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Friends and foes March 3, 2006

Posted by electricaloratory in Politics.
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Although there is much less controversy (yet) regarding Bush’s deal with India than the Dubai port agreement, it’s most likely going to be far more problematic and deserving of scrutiny. The Dubai thing is a mountain made out of a molehill – the Indian thing is most likely going to get worse over time.

We want to be friends with India, and for good reason. They’re the world’s largest democracy, and one of the world’s largest growing economies. We have enough in common to be able to work well together on most issues. At the moment, that seems to be something of the problem – we want so much to be friends with them that we’re having trouble following through on our obligations regarding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

India did not sign the treaty, and made it quite clear that they did not agree with the spirit of the thing. They were going to become a nuclear power. I imagine this is in part the need to maintain parity with Pakistan, China, and other nearby powers, and in part the cachet that comes with being a nuclear power. We have obgliations with our other NPT signatories to treat the Indians a certain way because of that, obligations this latest agreement does not meet. They obviously don’t want to be punished (especially for violating a treaty they’re not a part of), and we think (rightly so, I suspect) that there is more to gain from stronger trading ties than keeping them at arm’s length.

How to resolve this tension is the core of the matter. Honestly, it might be that it’s time to rethink the whole matter of non-proliferation. South Africa appears now to be much more of an outlier than an example – voluntarily disarming and disavowing nuclear arms is something many countries feel they don’t have the luxury of doing. Rogue states are going to ignore such concepts regardless, and in turn they’re going to threaten those who are not rogue yet not fully integrated into transnational communities such as the NPT. Engagement has seemed to almost always work better than isolation, but you can’t deter someone with a carrot.
And perhaps we should not. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to deter someone who feels their security is at risk. And I don’t think we can make a credible offer to India (or those in an India-like position) to accomodate their security in a different acceptable fashion. They’re going to do what they feel is necessary, and I can’t say that I blame them.

Is there any way to salvage the spirit of the NPT while acknowledging that there are some states who are “OK” to have nukes and others cannot? I don’t see it. I don’t think there is any language that could correctly capture the nuance involved, and once you leave the realm of bright lines I think we would all be better served by dealing with each incident on an honest case-by-case basis.

There are lots of things I’m sure I haven’t thought about yet regarding this. Non-proliferation is still an admirable goal. But as with many transnational arrangements, the “good guys” you never had to worry about in the first place, and the “bad guys” don’t want anything to do with you anyway. India stands in a grey area, and I think they need to be enticed to step into the former group than pushed into the latter.