The Deproliferator: Perverting nonproliferation

deproliferatorSince President Obama etched his commitment to nuclear disarmament in stone with his Prague speech, those opposed, as described in a previous post, are coming out of the woodwork. Among the more recent is an article on Talking Points Memo titled Zero is too much by noted communitarian Amitai Etzioni. Its appearance on TPM is yet another example of the difficulty pinning him — like communitarianism — down on the political spectrum.

Also, the title, if it’s his doing, turns the concept of “getting to zero” inside-out. What does that remind me of? Oh, the term he once coined: deproliferation. Basically, he hitched a ride on the back of “nonproliferation” to reach the idea marketplace and barter for credibility. But, in the process, he reached under the concept of nonproliferation and cut its throat.

For deproliferation is, if not the opposite, a perversion of proliferation. As Etzioni once explained: “Deproliferation calls for removing the access to nuclear arms and the materials from which they can readily be made — first and foremost in unstable and noncompliant states, and only then in all others.” In other words, targeted nonproliferation, like a smart bomb.

Though he doesn’t invoke his pet term in this piece (perhaps to keep it from wearing out its welcome), the message is familiar:

The fate of the curbs on the spread of nuclear arms in the near future is going to be decided in Iran. If it is allowed to gain a bomb, there will be no stopping Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations from going down the same road, and Japan and South Korea are likely soon to follow, to countervail North Korea. … Zero can wait.

In other words, when Etzioni declares, “Zero can wait,” he means that the larger nuclear states, like the United States, Russia, England, France, and Germany should be in no rush to disarm. Their first task is to keep those states with nuclear aspirations from realizing their dream.

But, as I’m sure he knows, it’s as impossible to apply an end date to the human inclination to arm itself to the max as it is to declare that the War on Terror has scrubbed the human heart clean of vengeance.

Basically, Etzioni is trying to extend the expiration date on the Bush administration’s policy of abdicating disarmament leadership. The danger of figures like Etzioni is that they profess to seek disarmament, but, in truth, work to sabotage it. At least, with the likes of missile-defense advocate extraordinaire Keith Payne (who no doubt did his best to keep the report issued by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture, of which he was a member, from furthering the cause of disarmament) and hawk-for-all-seasons Frank Gaffney, what you see is what you get.

The Deproliferator (the column’s title, not the author’s nom de plume) covers nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, with an emphasis on treaties, negotiation, and diplomacy. The author is not employed in the arms control field.

A term coined by sociologist and professor of international relations Amitai Etzioni, “Deproliferation,” he writes, “calls for removing the access to nuclear arms and the materials from which they can readily be made — first and foremost in unstable and noncompliant states, and only then in all others.”

Whatever the merits of this approach, it lends itself to reinforcing the distinction between the nuclear haves and have-nots. Fond of his phrase, though, we’re appropriating it to our own ends. For the purposes of this column, deproliferation means, simply, disarmament.

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