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Interview with Stephen G. Rademaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control

January 21, 2004
Wade Boese and Miles Pomper

ACT: Some critics of the administration charge that it is anti-arms control. How would you respond to that criticism?

Rademaker: I don't think that's true at all. I think we have a very good record on arms control issues. Obviously, we are in a period that is different than the period of the Cold War so we've had to adapt the structure of arms control to deal with the contemporary security issues that we face. That's meant that some arms control arrangements that made sense during the Cold War, like the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, no longer made sense and we've parted company with them. As you well know, there were predictions that if we did that the inevitable result would be a new arms race, but history has been unkind to people who made that prediction. Within six months of terminating the ABM Treaty, we signed the Moscow Treaty [also known as the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty], which provided for the largest reduction ever in deployed strategic nuclear warheads.[1] In the past year, we've brought that treaty into force and we're very proud of it. We'll match our strategic arms control agreement up against that of any other administration. As you know, the last strategic arms control agreement negotiated between the United States and Russia was under the previous Bush administration. So I guess I'm perplexed by the suggestion that we need to defend our record.

ACT: As you know the historic bargains of arms control grants governments access to nuclear, chemical and biological materials, technologies and know-how for their civilian and defense related programs in exchange for not developing weapons. The administration has raised the question of whether these bargains still make sense. Is there an answer to that question and is it time for these bargains to be modified or dropped?

Rademaker: I think recent developments in Iran really put that question in perspective, because what is clear from the evidence that has emerged with regard to Iran is that it has been violating its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and under its safeguards agreement. They're no longer denying these violations. The only possible explanation for the violations was that they were intent upon developing nuclear weapons in violation of their international obligations. So then, once this evidence was uncovered, we confront the question "What to do about it?" Their contention, which, unfortunately, received some support in other quarters, is that we should just let bygones be bygones, that the Atoms for Peace bargain is the Atoms for Peace bargain and, having been caught red handed, we should excuse their previous violations and reinstate them as a NPT party in good standing and, as such, they should be entitled to technical cooperation under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that they should be entitled to have a uranium enrichment program, because that is their treaty right. We question that. They promised to suspend their enrichment program under the deal that was cut late last year. First of all, obviously, suspension is different than termination and dismantlement. It's our view that it would be unacceptable, given their history in this area, for them to get back in the business of enriching uranium. We would hope that international arrangements like the IAEA and the NPT would take into account the fact that, at least in the case of proven cheaters, that the Atoms for Peace bargain needs to be applied in a judicious manner.

ACT: Is there any thought of a broader sort of policy change in terms of this trade-off and this bargain?

Rademaker: I think that there's general recognition that we have some problems under the NPT. There's this extraordinary situation of a country withdrawing from the NPT; I'm referring here to North Korea. We have the Iran problem. Clearly we had a Libya problem that's only now coming to light. So, I think there's a lot of rethinking that's going on, not just here. As I'm sure you know, the Director-General of the IAEA [Mohamed ElBaredei] has come up with a couple proposals of his own.[2] So, I think there's general recognition that we've got some problems with the existing arrangements and the desire in many quarters to reconsider some of these things.

ACT: Are there any proposals out there that you can say you're actively looking at as a way to revisit these bargains?

Rademaker: Well, we consider all the proposals that are made. We're considering the proposal made by [IAEA Director-General Mohamed] ElBaradei. We're considering what makes sense from our point of view. This is something we're looking at actively, but I'm not in a position today to tell you that we've decided to put forward the following three U.S. proposals. As you know, we have a NPT review conference coming up and we have one more PrepCom before that takes place.

ACT: So you expect this on the agenda?

Rademaker: I think inevitably it is something that the participants in that process will want to look at.

ACT: In general, the administration, including you, has been quite critical of the UN, the Conference on Disarmament, and the international disarmament machinery as not doing enough to address peace and security issues. Can you discuss what they should be doing and what are some of the U.S. recommendations and prescriptions for ensuring that the UN and its disarmament process remain relevant?

