Should Pakistan Get a Nuke Deal?

Only if it finally abandons its support for terrorism.

On March 24, the United States and Pakistan will convene their newly launched strategic dialogue. Past engagement between the two countries has been neither strategic nor a dialogue. This time, Pakistan's delegation is likely to request a civilian nuclear agreement akin to the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal that was initiated in 2005. Given Pakistan's history of proliferation, such a proposal would meet with howls of disapproval on Capitol Hill and in New Delhi, not to mention healthy skepticism among some in Barack Obama's administration. But Washington should not reject a deal outright: It could be a real opportunity to put the United States's troubled relationship with Pakistan on steadier footing.

To stabilize Afghanistan, the United States needs Pakistan. It is both the primary transit route to supply the Afghan war and the home to Islamist militants who are savaging Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan itself. Worse, these militant groups are linked to international terrorism -- as numerous terrorist plots and attacks across North America, Europe, and Australia attest.

Islamabad's pitch will likely be that Washington needs it more than the other way around. But the truth is that Pakistan needs the United States more than ever as it confronts a serious blowback of Islamist militants who are ravaging the country. Pakistan's military has limited counterinsurgency capabilities or assets due to its longstanding focus on conventional war with India. Pakistan needs U.S. help to improve its inadequate police forces and help rebuild the country's civilian institutions and rehabilitate the areas and populations devastated by army operations. Although Pakistanis point to their "all-weather friend" China, it is U.S. -- not Chinese -- assistance that will help Pakistan maintain conventional parity with its chief nemesis, India. The platforms that China is willing to sell are unlikely to be an effective counterweight to India's evolving capabilities.

Moreover, because Pakistan fears U.S. intentions regarding its nuclear arsenal, only the United States can address Pakistan's neuralgic insecurity by acknowledging the country as an accepted -- rather than merely tolerated -- nuclear power. The United States has formally conceded India as a de jure nuclear power and has long supported Israel's program actively and passively. Pakistan is the third country that went nuclear outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it wants the same explicit acceptance as the other two.

Any civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan would have to be conditions-based. It would not be equivalent to India's deal, which recognizes India's nonproliferation commitments and enables India to compete strategically with China globally. A civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan has a different logic: to reset bilateral relations that are bedeviled with layers of mistrust on both sides.

Pakistan disconcerts the world due to its nuclear proliferation record and because it supports myriad Islamist militants menacing the international community. This deal should therefore be conditioned upon access to nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan and direct information about his nuclear black markets, as well as verifiable evidence that Pakistan is reversing its support for militant groups and taking active steps to dismantle the architecture for terrorism.

At the same time, the deal should address Pakistan's chief concerns. Pakistan fears that the United States -- perhaps in consort with India and Israel -- seeks to dismantle its nuclear program. Such a deal would formally recognize Pakistan's nuclear status and reward it for the considerable progress it has made to enhance its arsenal's security since 2002.

Although the United States has professed a need for a "strategic relationship" with Pakistan and has offered lucrative financial allurements and conventional arms since the 1950s, a genuinely strategic relationship has been beguiled by the reality that both states have divergent strategic aims. Washington wants Islamabad to give up what it sees as the only tools in its arsenal to secure its interests at home and abroad: jihadi terrorism under the security of its nuclear umbrella.

But the United States is going to have to offer something in exchange: recognition and strategic support. Such a deal could create the conditions of trust whereby other initiatives, such as a limited security guarantee -- negotiated with India's explicit input -- would be welcomed.

Pakistan maintains that its dangerous policies are motivated by fears of India. A phased U.S. approach will either diminish this deep-seated insecurity or call Pakistan's bluff about the rationale for its behavior, motivating the United States to rethink its handling of Pakistan. Either outcome would be an enormous improvement over the stagnant status quo.

Washington must transform its relations with Islamabad (and Rawalpindi, where Pakistan's military is headquartered) with the same energy and creativity as it did with New Delhi because Washington needs both South Asian states as much as they need Washington. Such a conditions-based deal will take years to come to fruition even if dubious U.S entities and inveterate U.S. foes in Pakistan don't stand in the way. Putting it on the table now would only be a first step in a strategic gamble that may or may not pay off down the road.

