Friday, September 30, 2005

No More Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

Scotian has a thoughtful post about the announcement that Canada will share dual-use nuclear technology with India.

I couldn't agree more that the threat of nuclear war remains real, and that Canada should endorse non-proliferation in some way. But this brings up a real problem, because it's clear that in the cases of India and Pakistan (and Israel, perhaps North Korea, perhaps soon Iran...) the existing policy based upon the NNPT, ultimately failed. And when that’s the case, you have to adjust your policy.

The world lost a degree of relative safety when these nations got their nukes, but we can't just pretend they aren't part of the nuclear club, and continue to treat them like they aren’t. What good will wagging our finger do with the genie already out of the bottle? If they're now a nuclear power – with no real chance of ever turning back - how is it that sharing this technology is so daunting?

I am going to back up a bit; a world with no nukes would, of course, be ideal; and I believe we are surely all doomed once the next one is used on this planet. And I, too, lament that cognizance of the unspeakable danger of having these things around seems to have faded in the public imagination in recent years.

But the realist in me says there will always be nuclear weapons about; that there is no turning back. We can never be entirely rid of the things no matter how much we wish otherwise. And as Gwynne Dyer likes to point out, never in the history of war has a weapon been developed that wasn't eventually used against someone. (That the H-Bomb is over fifty years old is a testament to how lucky we have been so far).

I just don't see this as being all that more alarming a development than the status quo, especially given India's track record with handling dangerous technology.

Someday, somebody somewhere may well accidentally launch one (or several) of these things, at which point it’s very likely game over for the human race. And that could just as easily happen in any of the five original nations at the table – none of whom are about to give up their nukes, and all of whom enjoy a preposterous double-standard under the NNPT in having got theirs first. We may as well call it the Nanny-Nanny Boo-Boo Treaty.

It was a good idea at the time, but it’s no longer valid, which makes it an awful framework to build our national policy on going forward. A better idea would be to build a new policy, but still based on reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons out there. We at least need something that reflects a more up-to-date balance of world power than existed immediately after WWII, which is why I believe this agreement with India may actually be a step in the right direction.

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Scotian said...

However, I see you did not address the fact that India is in a state of near conflict with Pakistan, and since both are now nuclear powers that this is considered by many to be the most probable place for a nuclear exchange of some type. While I recognize that the NNPT has not been working terribly well as of late, it did significantly reduce the spread of nuclear weapons technology over its lifetime. One of my main concerns with the dual use technology being sold to India is it can be fairly seen by Pakistan as taking sides and aiding their enemy. Another is as I said the impact it has on our credibility internationally in combating the increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. Indeed, while I can see where you are coming from on this matter, I cannot say I agree with you regarding the NNPT effectiveness, even though we have GWB doing everything he can to undercut it with his actions.

As for creating a new policy, do you really expect any chance of this while the current American Administration exists? I sure don't. So until there is a chance to create a new policy/treaty regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons I see the NNPT, as tattered as it may be at the moment, still the only viable means to do so. So our support for it should remain constant until we do have an alternative. This action with India undercuts this, and what worries me is that once we sell to one non signatory how long before we start selling to others? Not to mention how that could end up being perceived by the rivals/enemies of our future customers.

I'm sorry Scott, but this is something I simply cannot agree with you about. Until and unless there is a better policy/treaty in place I think it is still the best choice for Canada to honour the NNPT and to try and keep others honouring it as well. We are a country that could have become a nuclear power early on, and we chose not to. That was and is still an important symbol, because it is not an empty one. If we start down this path with India I fear we lose some of the value of that symbol, as well as making it harder to chastise and call out other proliferators whomever they are. The NNPT for all of its flaws and failings still has managed to significantly slow the spread of this technology, and that is to my mind a worthwhile achievement. As you say, no knowledge and technology can be completely suppressed, but the dissemination of it can be significantly reduced, which is what the NNPT has done. If we abandon it after all out decades of support and following it, that will be seen as further evidence that it no longer applies. For if Canada, a country internationally renown for its belief in the rule of law internationally as well as domestically feels it no longer applies, then it makes it that much easier for others to walk away from it as well, and I do not think that is a good thing for the world myself.

Scott in Montreal said...

As usual, you make some good points Scotian, particularly in regards to the firewall put up by the U.S. against the idea of rejuvinating the NNPT. I was speaking of national policy vis-a-vis other individual actors, and not through the UN or other international bodies, although whatever our policy, these must be taken into account.

As for the appearance of partisanship, I think the implications of working with democratic India rather than military dictatorship Pakistan are not going to be enough to enflame Musharraf to do anything insane. That these two countries thankfully backed-down over Kashmir in the early part of this decade, and are in a peaceful stalement today, I think owes to the fact they soberly understand that Mutual Assured Destruction now applies to them. Of course this is not the healthiest way to avert war, for some future generation that inherits them may not be as shy to pull the nuclear trigger. In fact I am rather pessimistically resigned to that happening at some point, somewhere.

We can argue back and forth forever on how much of a factor the NNPT played in keeping this nation or that from going nuclear. In the end, Canada weighed the options and said no thanks, which I think was an entirely sensible decision and one of basic sanity. I would like to think that on such an important question (after all, survival itself is weighing in the balance), each country would come to their conclusion based on whatever their perceived best interest would be.

No treaty is powerful enough to command the respect of a particular nation-state if it is perceived that following it endangers their very survival. And that is exactly why the thing keeps failing us.