According to a New York Times story today, behind the Bush administration's about-face on multilateral "carrot, no stick" negotiations with Iran is a desire to shove Europe in the direction of closing certain loopholes in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Closing the holes would mean giving the U.S. and Europe the power to decide which nations lose their right to develop nuclear technology -- that's any nuclear technology, incluing power plants -- that could be developed in conjunction with a secret nuclear weapons program.
just three days before the White House announced its new approach to Iran - in which it allowed Europe to offer broader incentives in return for an agreement to ask the United Nations for sanctions if Iran refuses to give up the ability to make nuclear material - Mr. Bush issued a statement that left little doubt about where he was headed.
The statement was advertised by the White House as a routine commemoration of the treaty's 35th anniversary, and a prelude to a meeting in May in New York to consider its future. It never mentioned Iran by name. But after lauding the past accomplishments of the treaty, also known as the N.P.T., in limiting the spread of nuclear arms, Mr. Bush went on to say, "We cannot allow rogue states that violate their commitments and defy the international community to undermine the N.P.T.'s fundamental role in strengthening international security.
"We must therefore close the loopholes that allow states to produce nuclear materials that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programs."
On Sunday, his new national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, took the next step, making clear the connection to the current crisis with Iran. Yes, he said on CNN, the Iranians say their nuclear work is entirely for peaceful purposes. He cited no new evidence of a secret Iranian project to build a bomb, though that is what the Central Intelligence Agency and officials like Mr. Hadley insist is happening. (Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency say they join in the suspicion, but have no compelling evidence.)
The administration has decided, apparently, that some nations are just "too dangerous" to be trusted with any sort of nuclear technology, even if it is perportedly benign.
The latest version of the "Bush doctrine" gets some air support from the usual suspects at the National Review today:
Any serious strategy, after all, has to be based on more than a hope, particularly if that hope turns out to be wrong. Here’s where other facts that have not generally been focused upon deserve greater attention. First, after 18 years of keeping their entire enrichment program hidden and another two years of relatively fleckless hide-and-seek inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it would be folly to assume we know that Iran has no covert enrichment program. Indeed, if our experience in Iraq has taught us anything, it ought to be that a certain amount of humility is in order when it comes to specifying what nuclear facilities a proliferator may have.
Certainly, the fact that we don’t know that Iran doesn’t have a parallel advanced-centrifuge program hidden is a worry. Recent revelations that Iranian engineers have had detailed plans for years for much more advanced centrifuges than those deployed at Natanz, but claim never to have built them, has even put the IAEA on edge. Then, there is the latest development — Iran's admitting it is building nuclear-storage tunnels one kilometer deep at its declared enrichment facility. Where else it may be tunneling is anybody’s guess.
What does NRO want to do? They're already on record favoring a military strike against Iran. In the meantime, here's where the neocons are headed:
First, we should hope for the best but be far more prepared than we are now for the worst. This means President Bush needs to push the EU-3 to agree upon a deadline by which Iran must forswear and terminate their enrichment program or risk being hauled before the U.N. Security Council. To be actionable, this deadline should come before for the next major meeting of the IAEA in June.
Second, the president and the EU-3 need to start leveraging Russia and China in order to secure passage of a sanctions resolution at the UN. This may require holding up France's reactor sales to China and offering Moscow a cooperative nuclear agreement to temporarily store spent reactor fuel from Europe and Asia (commerce worth $10 billion to $20 billion). Action on this is required immediately.
Third, the U.S. and the EU-3 must start explaining why Iran is wrong when it claims it has a right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich and reprocess nuclear materials. Both activities are uneconomical and unnecessary for Tehran to pursue and could bring it within a screwdriver’s turn of having nuclear weapons. Yet, so far, the only argument the U.S. has been made to contest Iran’s legal claim is that nations that violate the NPT’s strictures about acquiring nuclear weapons and IAEA nuclear safeguards obligations forfeit their right to develop “peaceful” nuclear energy. Iran, though, has not yet been formally found in violation on either count. More important, even if it is tagged as a cheater, do we really want any of its neighbors to conclude that if they declare all of the nuclear undertakings, they can come within days of having an arsenal of their own and, unlike Iran, be legally in the clear?
If not, we need to start hedging our bets now on Iran and all other states that might follow its example by laying down and enforcing rules that would apply to all. Certainly, attempting anything less not only risks losing the game with Iran and our allies, but leaving us in the untenable position of being the only major nation still standing against the spread of nuclear weapons.
