[UPDATE 2: Reporters report - Matt gets the source of the confusion on the phone, and splits the difference. Good job.]
MORE: Mark Kleiman steps up as well.]
Matt's gist - the "Bush administration was scuttling the verification component of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
... The current issue of the Economist has a seriously buried lede explaining that the main motivation was, in fact, "the worries of Israel and Pakistan, two allies that want to keep the option of adding to their stockpiles." We scuttled a treaty that will keep bombs out of the hands of terrorists so that Israel and Pakistan (!) can build bigger arsenals? Israel and Pakistan!
Mark Kleiman joins in, wondering whether this is the high price being paid as part of a deal to nab Osama before the election.
Fine, as polemics - I can see why Dems will want to argue that the price for the capture of Osama was too high, and made our country less safe. And since Mr. Kleiman reminds us of Bush's comment that we cannot win the war on terror without mentioning Bush's subsequent back-pedaling, I think we can assume that his post is intended as point-scoring without content.
So back to the Economist - what did they really say about Pakistan in their "buried lede"? Here we go:
Daryl Kimball, of the Arms Control Association, argues that a properly focused treaty could be monitored with confidence. He puts the reversal of past American policy by the Bush team down to three less high-minded motives: their aversion to multilateral agreements; the worries of Israel and Pakistan, two allies that want to keep the option of adding to their stockpiles; and opposition from the navy, which doesn't want inspectors snooping around to make sure that nuclear fuel for powering submarines is not diverted to power warheads.
From this, Matt plausibly concludes that "We scuttled a treaty that will keep bombs out of the hands of terrorists so that Israel and Pakistan (!) can build bigger arsenals? ...Apparently so.
Well, as I said, it was a bum Economist article, so let's not pounce on Matt (yet). Here is what Daryl Kimball, of the Arms Control Association actually wrote:
So, what is really behind the reluctance to negotiate an effectively verifiable FMCT? The policy is yet another symptom of this administration’s strong allergy to multilateral arms control. It also reflects the Bush administration’s insufficient regard for the effect of Israel’s and Pakistan’s unregulated nuclear weapons programs on regional security and nonproliferation objectives. Pressing forward with a verifiable FMCT would help bring those states, along with India, into the nonproliferation mainstream and enhance efforts to ensure that other states comply with their treaty obligations.
Wait a second! Somehow we have drifted from underestimating the danger of the Pakistani and Israeli programs, in the Kimball formulation, to scuttling the treaty in order to accomodate them, by the time we get to Matt Yglesias. I think the Economist made most of that leap, and I can't see how they justify it. Look, if I read that Bill Clinton ate Big Macs in disregard of the cholesterol risk, and then report that Bill Clinton ate Big Macs in order to boost his cholesterol, I have gone awry. Normally the Economist is pretty good, so what happened here? I have no idea.
But with that clarification, Matt's argument begins to unravel. We didn't scuttle the treaty so that Pakistan could build their arsenal; at worst, an increased Pakistani arsenal is an undesired consequence of our pursuit of other goals.
However, a bit of research indicates that there was no treaty to scuttle - this has been in talks for years, and the US believed (rightly or wrongly) that the verification objectives were technically unfeasible, harmed our national security, and would not be accepted by the rest of the world once they studied the price tag.
What we seem to have scuttled was an opportunity to debate for years without agreeing to anything; what we have proposed is a slimmed down treaty that might actually be acceptable to others.
Or not. But that is the Admin spin, anyway.
We can smite Matt for some other things. He says this:
The Treaty would, if properly enforced, damage US interests not at all while making it harder for terrorists and rogue states to acquire nuclear weapons. The administration's official line on why they'd done this -- that it was too expensive -- seemed to seriously call into question their sanity. Verification may be expensive, but it could hardly be too expensive to reduce the single greatest security threat facing the nation.
Even the Economist got this right, although they hid it a bit - the oficial US position is not that verification is too expensive for the United States, but rather that other countries will object, if they ever get around to figuring out the price tag. From the Economist:
An 18-month review, say officials close to the exercise, showed that it would cost more money to verify such a treaty than anyone is likely to want to pay...
...administration officials deny that their judgment on verifiability was made on anything other than technical grounds. No other country, they argue, has undertaken a similar systematic review. And they point out that the only difference between production of highly-enriched uranium for civilian purposes and for making bombs is one of intent. That is something inspectors cannot be expected to verify—as the current wrangle over Iran's true nuclear ambitions shows. In any case, governments could still agree on transparency and confidence-building measures to show they are keeping their commitment.
OK, that is a bit cryptic, so one might miss their meaning. However, googling on "Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty" does not produce a burdensome number of news stories; this one by Wade Boese of the Arms Control Association presents the issue more clearly:
A July 29 statement released by the Bush administration also shed some light on the thinking behind the policy shift. “Effective verification of an FMCT would require an inspection regime so extensive that it could compromise key signatories’ core national security interests and so costly that many countries will be hesitant to accept it,” the statement noted.
Now, maybe that is not an accurate assessment of the will of the international community, but it is different from what Matt is saying. Because this also cites national security considerations (we don't want other countries learning the secrets of our nuclear program) it also contradicts (as does the Economist) Matt's blithe assertion that this treaty would "damage US interests not at all".
Let me note the good news - Strobe Talbott, a member of the Kerry foreign policy brain trust, was deeply involved the India-Pakistan conflict of 1999, so he is a bit of an expert on these issues. As I have said before, it is all about Kashmir - people need to get over the notion that, because we have a problem with Osama, Pakistan ought to hop to. I will extract this from Matt's post as emblematic of this Ameri-centric logic:
If we really must choose between a serious Pakistani anti-proliferation effort and a serious Pakistani effort to get bin Laden, I'll take bin Laden running free without a nuke over bin Laden dead and his successor running around with a nuke.
OK, I note the "if" - this is not a real choice, so the rest of his post (and Kleiman's) is rhetoric.
Briefly - India measures itself against China, and wants nukes; Pakistan worries about India, and wants nukes. The US can argue all it wants for non-proliferation, but while India and Pakistan are at risk of war over Kashmir, both will be inclined to develop their nuclear capability. Osama is a side issue for them. In fact, the US is a side issue for them. Countries like Germany and Japan did not go nuclear during the Cold War because they accepted the US nuclear umbrella. Should the US extend such a guarantee to Pakistan or India? No, I am not serious.
Other points about the FMCT are made by the Bushies - they may be wrong, but I have not seen a compelling rebuttal. From the Boese article:
The U.S. position, the official explained, is that, regardless of the verification measures agreed to, an FMCT is not able to be “effectively verifiable.” Hence, the United States wants to remove that language from the 1995 Shannon mandate.
Look, if verification is technically impossible (the Economist mentions the enriched uranium reactors for commercial power, which can be converted to produce weapons, as in Iran), then insisting on it is hopeless. This is reminiscent of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty debacle in 1999, where we have two sides to a complicated technical question, and a spirit of calm bi-partisanship seems to be lacking.
More Bush rationales for dropping verification:
Another administration official interviewed Aug. 20 emphasized that the U.S. approach is motivated by wanting to establish a prohibition against the production of fissile material for weapons sooner rather than later. The concern is that negotiating a verification regime would prolong the talks by years, allowing countries currently producing fissile material without any restraints to continue to do so until a final agreement is reached.
India and Pakistan are believed still to be churning out fissile material for arms, while the status of Israel’s production activities is unclear.
Sounds like spin, but who knows?
“Effective verification of an FMCT would require an inspection regime so extensive that it could compromise key signatories’ core national security interests...
...For instance, the United States and other countries are opposed to providing access to facilities involved in providing nuclear fuel for their naval propulsion reactors.
Israel, which shrouds its nuclear activities in secrecy, made well known its concerns about an FMCT in 1998 when it decided not to block the conference from initiating negotiations on the accord. The talks disbanded after a few weeks without any progress. (See ACT, August/September 1998.)
Intrusive or expensive verification measures also are understood to be of concern to China, France, and Pakistan, although all have previously endorsed the goal of a verifiable FMCT.
So maybe some of these countries would negotiate endlessly and never sign anything. Anticipating this, we played the bad guy and dropped the verification bits. Maybe. Let's put this in the mix:
Some conference members, including key U.S. allies, swiftly made clear they do not share the U.S. perspective. Canada and Japan reiterated their long-standing support for the Shannon mandate and Australian Ambassador Michael Smith argued Aug. 12 that, “to be credible and effective, the FMCT should include appropriate verification arrangements.” British officials also have indicated that they favor verification measures.
Well, the US position, as noted in the Economist, seems to be that countries that don't want to cheat will have no trouble demonstrating their good intent:
In any case, governments could still agree on transparency and confidence-building measures to show they are keeping their commitment.
Let's close with a trip to Fantasy Island with Mr. Kimball:
The additional financial cost of expanding the scope of current nuclear inspections to cap the size of the world’s arsenals is well worth the price. As recent events in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea show, when international arms inspectors have the political and legal authority to visit relevant sites and investigate suspicious findings, they can detect and deter cheating and, if necessary, help mobilize international action against violators.
These are the success stories? He's kidding, right? I'll accept that the treaty process and the IAEA have helped, but I think they also illustrate the limitations of even the strongest pieces of paper.
UPDATE: Let me see if I can be crystal-clear. This debate is highly analogous to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty debate. In each case, the details are complicated and, in some cases, classified, and I have neither the time, the expertise, nor the security clearance to evaluate the different positions. Do I trust the conclusions drawn by the Bushies? Not really. Do I trust Strobe Talbott and the Kerry people? No, I think they would use this as one more opportunity for partisan point-scoring. Would I trust the Times, or Fox News? Please.
This takes me to the "Who do you trust" question, and the answer is, not many people or reporting institutions. That my be a sign of a personal problem on my part, but I think it is a symptom of a deeper problem in our political culture.