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Dealing Huge: A Trumpian Arms Control Agenda

Henry Sokolski

Security, Asia

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un look at each others before signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. They are flanked by Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The White House knows that any denuclearization agreement with Pyongyang must assure North Korea ends its enrichment and reprocessing activities.

Despite chatteratti commentary to the contrary, when it comes to blocking the further spread of nuclear weapons, the Trump administration’s taste for nuclear truculence could be a plus. It’s hard-line against Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs affords America an opportunity to set higher nonproliferation standards sorely needed for the rest of the world. Meanwhile, its efforts to upgrade America’s strategic forces could give Washington leverage to get Moscow and Beijing to curb their most threatening strategic activities.

How might Trump specifically foster strategic restraint? Two ways.

First, Trump’s push to get Iran and North Korea to forgo enriching uranium and the reprocessing spent fuel—two activities known to bring states within hours of making nuclear explosive materials—could be used to create more general rules about what constitutes peaceful nuclear activity. One of the original shortcomings of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was its vagueness regarding what nuclear materials and activities are far enough from bomb-making to be permitted. Although debated for years, this question was never fully resolved.

At the time of the NPT’s signing in 1968, those favoring enriching and reprocessing for nonnuclear weapon states had the upper hand. The only condition everyone agreed to was that these activities had to be conducted under international inspections. A half-century later, though, after the not so peaceful nuclear efforts of NPT signatories such as Taiwan, South Korea, Romania, North Korea, Iraq and Iran, universal support for such laxity lost ground.

In 2009, as a condition for civilian nuclear cooperation with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Washington required Abu Dhabi to forego enriching and reprocessing. Four years later, Washington made the same demand of Taiwan and got South Korea to defer its interest in enrichment and reprocessing as well.

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