UNITED NATIONS - The United States is undermining the international disarmament regime by abandoning multilateralism in favor of unilateralism, according to senior U.N. officials and U.S. arms control experts.
After its runaway military victory over Iraq , Washington has publicly rebuffed both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) - the only U.N. bodies legally mandated to declare whether or not Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The White House has declared it is "adamantly opposed" to the return of U.N. arms inspectors to Baghdad.
Was a bloody and costly pre-emptive war against Iraq the only option left? Does it provide a model for denying other states access to weapons of mass destruction? No. The war with Iraq sets a perilous precedent and a flawed formula for dealing with other global proliferation challenges.
"The (U.S.-led) coalition has assumed responsibility for the disarming of Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," U.S. ambassador John Negroponte told reporters early this week.
But IAEA Executive Director Mohammed El-Baredei and UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix have expressed disappointment over the U.S. stand on arms inspections.
El-Baredei says his agency continues to be the "sole organization with legal powers derived both from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and successive U.N. Security Council resolutions to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament."
"The IAEA should resume its work in Iraq as soon as possible," he added.
Blix says it would be advisable for U.S. military forces to forego their current search and permit an international team of arms inspectors to verify Iraq's nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Such an international verification process would also have more credibility - particularly at a time when there is widespread speculation that Washington may "plant" its own weapons and then blame the Iraqis, says one senior U.N. official.
Ron Daniels, executive director of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said the United States must invite other nations to co-operate in the inspection process because of those concerns, "amplified by recent reports that an American military team has located a scientist who they claim has led them to materials that can be used as the building blocks for illegal weapons."
"The search for and verification of WMD must be independently verified by U.N. weapons inspectors and their destruction carried out in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993," Daniels asserted.
Despite these warnings, the United States has already picked two U.S. military contractors--Raytheon Corporation and Kellogg, Brown and Root--who will shortly dispatch about 200 to 250 inspectors to search for WMD in Iraq.
The U.S. decision to continue its a unilateral search for weapons in Iraq is also expected to be a stumbling block to Washington's efforts to lift the 12-year-old U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
The Security Council resolution imposing sanctions specifically says the embargo will be lifted only after U.N. arms inspectors--not the United States--declared that Iraq is free of WMD.
The U.S. inclination towards unilateralism is also evident in its behavior at the international level.
Washington has walked away from several international disarmament treaties, including the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that it abrogated in December 2001.
The administration of President George W. Bush has also said it has no plans to seek ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); is not a party to the anti-landmine convention; and has rejected an inspection and verification program for the biological weapons treaty.
As part of a new military doctrine geared to fight countries with WMD, administration said in early 2002 that it was also considering plans to develop smaller and more accurate nuclear weapons with special capabilities to destroy underground bunkers.
U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice said that the only way to deter "rogue states" from using WMD "is to be clear that it would be met with a devastating response."
Jayantha Dhanapala, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, is disappointed by the growing trend against multilateral diplomacy to achieve disarmament.
"There is a lot of despair about the current state of affairs," Dhanapala told IPS. "And there is a general feeling that the disarmament machinery is just not working."
Dhanapala points out that calls in 1978 for the prevention of an arms race in outer space are now being overtaken by concrete plans for the weaponization of outer space.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, says that by abandoning a robust U.N. inspection regime, the Bush administration "has bypassed the instruments of collective security and used massive military might to attack a state that it considers a potential threat."
"Was a bloody and costly pre-emptive war against Iraq the only option left? Does it provide a model for denying other states access to weapons of mass destruction? No. The war with Iraq sets a perilous precedent and a flawed formula for dealing with other global proliferation challenges," he writes in the current issue of 'Arms Control Today.'
By invading Iraq virtually on its own, says Kimball, Washington has reinforced fears at home and abroad that it considers itself above the rules and norms governing international behavior and the institutions, such as the United Nations, designed to uphold global security.
Dhanapala warns that confidence in the capacity of institutions to achieve disarmament through diplomacy and the rule of law are now being eroded "by the dangerous doctrine of aggressive counter-proliferation."
"Do we seriously believe we can ensure forever the indefinite possession of weapons of mass destruction to a chosen few while others are denied them selectively by the use of force?" he asks.
Copyright 2003 IPS