Sometimes generosity just doesn’t pay. Consider the Obama administration’s desire to lead the world toward restraint on nuclear weapons. It is pushing an agreement with Russia that will reduce America’s nuclear arsenal, and it is offering less-developed states access to nuclear-power technology to persuade as many of them as possible to help control the further spread of nuclear weapons.
What has been the response? Mostly, more states demanding freer access to more sensitive nuclear technology than our government will share, and an ever larger number of nuclear-supplier states rushing in to fill the demand.
The chutzpah of these alternative suppliers goes beyond just undermining America’s nonproliferation efforts overseas. Increasingly, they are also demanding U.S. subsidies, federal contracts, and licenses to expand their American nuclear business.
These demands could easily be used as leverage on them to bring them into line on nonproliferation export controls. Yet, so far, the U.S. has not chosen to do so. Instead, the White House has turned the other cheek.
Last year, the Obama administration bragged that it had set the nonproliferation gold standard when it finalized a nuclear-cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Under this deal, the transfer of U.S.-controlled nuclear goods was tied to the UAE’s forswearing making nuclear fuel itself (a process that brings a state within months of being able to acquire nuclear weapons) and opening its facilities to highly intrusive inspections.
However, no sooner did the administration announce its model deal than the French, Russians, and South Koreans rushed into the Middle East to seal nuclear agreements devoid of these key U.S. nonproliferation requirements.
The Emirates finally decided to go with a heavily discounted South Korean bid. Shortly thereafter, the French offered Saudi Arabia and Jordan civilian nuclear assistance. The French went ahead even though Saudi Arabia and Jordan were stiffing U.S. diplomatic requests to forswear making nuclear fuel.
Russia, meanwhile, matched France’s nuclear-power offers to Egypt and Turkey — two other Middle Eastern countries that have rejected U.S. pleas to forgo the making of nuclear fuel.
None of this is helping Washington establish tighter nuclear-nonproliferation controls. But it directly suggests a modest proposal: Why not condition these foreign suppliers’ expansion of their American nuclear business upon their willingness to follow much tougher nonproliferation standards internationally?