Joseph Cirincione, who you should listen to on all things nuclear proliferation, worries about the Bush administration‘s civilian nuclear energy programs:
“It gives countries, under the guise of civilian nuclear programs, the ability to make one of the key ingredients for a nuclear bomb – plutonium,” said Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank. “And they can stockpile it in large quantities. How are you going to tell Iran that they can’t do this if you’re promoting it yourself?”
National Review John Hood takes offense at the “moral-equivalence mentality” this involves and says that “because Iran is run by a disgusting cabal of terrorism sponsors and Holocaust deniers, telling its dictators that their nuclear program won’t be tolerated is not all that difficult.” This gets perhaps to the very core of the problems with conservative foreign policy. To be sure, any of us when we’re sitting around the living room shooting the shit can draw distinctions between an Iranian nuclear program and, say, a Norwegian one. The Norwegians get the benefit of the doubt for a variety of reasons, and a Norwegian military nuclear arsenal would be less worrisome than an Iranian one. Nevertheless, if you expect to have an international system that countries are going to cooperate with it has to be governed by neutral rules and not John Hood’s gut sense of what’s right or wrong.
It’s extremely hard — probably impossible — to have a viable non-proliferation regime without very robust levels of cooperation from the overwhelming majority of countries on earth. To get that cooperation, we’re going to need a system that other countries can live with. Not a system where the US government just decides which countries are problems and which ones aren’t. A system where the same rules apply to everybody — Israel, India, Brazil, Iran, Italy — and in exchange the rules are actually enforced. Similarly, it’ll have to be a system where the existing nuclear powers, like the United States, live up to our commitments to move toward disarmament.
The Hood alternative would work if and only if repeated application of unilateral military force were a viable enforcement mechanism. But it isn’t, so it isn’t.