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India, US sign Nuclear Deal

The US and India sign a deal that gives India access to US nuclear technology even as the inevitable critics speak out:

“It will set a precedent that Iran will use to argue that the United States has a double standard,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, a leading opponent of the deal. “You can’t break the rules and expect Iran to play by them, and that’s what President Bush is doing today.”

Of course, Iran signed the NPT and India did not, but India’s case does not rest on technicalities, nor is the notion of ‘discriminating’ in favour of a particular nation anything new in the non-proliferation game:

The deal’s opponents also like to argue that, in order to be fair and equitable, the same agreement must be extended to all other declared nuclear states that have remained outside the NPT—namely Pakistan. That assumes that treating all non-NPT states in the same way would somehow make the regime more legitimate. In practice, though, the nonproliferation regime’s survival has depended on discrimination. Japan is allowed to reprocess spent fuel and stockpile plutonium, but South Korea is not. South Korean scientists secretly enriched uranium to weapons grade, forged uranium metal from imported fertilizer, and secretly reprocessed plutonium—yet Seoul was not reprimanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), even though Iran is facing sanctions for similar activities. Discrimination “in favor” of India, then, is not an unprecedented act that necessitates immediate redress by extending a similar deal to Pakistan. And if the larger point isn’t clear enough, consider that the United States is being condemned for an agreement on civilian cooperation with India, whereas there is no discussion of the impact of Chinese nuclear weapons designs transferred to Pakistan (from which they have traveled to Iran, Libya, and North Korea).

It is somewhat bemusing to see perfectly intelligent men like Rep. Markey cling on to the very-60s notion that a country can be kept from developing nuclear weapons by force of a treaty (and the implied threat of sanctions) alone. Today, nuclear technology — especially almost-as-devastating ‘dirty bomb’ technology — is dispersed enough that non-state actors can get hold of it. The NPT is about as useful in this world as farriers are on an autobahn. Most leaders recognize this and know it makes sense to co-opt India, with its clean record on proliferation — hence the visits by Chirac and Bush in quick succession to New Delhi. Yet the world will have to suffer a last dance by the non-proliferation dinosaurs before a new order emerges out of the unworkable present.

(Updated 3 March) I think this comment on Daniel Drezner’s blog best captures the discomfiture of the non-proliferation faithful. Essentially, to them this deal is a moral hazard:

… you miss the point. The point is that there are procedures for things in this world and when you bypass all precedants and procedures and render them meaningless, you may get the thing you want, but you are also fundamentally changing how the world works, particularly if you keep ignoring procedure over and over again or only half-heartedly go through its motions (as in the case of the start of the Iraq war).

(Italics mine.) The problem, of course is that the procedures were never much good anyway — all it did was allow a declared weapons power (China) to covertly arm Pakistan and North Korea, and an undeclared power (Pakistan) to atomize nuclear tech to the world’s hotspots (North Korea, Iran). Like it or not, the world has changed and the comfortable world the NPT envisages looks increasingly out of sync with reality. Here’s hoping some of the nuclear idealists take off their blinkers long enough to realize that.

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3 March 2006 12:09 am


It is interesting to compare Bush’s statement on the Dubai Ports World affair that

I think it sends a terrible signal to friends around the world that it’s okay for a company from one country to manage the port, but not a country that plays by the rules and has got a good track record from another part of the world can’t manage the port.

with Chirac’s surly responses re Mittal Steel’s Arcelor bid. On the other hand, the US hasn’t been entirely free of the sort of knee-jerk reaction I would normally expect from India’s Communists: Hillary Clinton is planning to introduce legislation that bans the sale of ports to foreign governments (Dubai Ports World is an UAE-goverment enterprise, not quite the same thing) and Baltimore Mayor dramatically declares

…turn over the Port of Baltimore, the home of the Star Spangled Banner, to the United Arab Emirates? Not so long as I’m mayor and not so long as I have breath in my body.

While Patrix notes that many conservatives are up in arms about the deal, from where I stand the opposition seems to be bipartisan, clueless and reflexively believe that enterprises based in the Middle-East are somehow a terrorist risk1 (as a wag pointed out — Madame Tussauds is owned by a Dubai holding company now; can we expect bombs embedded inside wax statuettes next?). It is especially ironic that so many Democrats — normally up in arms against racial profiling — are rushing to judge a company on the basis of its origin rather than its record.

