Less than two weeks ago, President Bush announced a new strategy aimed at eliminating nuclear proliferation worldwide. The strategy calls for international cooperation to eliminate the exchange of fissile material and weapons technology among nations. In principle, the president’s new initiative is a positive step towards eventual multilateral disarmament, but in practice, it can only be expected to fail. When placed in the context of current United States nuclear policy, a number of inconsistencies between President Bush’s foreign and domestic nuclear goals become evident.
The president claims that countries have taken advantage of the freedom to exchange nuclear materials for civilian purposes, in order to build nuclear weapons. His strategy seeks to prevent nations like Iran and Syria from proliferating by cutting off access to rudimentary resources necessary for construction. Thus, any nuclear technology exchange, whether aimed toward the ultimate goal of energy-producing or weapon-making would be considered illicit.
On a side note, Bush proposed that nations could be exempt from the nuclear trading ban if and only if they ratify a protocol that would apply strict and intrusive inspections of civil nuclear facilities. But this exception is conditional and forces the cessation of a degree of autonomy, and any inspection of civil nuclear facilities could easily assert the intention of creating nuclear weapons. Interestingly enough, the Bush administration wishes the United States to be exempt from these inspections while other signatories of the protocol would be subject to them.
President Bush’s proposal would furthermore apply to “neutral” as well as “rogue” states — for example, a nation that is currently devoid of nuclear infrastructure such as South Korea would not be able to receive technology from other nations. This principle of absolute isolation from nuclear equipment rests on the assumption that technology meant for peaceful purposes can easily be converted for weapons production.
The discrepancy between what the United States is demanding of others and what the United States demands of itself can be seen on two levels. First, from a broad standpoint, it seems hypocritical of the United States to prevent outside nations from acquiring nuclear weapons when it is researching a new generation of nukes within its own borders. In May 2003, Senate Republicans voted to lift a prohibition on the development of low yield nuclear weapons, and the Fiscal Year 2004 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill included funding for the research of the “nuclear earth penetrator.” Should other nations be expected to take seriously U.S. claims of a commitment towards global disarmament, when the U.S. stockpile continues to grown?
On a deeper level, the justification offered by the Bush administration for its nuclear foreign policy is in direct opposition to the justification for its nuclear domestic policy. As previously stated, the principle of “absolute isolation” rests on the assumption that there cannot be a definitive boundary between peaceful and destructive pursuits of nuclear technology. Yet during an interview for “Arms Control Today,” Linton Brooks, the administrator of Bush’s National Nuclear Security Administration, exposed a clear inconsistency. Brooks rejected the claim that research on new tactical nuclear weapons would lead to actual production, and asserted that a lift on the testing ban was necessary for the U.S. to research non-destructive issues. Brooks stated that “the amendment was poorly drawn and it prohibited research that could lead to a low-yield nuclear weapon. And so, we were in a situation where to think about anything you sort of had to have two physicists, an engineer, and a lawyer, because most concepts could lead to low-yield [weapons], regardless of what they were designed to do.”
The Bush administration seems bold enough to assert that other nations should be cut off from nuclear trading because they would cross the line between peaceful and violent development, but that the United States should have the latitude to discern between peaceful and violent research. To do this is to claim that the standards the United States places on the rest of the globe simply do not apply to itself — or that the United States has a better sense of responsibility and moral uprightness than all other nations.
There are some who claim that the United States is indeed this type of exceptional power, and they exert a repugnance to an assertion of similarity between our nation and any “rogue” nation. But in order to maintain any semblance of global stability, it is essential to apply uniform rules and regulations. To treat other nations differently is in violation of the golden rule common to all major religions: treat others as you want to be treated. The choice is ours; if we start demanding of ourselves what we ask of others, we can expect to find a more peaceful world; but if we continue to place ourselves on a pedestal we should not be surprised by claims of American arrogance and hatred directed at us by both state and non-state actors.
Through its new strategy, the Bush administration has envisioned an important stride towards eventual nuclear disarmament, but it will ultimately fail if the administration continues to pursue policies that appear hypocritical. The United States is the unrivaled global leader, that is conceded — but we must take care that the example we set is consistent with our vision of the future.
Howard Kim is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College.