THE PLANK MAY 19, 2008
As a lead story in the Washington Post recently highlighted, we may soon be looking at a nuclear domino effect. More than 40 countries are now planning new nuclear programs, and many of those--especially in the Middle East--are doing so in order to prepare for a nuclear arms race.
We cannot allow this to happen. Like smoking a pack a day, each additional country with atomic arms vastly ups the risk of something terrible befalling us--in this case, a nuclear blast in an American city. (And, unlike smoking, allowing other countries to enrich uranium is not fun, nor does it make us cooler.)
There are two things we can do to prevent this arms race. The first thing is to get serious about proliferation. That means shutting out the folks who are ideologically opposed to a practical nonproliferation policy--who, by the way, opposed the original Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968 because it constrained American freedom of action--and putting all our national energies toward denuclearizing Iran and North Korea via pragmatic, coercive diplomacy.
Second, we need to restructure the nonproliferation regime. This can theoretically be done several ways, but--at minimum--states can no longer be allowed the "right" to uranium enrichment and reprocessing technology, which provides them with a back door way to build nuclear bombs.
Most solutions fit into two broad categories: Either restricting enrichment technology to a cartel of nuclear suppliers, as President Bush has proposed; or putting all enrichment facilities under international control (perhaps following a plan that's been developed in-house, in part at this desk). Unfortunately, Bush's plan has failed because a number of key countries are dead set against anything that perpetuates "nuclear apartheid," and we can't fix the nonproliferation regime without getting them on board.
So maybe we should try internationalization. There are many political hurdles, but, if it succeeded, we would prevent the nuclear domino effect, deprive rogue states of any excuse for nuclear-arms development, lock in the advantages of America's conventional military superiority, and--largely--stuff the atomic genie back in the bottle. It's an ambitious approach, but, given the possible benefits--and the horrible alternative--it's worth a shot.