1A belief that Muslim/Arab companies (and possibly governments) are more vulnerable to being compromised by terrorists is a more understandable one. However given that the ownership by a Dubai firm does not change the day-to-day running of the ports (or Madame Tussauds, for that matter), I consider it unlikely that ownership alone can present a security risk.

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23 February 2006 4:32 pm

Non-proliferation vs Realpolitik

A while back Madhoo wrote about people who refuse to live in the present:

…Does it make any sense whatsoever to react to decades-old stuff just because it has just been declassified? Nixon is no more, Indira Gandhi is not alive and Kissinger is in no way involved with the current administration - what is the point on making a big deal about this now?

I think this is what is the problem is with us - living in the past. We refuse to let go of the demons of the past and refuse to look ahead. Every time there is a remote chance of us getting anywhere better, we go into a self-destructive mode and shoot ourselves in the foot. Idiots!

On the other hand, it seems living in the past isn’t the exclusive preserve of the Rediff webmasters but also senior American policymakers:

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) condemned the agreement as a “dangerous proposition and bad nonproliferation policy” and said he will introduce legislation to block it. “We cannot play favorites, breaking the rules of the nonproliferation treaty, to favor one nation at the risk of undermining critical international treaties on nuclear weapons,” he said in a statement. “What will Russia say when they want to supply more nuclear materials or technology to Iran? You can be sure that Pakistan will demand equal treatment.”

Bolton, Bush’s nominee to become U.N. ambassador, argued that such cooperation would mean rewarding a country that built a nuclear weapon in secret, using technology it obtained under the guise of civilian power. Both North Korea and Iran are believed to have tried the same route to develop nuclear weapons. Some within the administration said the deal would be damaging at a time when the United States is trying to ratchet up international pressure on both those countries to give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions.

Non-proliferation made sense in a world where few nations had access to nuclear weapons. In a changed world where ‘responsible’ superpowers ship fissile material to irresponsible anarchies (which then scatter the lethal technology amongst the world’s worst), proliferation is a fait accompli and non-proliferation is a lame duck. Yet the policymakers for whom non-proliferation is an end, not a means to peace continue their sad, irrelevant dance on the DC stage.

What is interesting about non-proliferation is that it has worked for as long as it has: countries like Brazil and South Africa which signed up for the NPT did not do so primarily for the carrot of civilian nuclear tech, rather their national threat perception did not indicate the need for a nuclear deterrent. In the shadow of nuclear China and belligerent Pakistan, India obviously saw things differently.

The fact that the non-proliferation hawks in DC can still talk about ‘favorites’ and ‘breaking the rules [for India]‘, can still equate India with Pakistan and North Korea indicates that they are far more out of touch than the tactless webmasters at Rediff. For the rules have already been broken and the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, and the posession of the genie must today be predicated on a nation’s record rather than its level of technological accomplishment in 1968.


19 July 2005 2:28 pm

Superpower Baiting

The contents of previously unreleased 14 minutes of OBL’s tape are eerily similar to what John Robb has been writing about for some time. (If you don’t read him regularly, you should.)

While this shows OBL is far from being a mere rabble-rouser, some have noted that his economic thinking is extremely simplistic. This is no doubt true: the US economy has depth and is likely to sustain a war by itself for four more years, however it also misses the point; Al Qaida’s motive is not to win but to be stomped upon, again and again. This stomping, they hope, will be heavy-handed enough (shades of “we had to burn the village in order to save it” Vietnam style warfare) and cause enough collateral damage to arouse resentment across the world, further isolating America and especially arouse the fury of the demographically-surging Muslim world:

[America] has started a campaign which has forced the majority of Muslims against it. But of course tactically it has scored major gains. A lot of these so-called strategic analysts mistake these tactical gains for strategic leverage. The point is that these people are not strategic analysts because they never bring the historical, ideological and social dimensions into their calculations. They only consider political and military factors…

There is some reason to believe that of late the current administration has become more sensitive to social dimensions: the siege of Fallujah being a good example. Interestingly, by fighting in Iraq, the US has opened up a new strategic front in the war on terror.

Do opportunities for strategic gain exist in Iraq given the US’ heavy-handed application of military force? Yes — if it is able to deliver on its promise to plant democracy in the middle-east. A thriving democracy in Iraq will show the Arab street that a third option exists, away from their rigid mullahcracies and away from the promised glories of martyrdom. It is a admittedly a huge gamble to take, because it questions the conventional wisdom that the Muslim world would never accept ‘Western’ traditions like liberal democracy and the separation of church and state (incidentally, conventional wisdom in 1947 was that India wasn’t ready for democracy either). If it succeeds, it will resoundingly show once and for all that like all men Muslims too desire happiness in this world as opposed to the next.

