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Prof. Sokolski presents brief on America’s nuclear deal with China

As headlines focus on the American-Iranian nuclear negotiations, IWP professor Henry Sokolski recently lectured on a less-publicized yet still pressing nuclear nonproliferation matter. At the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) Dinner Seminar on March 25th, senior staff representatives from Capitol Hill, the Executive Branch, and embassies throughout Washington DC were briefed on the contents and whereabouts of the US-China Civilian Nuclear Cooperative (123) Agreement.

This agreement was originally submitted to the legislative bodies in 1985 but was not implemented for another thirteen years due to debate, revision, and augmentation. This year, the agreement is up for review. Key questions that defined the original debates will take center stage once again, only this time under a different set of political concerns. The two questions that Professor Sokolski framed and answered in his Congressional Briefing-styled presentation are the following: Who benefits more from the 123 agreement, the U.S. or China? And how well is China living up to its pledges not to divert US civilian nuclear technology to the Chinese military or to help other countries develop nuclear weapons?

Professor Sokolski details his answers in eight well-sourced subsections for each question. The summary to the first answer is that “the PRC needs US help even more than any US firm needs China’s market for the export of US-controlled nuclear goods.”

The summary of the answer to the second question can be found in multiple respective subsections. Ultimately, while hard evidence is difficult to find, many in the U.S. government are skeptical that China has lived up to the conditions of the agreement.

Throughout the briefing, Sokolski addresses other points and questions regarding issues related to the agreement. When discussing unclassified documents regarding Chinese nuclear assistance to third party countries, Sokolski concedes that  “the reports spotlight extensive Chinese proliferation activities related to Pakistan, N. Korea, and Iran, all of which occurred since the current 123 agreement came into force in 1998, and relies heavily on official sources.”

American inter-agency debate on the topic is insufficient and is “being poorly coordinated with other agencies by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.” Needless to say, this deficiency will diminish the quality of debate regarding a renewal of the agreement.

Prof. Sokolski also takes into account American ability to leverage other nations to withhold nuclear exports to China. He reports that France, Russia, South Korea, and Japan (the most likely trade partners) can be influenced to forego such transactions.

In conclusion, as the debate continues, more discourse on the topic of the 123 agreement is sorely needed, especially in the evolving threat environment we inhabit today.

Please click here for his briefing text and slides.

Professor Sokolski was a member of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (2008), the U.S. Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (1999), the Senior Advisory Panel of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Deputy for Nonproliferation Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (1989-1993), was Chairman of the Department of Defense’s Proliferation Countermeasures Working Group, and currently teaches US Nonproliferation and Nuclear Policy at Yhe Institute of World Politics.