Foreign Policy Blogs

Nuclear Liability

As William Sweet of FPA Arms Control and Proliferation noted last week,  India’s parliament approved a key portion of the U.S.-India nuclear pact but altered the deal to leave open the possibility of holding nuclear suppliers liable for damages resulting from accidents.  This was the Bhopal tragedy rearing its ugly head, as Sweet notes.

This reminds me of a very different though somewhat similar idea about nuclear liability that Stephen Van Evera tossed onto the table a couple years ago:

The international community should establish a new principle that states have civil legal liability for any damage ensuing from terrorist use os their WMDs.  This would give potential proliferators reason to fear that their national WMD programs will bring them major economic harm.  The worried finance ministries and business communities of potential proliferators, fearing endless lawsuits if their armed forces lost control of a nuclear weapon or other WMD, would become powerful lobbies against proliferation.  All governments would have greater reason to secure existing WMD arsenals.  As a result, WMD proliferation would be prevented, and WMD security would improve.

Seems sensible, though impossible.  And while, as William Sweet notes, the U.S.-India nuclear deal could do damage to the current NPT regime, Van Evera’s suggestion might very well be the only thing that could save it.