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April 12, 2010


No first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

How big of an exception is this considered to be in nuclear policy circles? Some people have interpreted it as a threat aimed at Iran.

I may have answered my own question. It seems that minor figures like President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Secretary of State Gates consider that exception to include Iran and have used it to make threatening noises.

It's aimed at Iran and North Korea, and the administration is making that clear. I'm not happy about the threatening noises, but there are some good aspects to the way Obama has done this no-first-use modification.

One of the problems with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is that it contains no enforcement provisions for nations that withdraw or flout it. So when that happens, we have much discussion in the IAEA Board of Governors and eventually in the UN Security Council and not much action.

This is not all bad. As Churchill said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war. And it seems antithetical to the spirit of the NPT to bomb people into compliance. But at some point of noncompliance without consequences, those who have signed up for the bargain and are complying begin to feel dissed.

That's where this qualified no-first-use comes in: you want to mess with the NPT, you're putting yourself outside some of its protections.

This will undoubtedly be a subject of discussion at the NPT Review Conference next month.

"North Korea has withdrawn from the treaty and tested a nuclear device. Iran is barely complying with its obligations as a non-nuclear-weapon state. What to do about states that don't comply or withdraw?"

Isn't the traditional answer "absolutely nothing"? We can't do much about Iran or NK, so we don't.

Non-compliance takes many forms: failing to provide full cycle nuclear power to members, and nuclear cooperation with NPT drop outs (India, for example) would be just two examples of the US failure to comply.

It is hard to be taken seriously when we flout the same treaty as Iran.

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