George Bush, India, and Crumbling Nuclear Non-Proliferation: What China's Deal with Pakistan Teaches Us

By Charles Kirchofer, Nov. 3rd, 2008

China has recently planned a deal with Pakistan to sell it two nuclear reactors (article). This was in some ways a predictable outcome because of George Bush's previous deal with India, allowing India to benefit from sharing nuclear technology without the restrictions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This foolish move has completely destabilized the treaty and reduced the hopes the world has of maintaining a nuclear peace.

China technically is not allowed to sell reactors or any other nuclear technology to Pakistan as a signatory of the NPT. Parties to the treaty agree not to spread atomic weapons to any other countries or even share any technology related to atomic weapons. They are also forbidden from selling or sharing any information about any nuclear technology to any country outside of the treaty (e.g. Pakistan). At the moment, there are five powers officially permitted to possess nuclear weapons: The United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and the People's Republic of China (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council). There are also four countries that are not part of the treaty: Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. North Korea was originally part of the treaty, violated it, and has now withdrawn. Israel, Pakistan, and India have each developed nuclear programs and have remained unpunished (and unencouraged, theoretically at least) as they did not sign the treaty and were therefore not obliged to abide by it. Recent moves by the Bush administration and the Chinese government are cracking the already weak foundation of the treaty and making the world a considerably more dangerous place.

The first blow from the sledgehammer
In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush made a deal with the Indian government to exempt India from the restrictions of the non-proliferation treaty. But why? Bush had a few reasons, the most important probably that India is the world's largest democracy, and could perhaps in the long run provide a counterweight to a rising, fairly cooperative, but authoritarian, China. The fact that no liberal democracy has yet waged war against another liberal democracy probably factored into the logic: if nuclear power is going to be in someone's hands, why not in India's? The idea was also that the NPT was bound to fail eventually anyway, especially as nuclear power becomes more popular in light of increased energy needs and scarcer energy resources. The argument that this was just another capitalist deal in the interests of big business doesn't hold water: a U.S. company hasn't built a nuclear reactor in several decades. The nuclear experts these days are the French, among others. No, Bush did this for balance-of-power reasons and out of the belief in the inherent peacefulness of democracies.

These reasons do have their merits. India generally seems to be a country that is responsible with its nuclear weapons. It does, however, have conflicts with Pakistan. These have come to a nuclear stalemate, much in the way the U.S. and Russia both restrained themselves during the Cold War. But there are other reasons, whether India is good-natured or not, to be concerned. The NPT, like all of international law, requires a consensus to maintain it. Bush's actions have undermined the treaty by showing the United States (probably the most important member as a role model) is not completely serious about non-proliferation, and that it is willing to play favorites when it sees that as in its best interests. This gives other states a reason to make exceptions for deals they see in their own interests as well. The first state was China; more may follow. Once deals are made, they're hard to turn back. Unfortunately for the world, treaties are easily destroyed by exceptions. I plead to the next President to think carefully about non-proliferation and act quickly. The treaty may be far from perfect, but it's the best thing we have to prevent a nuclear war. China's deal with Pakistan has shown that Bush has indeed set the ball rolling. It is up to the next president to stop it.


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