Pakistan should be denied access to new safeguarded reactors unless they sign the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states.

Limiting proliferation

If there is one flaw in the book’s analysis, it is the preoccupation with controlling the nuclear fuel cycle as a key means of halting proliferation. As the authors themselves note, no less than 46 countries today have stocks of weapon-usable uranium. The list includes Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, Vietnam and many others. The fact that only nine have made weapons suggests the key to limiting proliferation lies in creating a stable security environment so that countries with the capacity have no conceivable incentive to go down the weapon route. In other words, the original sin is not proliferation but aggression or the threat of aggression — a subject the U.S. is quite familiar with.

Is Iran pursuing enrichment in order to build a bomb? International inspections have found nothing though, technically, the jury is still out. Perkovich, et al counsel the U.S. to tell the Iranian Government that it “will not pursue regime change through military action” if Tehran “verifiably forswears acquisition of capabilities to produce materials that can be used in nuclear weapons.” In other words, Iran must give up its legal rights to technology put to verifiable civilian use or else face military action. Even if Iran accepts this, the authors are not prepared to rule out regime change through non-military means such as subversion or sanctions. How such an approach can be called a “strategy for nuclear security” is beyond comprehension.

© Copyright 2000 – 2005 The Hindu

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3 comments on “Neocon lite nuclear agenda: A review of George Perkovich et al.’s "Universal Compliance: A strategy for nuclear security"

  1. Anonymous
    October 24, 2005

    So you will kill a billion by some Paksitani terrorist exploding in a Power plant in India and Newdelhi will Hogwash saying , ” It is a disaster we did nto foresee” .There is no reason to pursue nuclear option in India except for the growing population, any Level headed person would agree this !With increasing population , I am sure you build more nuclear plants and you also increase the risk of Radiation and Explosion by terrorist.No one debates about how much health risks these Nuclear Power brings with it, ( just compare with bhopal tragedy) One day lesson will be learned by all fools who dont make right choices!And other innocent population will suffer by their hasty decisions

  2. Hiren
    October 20, 2005

    All talk of non proliferation is a lot of intellectual gymnastics. The western world will never give up nuclear weapons and they therefore have no credibility or business to tell others to give them up.

  3. Anonymous
    October 12, 2005

    What is amazing to me is the suggestion that the Security Council will or even should just announce that it is changing the terms of the NPT. Not subject to any renegotiation or reratification. The idea is that if a nation ratifies the NPT it gives the United States the license to make up new terms as it sees fit.From the Summary of Policy Recommendations (Iran Section):“Introduce a Security Council resolution to make clear that any state thst withdraws from the NPT remains responsible for violations committed while still a party to the treaty. (p. 79)”“Introduce a Security Council resolution that a state that withdraws from the treaty – whether or not it has violated it – may no longer make use of nuclear materials, facilities, equipment, or technology acquired from another country before its withdrawal. (p. 79)”The Security Council does not just change treaties. The Security Council can’t introduce a resolution that makes it clear that the NAFTA treaty allows unlimited Mexican immigration to the United States. Even if everyone were to agree that unlimited immigration would be a good thing.Another amazing issue is that this seems to be a search for some way to assert that Iran, which ratified the NPT but has does not agree to restrictions beyond the NPT that the United States would like, is somehow in violation in a way that Israel, which has not ratified the NPT, is not.

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This entry was posted on October 11, 2005 by in Book Reviews, Nuclear Issues.

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