Rademaker: Well, we've been concerned that the UN disarmament process has lost some of its relevance and has been ineffective in recent years and there's no better example of that than the gridlocked Conference on Disarmament over the past 7 years. We've been dissatisfied with that, but I think everyone is dissatisfied with that. I'm not sure you'll find any country that will say that's an acceptable state of affairs. There may have been some movement late last year in the Conference on Disarmament as far as the position of China on negotiating a FMCT (fissile material cutoff treaty), so there is some prospect that finally, after 7 years, work may resume in Geneva. But, there are various proposals floating around about how to resume work and I'm not sure there has yet emerged a consensus on how the CD will get back to work.

ACT: In that case, is the U.S prepared to support negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty at this point?

Rademaker: The FMCT is not a new idea. It is a decade old idea at least. It was conceived at a time when this approach was considered the solution to nuclear breakout in South Asia. The mandate for FMCT negotiations was notionally finalized in 1995, in the so-called Shannon mandate, and, since then, there have been no negotiations.[3] As you know, there were radical developments in South Asia in the interim, so the philosophical objective of the FMCT has evolved in the meantime. Obviously, we can no longer stop nuclear breakout in South Asia with an FMCT. Now the suggestion is that an FMCT is a way to cap a nuclear arms race in South Asia. But with the developments in the CD late last year, we have had to take a fresh look at the whole question of FMCT and this 9-year-old mandate that has been sitting there. We're still in the process of evaluating how we think an FMCT would work in the contemporary environment. That review is ongoing and we don't have an outcome yet that we're prepared to announce.

ACT: Any timeframe for this?

Rademaker: Well, we're all aware of the fact that the CD reconvened two days ago in Geneva and there's an expectation that the U.S. is going to pronounce on both FMCT and then the larger package of possible proposals, and so we know that we don't have unlimited time to provide an answer one way or the other. On the other hand, the interagency process moves slower than we in government would sometimes like. So I regret that I can't tell you that next week we will have answer or how soon we'll have an answer.

ACT: Is your support for an FMCT, though, contingent upon this review?

Rademaker: Well, yes. Our position on FMCT will be determined as a result of the review

ACT: Is the FMCT as an idea still supported by the United States government and you're just looking at various ways the treaty would be negotiated or is the review a reconsideration of the concept in general?

Rademaker: I think given that this is a concept that's been around for a long time and a concept that has not evolved while the context in which it exists has evolved, we are looking at the threshold question, does an FMCT make sense, as well as the question of, if it does make sense, what kind of FMCT would we want to see?

ACT: There's been much discussion about the question of noncompliance and you mentioned Iran. One suggestion has been the creation of an international inspectorate to investigate illegal weapons activities, particularly in the biological weapons and missile field, which don't have organizations to do that. President Chirac and Hans Blix have put forward proposals on this. So far the administration hasn't embraced the idea. What does the administration see as viable alternatives?

Rademaker: As you know, the administration took a close look at the proposed inspectorate for biological weapons under the Biological Weapons Convention protocol and we decided that we didn't like what we saw and we walked away from that. I haven't seen any other international inspectorate proposals with regard to biological weapons that we would be in a position to accept or support. On missiles, I think the verification challenges are different, but, again, I've not seen an international inspectorate proposal that we could support. Frankly, I think one of the things that is going on is that coming out of the Iraq situation we have this UN entity in search of a mission. It's not the view of the United States government that that's the proper way to establish inspectorates, because we have a bunch of people and we need to do something with them. That's backwards. The proper way to go about it is to identify the problem that we seek to address and then develop an answer that speaks to the problem. I think UNMOVIC today is an answer in search of a problem, not a problem in search of an answer. The very fact that people are saying "Let's have UNMOVIC do missiles, no, let's have UNMOVIC do biology," shows that its an answer in search of a problem.

ACT: In light of the U.S. search for WMD in Iraq, which so far hasn't turned up any definitive weapons or weapons programs, does that make the administration rethink UNMOVIC's record in Iraq? The inspectors were saying, "The weapons are not there, we're not finding substantial evidence." Does this bolster support for, "Hey, these guys can do a good job?"

Rademaker: Again, all suggestions today that we should bring UNMOVIC to bear on particular arms control problems around the world are, as I said, answers in search of a problem. Any retrospective reevalution of the effectiveness of UNMOVIC would not bear on my fundamental point, which is that this is backwards to approach verification problems in this way. Let's identify the problem and then figure out what solution might make sense, not approach it from the perspective of we've got this UN entity and we need to do something with it.

