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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Solving the Iranian nuclear dilemma by targeting Israel?

David Albright and Andrea Scheel of the Institute for Science and International Security propose to rein in the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East by having nuclear suppliers insist on greater transparency (pdf link) in countries' nuclear programs. According to Mark T. Clark at Harvard's Middle East Strategy at Harvard:
The authors believe that the next administration must take the lead in getting all the other Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) countries to condition the sale of nuclear reactors on the requirement that recipient states agree to greater transparency of their nuclear power programs. The NSG countries should “insist on adequate international inspections of these countries, including the adoption of the Additional Protocol, and develop mechanisms to remove spent fuel from the region.” The Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement, monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is designed to provide more intrusive inspections of a country’s nuclear program.
But Albright and Scheel's recognition of the problems is followed up by targeting the wrong country for enforcement. Instead of going after Iran, which is causing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, Albright and Scheel suggest going after Israel.
Yet while the authors seem to recognize some of the underlying problems, their solution(s) simply ignore them. In this technically competent but politically naïve piece, the authors acknowledge the following: Iran’s nuclear program is the impetus for the other states in the Middle East to pursue nuclear weapons, yet no new effort to enforce existing sanctions or regimes is proposed. Iran suspended its compliance with the Protocol in 1996, and the authors have no answer to Iran’s actions. To top it off, Russia—a principal NSG country—continues to construct the Bushehr reactor despite Iran’s actions. Egypt announced in 2007 that it will not sign the Protocol, but Russia has not attempted to prevent its firms from bidding on a nuclear reactor at El Dabaa. In each case, the political will to build nuclear weapons or support the building of the infrastructure necessary for these weapons is simply ignored. A new “norm” that ignores the failure of more fundamental norms of nonproliferation seems unlikely to work any better.

But the authors go further. The authors exhort the incoming Obama administration to make it a key priority to persuade Israel to join in negotiating a universal treaty that bans the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. In the interim, they argue, the Obama administration should press Israel to suspend any production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

If it strikes the reader as odd that the authors do not recommend any actions against the recalcitrant state, Iran, but do against a state, Israel, that is not a member of the Nonproliferation Treaty, there may be a reason. As Stephen Walt argued years ago in his book, The Origins of Alliances (before he flip-flopped on all his work about how states behave under the influence of domestic actors), of all the states in the world, only the United States had some measure of control over Israel’s behavior, some means to influence the course of their actions. The United States had no comparable influence with other states, and neither did the Soviet Union over its erstwhile allies in the Middle East. The authors want success only where it can be had, with Israel, but not where the thornier problem of political will resides, with Iran.

Solutions that push for universal norms, while ignoring political realities, will produce illogical prescriptions. The central problem of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons remains unaddressed by the authors’ proposals, and ignores the more troubling concern with Russia’s irresponsible actions as a principal NSG country.
Do you understand that 'logic'? Don't bother with Iran because none of the nuclear suppliers has any influence over them (other than refusing to sell to them, which isn't even mentioned as a possibility), but go after Israel, which has allegedly had nuclear weapons for 45 years and never used them? Albright and Scheel are way off base with that one.

And by the way, the US never supplied Israel with any uranium. France did many years ago. Israel figured all the rest out by itself. So there.

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