Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Pie Crust Promises: Nuclear Edition

So the Trump Administration has signed a joint agreement with North Korea pledging to work towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That sounds great - fewer nuclear weapons is a good thing. But even leaving aside the other problematic aspects of this "agreement" (like the US unilaterally giving up military exercises), Kim Jong Un's promise to talk about giving up his nukes reminds me of Mary Poppins' 'pie crust promise': easily made, easily broken.

Yes, I once published a journal article with that title along with my good friend Steve Saideman. I think there should be a prize for publishing an article with a Mary Poppins reference.

For those inclined to take North Korea's pledge seriously, I would direct you to Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT treaty, created in 1968 and still in force today):

Article VI
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. [emphasis added]

The United States is a Party to this treaty, as are Britain, France, China, and Russia (the other recognized "nuclear states"). None has ever seriously contemplated a treaty on nuclear disarmament, outside of a brief rhetorical flirtation by the Reagan administration during a summit with Michael Gorbachev in the 1980s. There haven't even been serious international negotiations on drawing down nuclear stockpiles since the early 1990s.

All of this is simply to say that arms control promises - even in treaty form, much less in a joint communique following a meeting - are easy to make and equally easy to break. Which suggests that the news cycle of the past 24 hours really didn't tell us very much at all.

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