As the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) creeps toward its implementation date, officials in the Obama administration continue to support the arrangement. The deal’s unprecedented provisions require the UAE both to join the IAEA Additional Protocol before any licenses can be issued and to relinquish its right to enrichment and reprocessing technologies.
Congress has only two days left in the review period to derail the agreement, which was spawned during the Bush administration and approved by President Obama earlier this year. There are no indications that Congressional opposition is broad enough to halt forward progress.
Nonetheless, concerns have been raised, including about the UAE’s past and present links to Iran, as was illustrated in the October 7 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs…
Giving testimony in support of the deal were Van H. Vann Diepen, State Department Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation; Hon. Janet Sanderson, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs; and Dr. Harold McFarlane, Chairman of the International Nuclear Energy Academy.
The three witnesses expressed unequivocal confidence in the benefits of the deal, repeatedly referring to it as a new “model” for all future civilian nuclear agreements and describing the UAE as a key nonproliferation partner for the United States. In fact, their testimonies articulated support so unequivocally that they were almost unconvincing. It seemed a bit like unbridled optimism.
Yet as soon as the witnesses began to address the concerns raised during the question period, as opposed to ignoring the concerns as they had during their opening statements, their cases became much more persuasive. The witnesses used points of opposition to their own advantage. Instead of simply discounting critiques, they demonstrated that some of the major concerns were more relevant to their own position than to that of the opposition.
Here are some of those major concerns, voiced by Subcommittee members, and the witnesses’ responses to those concerns:
1. It is imprudent to increase nuclear know-how in the world’s most volatile region prior to the establishment of an effective regional nonproliferation regime.
The lack of an effective regional nonproliferation regime is certainly worrisome, and the U.S.-UAE deal will contribute to establishing that regime. The deal includes bilateral provisions and related support for domestic legislation that will govern UAE activity across the board, not just in its dealings with the United States. These types of unilateral and bilateral actions will serve as a foundation for an integrated nonproliferation regime.
2. Despite safeguards, providing nuclear material and expertise to the UAE necessarily makes it a greater proliferation risk. The more material and expertise any country has, the more it could potentially export.
This may be true, but if the UAE is truly seen as a proliferation risk, we would best guard against that possibility through the safeguards that we will be afforded by this deal. After all, the UAE will make deals with other countries in any case.
3. The dual-use dilemma is ever-present. The line between peaceful nuclear use and nefarious nuclear use is vague, which renders any nuclear deal risky.
The dual-use dilemma is absolutely a problem, which is precisely why this sort of deal is so valuable. The line between peaceful and nefarious nuclear use can be made more distinct by specific measures. Based on the agreement’s mandated technology, the safeguards in place, and other provisions, the deal will effectively create a distinct nuclear line. Given the comprehensiveness of the agreement, this will be a straightforward process.
4. The UAE could be a proliferation risk in the future if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. The UAE seems quite cooperative today, but what about tomorrow?
There is absolutely a greater risk of proliferation in the future if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. This is precisely why we need to “lock countries in” today to norms and agreements that promote nonproliferation.
Despite these assurances, which were persuasive and provide solid ground for the deal to stand on, we must continue to temper our optimism. Healthy skepticism need not end even after the decision is made.
Transfer of nuclear materials and technology should never be treated lightly. One topic that has not received sufficient attention is what the UAE will do with its nuclear waste. Plans for the UAE’s nuclear waste have still not been clarified. In the off-chance that the UAE decides eventually to break its pact and pursue reprocessing capabilities, they will be that much closer to nuclear weapons-usable materials if nuclear waste remains in the country. This demands continued vigilance, even if the deal seems to be the right way to go.