The only other future option is far more unpalatable and difficult: trying desperately to keep containing the myriad and complex threats Pakistan poses to the world. And we already know how well that strategy works.



Israel vs. the Diaspora

Why Israelis often bristle when Jewish Americans criticize their homeland.

When the members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convened in Washington this past weekend for their annual conference, they had their work cut out for them. AIPAC spends its time trying to ensure that the United States and Israel get along. Unfortunately for the lobby, their conference came after the largest kerfuffle in U.S.-Israel relations in quite a while. On March 9, Israel announced its intention to build  new housing units in East Jerusalem -- just as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden landed in Jerusalem to try to jump-start indirect peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Among the blowback from the Barack Obama administration was a comment made by presidential advisor David Axelrod, who announced on ABC's This Week that "What happened there was an affront. It was an insult."

If the point was to get Israel to listen, then Axelrod -- who is American, Jewish, and works just down the hall from Obama -- wasn't the best person to speak out. Since even before the founding of Israel, Israeli Jews have tended to bristle when challenged too much by members of the Jewish diaspora, like Axelrod. Whether there was a concrete reaction this time or not, the point remains: Israeli Jews don't take it well if those in the diaspora are seen to be giving orders.

Why the tension? Don't the vast majority of Jews today value Israel as a Jewish homeland? Of course. But for most Jews, Israel is not literally home. Of the approximately 13 million Jews worldwide, only about 40 percent live in Israel. It was only in 2007 that the country became home to the world's largest Jewish population.

Zionist thinkers have often viewed life in Israel as a higher plane of Jewish existence. The Hebrew phrase used to describe immigration of Jews to Israel -- to make aliyah -- means to ascend or go up. Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, saw sovereignty as key to Jewish life. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of another, more assertive form of Zionism, in 1926 called "upon every Jew not only to give but to come and share the responsibility with us." In his view, each Jewish person in the diaspora "who offers his money while openly denying that he acknowledges the Zionist ideal" might be welcomed as "coworkers," but "[t]he political work, the construction of the Jewish state, is the exclusive prerogative of those who profess to be Zionists." In other words, diaspora Jews who want to criticize Israel's political decisions should either move there or butt out.

Jabotinsky's views are especially relevant given that they helped serve as the founding philosophy of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party.  Indeed, during his first stint as prime minister, Netanyahu expressed his hope that diaspora Jews would continue to move to Israel in large numbers. As a practical matter, the prime minister seems to accept the fact that Jews do and will continue to live elsewhere. But that doesn't mean that relations between diaspora and Israeli Jews are any easier.

Polling data suggest that a majority of Israeli Jews do respect the diaspora's right to criticize Israel -- but among those, a majority say it's OK only in certain situations. Even then, Israelis want to decide especially sensitive issues, such as the final status of Jerusalem, without input from their foreign cousins, according to one poll conducted last year. Israeli leaders often share that view; Netanyahu, for instance, allegedly had some choice words for Axelrod and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last year, calling them "self-hating Jews" (a charge that the Israeli prime minister quickly denied).

The situation gets especially vexing when disapora Jews have the ear of the American president.  Some American Jews who worked in the White House have succeeded in reaching their Israeli counterparts. Henry Kissinger, for example, portrayed his message as one coming from the White House, through a sympathetic voice. But there is always a risk that Israelis will hear only a diaspora Jew dictating to Israel, using the White House as a megaphone. In short, the messenger matters.

Perhaps that's why, after Israel announced its new housing units during the Biden visit, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who is not Jewish) who called Netanyahu for nearly an hour to try to set Israel straight. Clinton was also the one invited to give the keynote address at AIPAC's annual meeting, on March 22. For anyone hoping to increase the chances that Israel will listen to the Obama administration, maybe it's best to hope that the White House continues to leave the talking to her.

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images