Pushing the E.U.? "Leveraging" Russia and China? Just how much realworld influence over these powers do the neocons think their man in the White House has? I'll wager it's much less than they imagine.
Whether Europe will agree to the changes is one story (I'm willing to bet they won't be.) Whether the U.S., Europe or anyone else has the right to decide which countries are allowed nukes and which are not is whole 'nother matter entirely, and a philosophical one the administration seems to have already decided. (Interesting that the admin's controlled leakers and background briefers are right in step with the neocon pubs...same day, same story)
I wonder if Pat Buchanan and traditional conservatives (few though they may be these days), would be intellectually honest enough to say the U.S. has no business meddling in the affairs of other countries, including deciding for them what rights they have to exploit their own national resources (or the resources of other countries willing to sell to them -- like Russia, China and Pakistan, for instance). --Buchanan has said as much regarding Russian democracy (and the fact that the U.S. has no business meddling in it)...
Buchanan, who makes a lot of sense to me these days, argues in the current American Conservative mag that the U.S. has become a "stillborn" empire, stretched too thin around the world and in debt too deep to potential rivals like China.
Buchanan argues that despite the neocon triumphalism that has all but declared the U.S. the world's greatest and most glorious empire, the world is still as multipolar as ever:
Castro, though literally on his last legs, yet defies the Americans and is about to be succeeded as the leading hemispheric Yankee-baiter by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan ruler who lately defeated a U.S.-backed recall. Chavez has just ordered Russian-built MIG-29s and purchased 100,000 AK-47s and, despite U.S. protests, Moscow appears ready to sell.
And as Chavez finds imitators in the Andean nations, the Mexican government instructs its citizens in how best to sneak across the border into the United States. Would Caesar Augustus have put up with such as this in mare nostrum?
Our NATO allies, Tony Blair included, are lifting their embargo on weapons sales to China over the protests of President Bush. Old Europe remains adamant in its refusal to send troops to Iraq, as the Ukrainians and Poles, following the Spanish, quietly depart the beleaguered nation.
Germany, France, and Britain are negotiating a deal by which Iran, if she will submit to regular IAEA inspections, will be permitted to enrich uranium for nuclear power, be granted security guarantees, and be brought into the WTO. America opposes the three allies’ concessions, but there is no NATO support for U.S. military action. Should Bush exercise that option, America will be alone in fighting insurgents from the eastern border of Syria to the western border of Pakistan. U.S. generals are advising the president that his legions are already stretched thin.
The Iraqi elections appear to have deposed our client Allawi and empowered Shia parties with ties to Iran and Kurds who covet Kirkuk and its oil and look to ultimate independence.
This has the Turks grumbling as well as the dispossessed Sunnis, among whom the newly reignited insurgency first arose. Whatever the neocons’ vision of Iraq—as strategic base camp for World War IV or crown jewel of Middle East empire—Americans seem to be looking for an exit.
As for the Bush Doctrine—no axis-of-evil nation will be allowed to acquire weapons of mass destruction—it is being tested by Tehran and defied by Kim Jong Il, who has crossed every red line Bush has put down and now claims to have nuclear weapons. America’s response? Please come back to the six-power talks. Russia’s Putin is consolidating power in the czarist tradition, seeking to resurrect Moscow’s old sphere of influence, and is conducting military exercises jointly with Beijing.
And openly contemptuous China lectures us on our failure to rein in our voracious appetite for imports, which is sending the dollar the way of the peso. Beijing refuses to pressure North Korea to terminate its nuclear-weapons program, permits Pyongyang to use Chinese territory to transship missiles and nuclear materiel, and spends a goodly slice of its $160 billion trade surplus with America to build up air, naval, and missile forces for the showdown with Taiwan.
At the same time, the U.S. and Europe do have good reason to fear an increasingly nuked-up world. The very real threat, as Doug Feith articulated to myself and a group of editorial writers and columnists in December 2003 during a Pentagon junket, is that an enemy of the West could hand over some form of nuclear technology, incluidng so-called "suitcase nukes" to a rogue state or even a terrorist group.
That, purportedly, was the thinking behind the Iraq invasion -- to forestall the handover of dangerous weapons technology to terrorists by the enemy Saddam Hussein regime. It seems the neocons are building the same case for striking Iran. (Their friends in the Likud concur, and are apparently cooking up their own Iran first strike plan...)
The question remains, though, whether the U.S. can assert the prerogatives of an empire to override the nationalist claims on the national resources of other countries, even for our own protection.