No More Double Standards on Non-Proliferation?

Eli Lake has an important article at the Washington Times about Israel’s case of nerves about how far Barack Obama intends to take this nuclear disarmament thing:

President Obama’s efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons threaten to expose and derail a 40-year-old secret U.S. agreement to shield Israel’s nuclear weapons from international scrutiny, former and current U.S. and Israeli officials and nuclear specialists say.

The issue will likely come to a head when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Mr. Obama on May 18 in Washington. Mr. Netanyahu is expected to seek assurances from Mr. Obama that he will uphold the U.S. commitment and will not trade Israeli nuclear concessions for Iranian ones.

Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, speaking Tuesday at a U.N. meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said Israel should join the treaty, which would require Israel to declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal.

Israel insists that it needs its nuclear arsenal (which of course it publicly does not acknowledge having) as a deterrent against existential threats from the hostile nations that surround it. But the fact that the United States has for years exempted a few countries from joining or complying with the Non-Proliferation Treaty does not exactly make it easier to convince countries like Iran to give up their nuclear ambitions:

Iranian leaders have long complained about being subjected to a double standard that allows non-NPT members India and Pakistan, as well as Israel, to maintain and even increase their nuclear arsenals but sanctions Tehran, an NPT member, for not cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

On Monday, Iranian Deputy Foreign MinisterMohammad Ali Hosseini told a U.N. meeting preparing for a major review of the NPT next year that nuclear cooperation by the U.S., France and Britain with Israel is “in total disregard with the obligations under the treaty and commitments undertaken in 1995 and 2000, and a source of real concern for the international community, especially the parties to the treaty in the Middle East.”

The Obama administration is seeking talks with Iran on its nuclear program and has dropped a precondition for negotiations that Iran first suspend its uranium enrichment program.

“What the Israelis sense, rightly, is that Obama wants to do something new on Iran and this may very well involve doing something new about Israel’s program,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington think tank.

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers explains why the United States pretends that Israel’s nuclear program does not exist — because “under the treaty and US law, a non-signatory to the treaty (such as Israel) who acquires nuclear weapons is prohibited from receiving any foreign aid or military aid. …”

I didn’t know that, actually.

Matthew Yglesias has a generally good post on the Eli Lake piece, but I disagree with his assertion that “obviously Israel’s nuclear program is not a direct security concern for the United States in the way Iran’s is.”

I would argue that if Israel’s program sparks a nuclear arms race in the region, it’s a direct security concern for the United States — and to the extent that Israel continues its program with no objection from the United States, it’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to persuade Iran to give up building its own. Even more alarmingly, if Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities with or without U.S. permission — which Reuters correspondent Dan Williams reports Israel might do (i.e., not ask permission first) — I think it’s pretty self-evident that that is a direct threat to U.S. national security.

Explore posts in the same categories: Foreign Policy, Israel

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