Joseph Cirincione seems to be rather excited at the prospect of four of the five permanent Security Council, nuke-wielding powers changing their executive leadership in 2009 (Hu Jintao will continue in his post) and thinks that this is an “opening” for changes in non-proliferation policies. (He also notes that some old Cold War hands from both parties are interested in non-proliferation and eliminating nuclear weapons.)
Is the next administration likely to have a “very different nuclear policy”? I suppose it’s possible, but what would lead anyone to think so? More to the point, look at the probable political changes in the big five powers and consider whether these changes presage any real changes for proliferation policy.
Imagine the combination, if you will, of Hillary, Sego, Gordon Brown, Hu and Some Guy Picked By Putin and ask yourself: is this the crowd that is likely to change significantly the world’s non-proliferation regime one way or another? Another combination could be Edwards, Sarko, Brown, Hu and Some Other Guy Picked By Putin. What a summit they could have! Do any of these people give anyone the impression that they are going to pursue anything other than the status quo when it comes to conventional assumptions about Iranian proliferation? If Bush’s policy is undesirable, as Cirincione says (and I would agree with him), which one of these new leaders is going to repudiate it?
When Royal is not channeling Joan of Arc, Katherine Harris-style, she is demonstrating foreign policy ignorance that would make Mr. Bush seem like a globetrotting genius. Sarko’s brief has never been foreign policy, and his interest has primarily been focused on integration, immigration and crime. Brown willingly went along with Blair’s loonier crusades partly because he agreed with them, but also because he accepted that the deal with Blair allowed the PM to run foreign affairs pretty much as he saw fit while leaving the domestic side of things to him and the Treasury. Foreign affairs are not his strong suit, and he will be presiding over a fractious and unhappy Labour Party that will have no patience for any more foreign adventurism. If, as is likely, some Democrat gets elected over here, there may still be a great deal of noise made about Iranian proliferation, but there will be little action, if there is any at all, until the Iraq war has been concluded. Fundamentally, however, all major Democratic candidates accept the outlines of Mr. Bush’s stance towards Iran, which is that its possession of nukes is unacceptable. There will be no great change in U.S. policy should a Democrat win. If the Republicans somehow pull it out, it will be on a platform of confrontation with Iran. The new Russian President will be United Russia’s man and, therefore, Putin’s handpicked successor. Moscow’s attitudes are unlikely to change much at all. In each of the countries where leadership is changing, the mood has become introspective and there is a desire in each place to focus on internal ills. It is possible that many areas of foreign affairs are going to be neglected by this next crop of leaders, or else some will embrace Mr. Bush’s approach all the more (if, for instance, a McCain or Giuliani should somehow win the election).