Tuesday, June 03, 2008

1 2 3 ... Gone

Sometimes, Congress reminds me of the Qianlong Emperor in its attitude toward treaties and diplomacy; that whenever the U.S. enters into an agreement with another state, we are generously giving up something of benefit to us out of the goodness of our hearts. The notion of an arrangement meant to benefit both parties? Preposterous!

Watching the fate of two 123 agreements--these are the treaties drawn up under the terms of Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act--I have to wonder.

These agreements are critically important both for U.S. national security--because of the safeguards they build into nuclear cooperation with other states, as well as the requirements and burdens they place on the other party to open up their nuclear industry--but also for our economy--because without such agreements U.S. companies are unable to do business in this field. Such agreements should be judged solely on their merit--and not used as political footballs for other items.

The agreement with India, however, is now languishing and may be dead, because, rather than seeing the U.S.-India deal as an important agreement in its own right, and one that was of critical importance to getting India's nuclear industry "regularized"--a key U.S. national security consideration, as well as opening up potentially very lucrative opportunities for U.S. firms--members of Congress saw this as some generous concession of America. Anyone with any knowledge of Indian history knows the hypersensitivity of the Indian political elite to anything that smacks of outside interference in their affairs. So what do members of Congress do? They suggested that India would have to change various policies if it wanted Congressional goodwill to see the nuclear deal passed and implemented. What should have been a done deal by now, and a crowning achievement in Nicholas Burn's career as a diplomat--is now stuck, because an oddfellows coalition of Indian leftists and nationalists opposes the deal as a trojan horse for U.S. interference in their affairs. Senator McCain has said if he's elected he'll get the deal through--but I'm not sure.

Then we have Russia. Russia has made it clear that part of its economic recovery and plans for future growth is to sell nuclear generators and fuel around the world. As more countries look for a clean way to generate electric power, interest in nuclear power is growing. The 123 Agreement with Russia would put a number of non-proliferation safeguards in place and clear the way for U.S. firms to partner with Russian ones for mutual profit. But because we have a long list of complaints about Russia in other areas, that will obscure the benefit of getting the 123 Agreement passed. No one wants to "reward" the Russians for "bad behavior", after all.

The problem for the U.S., though, is that time is not on our side. Countries want these 123 deals with the U.S., but what happens if in 2009, France, Russia, India and others essentially say, we aren't going to wait for the U.S. Congress to act, but we will go ahead with forging a new approach? As with the Law of the Sea--where our non-participation has prevented us from challenging Russian Arctic claims to prospect for oil and gas--we could find ourselves both "out of the tent" with other powers forging a new process without our participation, and locked out of commercial arrangements.

You also have to keep in mind the cumulative effect of this sort of US behavior; not just in case of the 123 agreement but also the Libyan "nuclear disarmamnet" case, and the "Agreed Framework" with N. Korea.

Is any agreement neogiated with the a US Administration worth it in the sense that US Congress might decide to change its parameters?

This is not just an international issue; witness the case of Navy Marine outsourcing deal with EDS that hurt EDS when Congress mandates further efforts, eroding EDS's profit margins.
Either your word is bond or it isn't.
Indeed, any foreign government is well-advised to consider that the USG are liars, chislers, and swindlers, not worth the trouble of coming to an agreement with, since they will unilaterally alter the agreed terms to suit themselves.

SecState Baker promised Gorbachev that NATO wouldn't expand. SecState Holbrook promised that Yugoslav security forces could return to Kosovo. Has the Jackson-Vanik Amendment been repealed yet? And our NAFTA_violating tarriffs on Canadian softwoods, what's up with that?

In international affairs, the USG is all "take" and "we might give for now, or might not, don't count on it. At least, until it becomes the slightest inconvenience."
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