Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Piece Of The Nuclear Pie

Add India to the list of countries angling for a share of the Middle East's growing market for civil nuclear programs. Of course, rogue nuclear programs are the flip side of the coin of the enormous contracts and fierce competition involved in the nuclear industry, and the problem's only going to get worse as the demand for nuclear energy continues to spread. The challenge facing the nuclear non-proliferation regime is not only how to contain the clandestine transfer of technology, but also how to legitimately determine which countries can be trusted with nuclear dual-use technologies, and which can't. As of now, it's a political process played out at the Security Council. The current impasse with regards to sanctions for Iran show the difficulty of achieving consensus, while the Iraq War demonstrates the dangers of acting unilaterally in the face of lack of consensus.

It's also important to remember that there's absolutely nothing that requires a country to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to engage in nuclear technology transfers. India, for instance, is not a NSG member but has voluntarily agreed to abide by the NSG's guidelines. Iran is not a member, and there's no telling what their export standards would be should anyone take them up on their standing offer of nuclear assistance. What's more, there's nothing illegal about a country exporting nuclear technology, so long as their own laws permit it. If such transfers take place clandestinely, it's because the receiving country might be a signatory to the NPT. But even there, being in non-compliance with a voluntary treaty is something of a legal fiction, especially if alternative sources of nuclear technology transfer make the NPT penalties less constrictive.

Ultimately, the normalization of nuclear technology transfers outside the NPT regime will render the regime itself irrelevant. So far the only response we've come up with to such a possibility is a rule of exception (India can operate outside the NPT with impunity; Iran can't), with the United States serving as final arbiter and guarantor. I'd prefer to see an institutional facelift providing for a central enrichment program integrated into the NPT that would alleviate the need for individual countries to develop their own. But given the enormous contracts of the nuclear industry, I won't hold my breath.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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