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2 November 2004 9:27 am

Partisan Hats and Academic Hats

Joshua Allen notes that Tanenbaum — in his current incarnation as the Votemaster — does not seem to be too rigorous about statistics.

I was struck by this as well, while going through the Votemaster FAQ, where he accepts the statistically questionable Lancet study without question: Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war, mostly women and children, he says.

Of course, given that he is a declared partisan in this contest, it is likely that Tanenbaum abandoned academic rigour for more effective rhetoric. However it also underlines why academic enquiry and politics don’t mix; to do either effectively, putting on one hat requires putting down the other.


5:55 am

Liberal Rage

After Elizabeth Edward’s “no riots if we win” (audio, mirror), it’s now time for self-confessed pacifist hippie Dave Winer to step up to the plate:

…We’re so divided because of Bush that people are actually talking openly about civil war after the election. This is no good. I find myself ready to say to our friends in Europe and Asia, it’s time for you guys to plan your invasion of the US. We need a lot of help here.

(Boldface mine). With peace-loving pacifist citizens like these, the United States doesn’t really need outsiders to wish it harm.

Update: more Liberal Rage here.

Update 9 Nov 2004: Post-election, Dave seems to have got put away the partisan rage and gotten back to normal again, which is great. Now maybe the (necessary, given that it was an election year) partisan shrillness on both sides can be put aside in favour of more important issues, like making life difficult for people who make snuff videos out of beheadings.


27 October 2004 4:09 pm

Girlie Men…

Speaking of of girlie men… Detail from a potrait of King Louis XIV, by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701.

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1 September 2004 1:02 pm

Scripting News and the Kerry Campaign

It’s sad to see Scripting News turn into a soundbite site for the Kerry Campaign. Weblogs are supposed to wear their biases on their sleeves (and Dave has laid his biases bare: this election has one and only one issue for him: Anyone But Bush); however, it is interesting to see which way a weblog turns when there’s a conflict of interest.

Regular readers of Scripting News know that the relationship between webloggers and journalists is a fairly regular topic here. Because of that, the silence on Scripting News about the Swiftvets and their (non-)coverage in the media was mystifying. Here was a story where the weblogs were getting all the action, and I for one expected Dave to point to it and rebutt it vociferously. However, the position on Scripting News was radio silence. Now, this could be simply a result of Dave having too much on his plate, however, given the things he is likely to write about I have to wonder if the silence was a result of a battle between his politics and his professional work (as a thought-leader in weblogging), a battle which his politics won.

A great counterpoint is Scoble’s point about who you should point to: to be an authority on the operating system industry and to become an authority you must point to ALL stuff, not just that that’s friendly. Substitute ‘integrity’ for ‘authority’ and ‘politics’ for ‘operating system’ and there’s a point the guru of weblogging could himself take to heart.

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24 August 2004 8:09 am

Iowa Electronic Markets

For this year’s US Presidential Election, the graph to watch is the Iowa Electronic Markets Winner-takes-all market prices graph. Interestingly, it’s been running close to a dead heat these past two weeks. What does the market know that we don’t? (For those interested, the IEM’s 2000 Elections markets have some fascinating data as well.)

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23 August 2004 12:26 pm

The Last Internet Campaign

Clay Shirky on the last Internet campaign:

Those of us watching Dean thinking “This is it - the campaign we’ve been waiting for” were, in a way, correct. This is it, or rather that was it, before Dean decided that he could run a populist campaign without the support of the populous. The big surprise, to me and to many of us, is how little it mattered. Though Trippi said “It’s all about money”, they blew through $40M to surprisingly little effect.

I have a bad terrific case of schadenfreude about this: I am laughing about how paypal-tipping Deaniacs are still scratching their heads about how they’re still behind 0-9. The entire Dean campaign, with the “Internet constituency” as one of its most vocal (or is that blogarrific?) drivers, reminded me far too much of the second superpower meme floating around a while ago. That meme, like the energy behind the Deaniacs, fed on a vicious cycle of groupthink and faux bleeding-heart politics. At least the Deaniacs spent $40m of their own money to realize exactly where they stand — i.e., nowhere; which is more than can be said about the reflexive anti-war brigade.

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16 February 2004 9:21 pm

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