The Bush administration's war to disarm Iraq and its increasingly
unilateral approach to international disputes, say arms control experts, are
helping to paralyze one of the most hopeful products of the post-World War II
era: the global arms control and disarmament movement.
They argue that the elaborately constructed system of disarmament treaties
and organizations, which over the years had controlled the spread of
everything from chemical and biological weapons to nuclear materials, has been
dangerously imperiled. Any new agreements are at best a distant dream.
"It is all very much dead in the water at the moment," said William Potter,
a U.N. adviser and director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the
Monterey Institute of International Studies.
In fact, arms control advocates note, there is a particular irony to the
war in Iraq: While U.S. forces pound Saddam Hussein in one of the most radical
-- and expensive -- unilateral acts of disarming another country, the leading
international forum for negotiating multilateral arms control agreements, the
United Nations-affiliated Conference on Disarmament, is so frozen by disputes
that it is unable even to agree on an agenda. Negotiations of crucial issues
relating to nuclear materials, weapons in space and biological weapons are
"There is a lot of despair," said Jayantha Dhanapala, undersecretary-
general for disarmament affairs at the United Nations, who worked to extend
the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995. "There is a general feeling that the
disarmament machinery is just not working."
Although there is general agreement that the old system is broken, it is
not clear what will replace it -- or how newly emerging proliferation threats
should be addressed.
Even a quick success in Iraq, for instance, will leave the Bush
administration facing a potentially much graver challenge in North Korea,
which is believed to have secretly built two nuclear weapons and is now openly
revving up a production program. North Korea was the first country to abandon
an arms agreement when it announced three months ago that it was withdrawing
from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That withdrawal takes effect this Thursday.
The Bush administration has argued it was forced to act in Iraq precisely
because arms control agreements had failed to hold back rogue states like Iraq
that were determined to acquire and keep weapons of mass destruction. But,
critics claim, the administration contributed to their failure by walking away
from a number of agreements. It has, for instance, abrogated the 1972 Anti-
Ballistic Missile Treaty and it has made clear it has no intention of seeking
ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which President
Clinton signed but the Senate rejected once before.
At the same time, the administration has proposed developing a new
generation of nuclear weapons and possibly using them pre-emptively against
hostile nations suspected of developing prohibited weapons. Many experts
believe this strategy will only provoke some other nations to develop their
own weapons of mass destruction -- thus making the work of arms control
advocates that much harder.
"I can't recall any point in time when there have been so many challenges
to the traditional way of approaching arms control," Potter said. "I really
question whether the system can bear the strains.'
Robert Einhorn, a senior disarmament official in the Clinton administration, said that, even without the Bush administration's aggressive policies, the
traditional arms control approach was already being undermined by other
nations who chose to ignore the treaties, overtly or covertly.
"We've realized that good rules can't make bad guys good," he said.
"Those mechanisms could only hold off the really determined cheaters so long."
John Bolton, the Bush administration's undersecretary of state for arms
control and international security, put the case bluntly when he addressed the
Conference on Disarmament last year. Given the deadlock in the conference, he
described its debates as an exercise in futility, and insisted that the United
States was prepared to act on its own.
"Our policy is, quite simply, pro-American, as you would expect," he said.
In November 2001, Bolton warned that six countries other than Iraq -- North
Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Cuba -- must dismantle their programs
developing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. But no international
organization has moved to address the issue.
"The problem is not just that the governments are not in agreement today,"
said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association.
"The structure may not be adequate given how many are breaking the rules."
The turnaround in the fortunes of the arms control movement has been
remarkably swift. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a string of
breakthroughs, including missile reductions, the elimination of nuclear
weapons from many of the former Soviet states, an agreement with North Korea
to mothball its nuclear program and the conclusion of a chemical weapons
But in 1998, India and Pakistan both exploded nuclear test devices, Iraq
halted the U.N. weapons inspection program, and Iran and North Korea tested
missiles. Shortly afterward, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Potter said the failure of the international community to impose
significant sanctions against India and Pakistan contributed to the breakdown
of the prohibitions and encouraged a flood of new violations.
Last February, Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense
Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Select Commission on Intelligence that
"some 25 countries possess or are actively pursuing WMD or missile programs."
He added that some Third World countries had also begun exporting their
newly acquired technology for producing weapons of mass destruction,
accelerating the alarming trend.
-- The United States has rejected an inspection and verification program
for the biological weapons treaty, saying it is not stringent enough.
-- Talks on a treaty to prohibit weapons in outer space and to ban the
production of fissile material for nuclear weapons are stalled.
-- The United States is resisting the space treaty, in part because it
wants to consider deploying lasers on satellites as part of a missile defense,
while China argues that without progress on that issue it will resist movement
on the treaty to prohibit the development of fissile materials.
-- Efforts to ban the use of land mines are deadlocked, in part because of
-- While the United States and Russia have agreed to a nuclear missile
reduction treaty -- which Russian President Vladimir Putin asked the State
Duma to ratify on Saturday -- arms control specialists say it is fatally
flawed because the decommissioned weapons are to be put in storage rather than
destroyed, which means they could be redeployed at any time.
Still, some arms control advocates still believe the system can be saved.
"It is a crisis, but we are not yet at Armageddon," said Dhanapala of the
United Nations. "We have the tools to fix this, and if we don't, then we have
to make some new tools. The key will be coming up with some fresh approaches."
He was asked what those approaches might be.
"We have not yet seen any new ideas," replied Dhanapala.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle