First, every country is different and has a unique set of problems and concerns. Pakistan’s chief concerns of political instability and economic mismanagement, for instance, are not quite the same as Japan’s problems with natural disaster threats to their nuclear reactors. Though they can be dealt with by an overarching governing body such as the IAEA, NPT, CTBTO, or NSG, these organizations are concerned with broader guidelines for their membership as a whole. As a result, the specific issues a country faces can sometimes go unaddressed. Limited membership treaties, on the other hand, can ensure that the unique issues a country faces are carefully addressed. The treaty between the United States and India, for example, ensures India’s close cooperation in addressing the unique issues it faces in the development of its nuclear technology. Moreover, as a result of this treaty India has opened all of its civil facilities to future IAEA inspection and review.
Now, the result in the example above, India opening itself to review by the IAEA, certainly could have been negotiated over time with the IAEA, but was achieved more expediently through the treaty between the U.S. and India. This is because of the benefit India received from cooperating, namely, full cooperation from the U.S. in helping India develop its civil nuclear technology. As an independent third-party, the IAEA cannot offer the type of benefits that individual countries can. These benefits seem to be the most enticing and able to produce cooperation from the receiving side.
Finally, there is increased accountability within a bilateral or limited multilateral treaty regime because the small number of members involved have a more immediate investment and are subject to more immediate consequences. When joining a treaty with a universal membership, a country makes a statement to the world that it will do something. It may act in good faith and keep to its word but, in the case of nuclear proliferation, the more troubling countries are the ones who renege, like Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Many universal treaties, such as the NPT, do not outline sanctions for reneging countries. Nor does the NPT outline a process for determining sanctions. The NPT does not even designate a body charged with determining and carrying out sanctions for countries who do not honor their agreements. Countries which renege from such agreements need to be paid closer attention to. Treaties with limited membership are more likely to be effective in holding problem states accountable because its members are providing a service and thus develop a stake in the developing country’s upholding it’s end of the agreement.
This is not to say by any means that universal membership organizations have no use. They are critical to non-proliferation for two reasons. First, they certainly set guidelines which are enough for the majority of countries; individual agreements with each of these countries would be burdensome and unnecessary. Based on the track records of the NPT and IAEA, the two organizations have been consistently reasonably successful when countries take the initiative to embody their treaty's ideals. Second, these universal membership organizations are what allow limited membership treaties to flourish. Without the IAEA’s third-party inspections, for instance, the treaty between India and the U.S. would be less meaningful. Under its terms, India is slowly moving towards having a safe and independent yet globally cooperative nuclear program rather than remaining under the United States’ oversight forever. Overall, both universal and limited membership treaties have their strengths and it is important to recognize and use them in the right situations.