ACT: North Korea and Iran are clearly the two countries that top the administration's proliferation concerns. Does one of them keep you up more at night?

Rademaker: No, because I'm the assistant secretary for arms control and I let the assistant secretary for nonproliferation stay up late at night worrying about Iran versus North Korea.

ACT: There were reports this morning that Iran is failing to fulfill its agreements with the foreign ministers' initiative to suspend its uranium enrichment. How does the administration rate Iran's progress in fulfilling these commitments in general and do you think that this foreign ministers' approach was the right one?

Rademaker: I thought it was deeply troubling that as soon as the agreement was announced, the Iranian press and the spokesman for the Iranian government went to great lengths to stress that they were only promising to suspend rather than terminate their enrichment program and further to stress that, from their perspective, the most important element of the entire arrangement was the reaffirmation of their rights under the NPT to have a peaceful nuclear program, which, when it comes to the question of uranium enrichment, I think translates to they fully intend to eventually terminate the suspension and get back into the business of enriching uranium. So, this has been a concern from the outset that we have had in the US government and I'm not surprised at all to see press accounts suggesting that Iranian compliance is not what we hoped it would be.

ACT: So what's the next step?

Rademaker: As you know, the IAEA board of governors is seized with this matter and I expect this will be something that's discussed at the next meeting of the board.

ACT: The United States is obviously a part of the Board of Governors. What do we expect to advocate as one of the members of that board?

Rademaker: We certainly would want to make sure that Iran is out of the business of enriching uranium.

ACT: So that would require calling for dismantlement, not suspension?

Rademaker: Yes. Let me interject. I'm the arms control guy. These are all nonproliferation questions, so if I hesitate, it's because you're forcing me to give another bureau's answers to these questions.

ACT: What is the status of the U.S. review of whether the United States should sign the Ottawa convention by 2006 as President Clinton previously pledged?

Rademaker: We're certainly not on track to sign the Ottawa Convention. We've been reviewing our landmines policy and I would anticipate that in the not too distant future we will announce a new administration policy with regard to landmines, but that policy will certainly not include signature of the Ottawa convention.

ACT: Can you give us any sense of what it will include?

Rademaker: No.

ACT: The U.S., though, will continue efforts to negotiate a protocol at the CCW on the anti-vehicle mine issue?

Rademaker: Correct.

ACT: As you mentioned earlier, next year will be the 5-year review conference of the NPT. Do Bush administration initiatives to explore new nuclear weapons designs for new missions contradict its Article VI commitment?

Rademaker: No.

ACT: Why not?

Rademaker: It's quite clear there's no provision in the NPT that prohibits nuclear-weapon states from continuing to explore new weapons designs, which is all we're doing at this point. The NPT has been around since 1968. The vast majority of weapons in our inventory were designed since 1968 so it's certainly a novel suggestion that we're prohibited from developing nuclear weapons under the NPT.

ACT: How would you assess the U.S. record in complying with Article VI?

Rademaker: I'm quite happy to stand on the Moscow Treaty and the two-thirds reduction in our deployed strategic nuclear warheads. I think we can point toward greater progress under this administration in moving toward the objectives of Article VI than can be pointed to under the entire previous history of the NPT.

ACT: As part of the agreement under the review conference of 2000, there were these 13 steps that were agreed to. One of them was the irreversibility of reductions. The Moscow Treaty does not require any warheads or delivery systems to be destroyed and it expires, essentially, the same day that it enters into force. So does this go against the U.S. pledge to make its reductions irreversible?

That would certainly be a novel interpretation of what irreversibility of reductions means. I would have thought that irreversibility of reductions means that you reduce by two-thirds you can't subsequently build-up beyond the reduction. To say that to reduce deployed forces requires you to also dismantle warheads, that's never been the case under any previous strategic arms control agreement and, obviously, the previous agreements were negotiated before the 13 steps were agreed.

ACT: But they did call for destroying the launchers.

Rademaker: That's correct, but not the warheads. I was perplexed throughout this debate about the Moscow Treaty that anyone could find fault with the absence of a provision in the Moscow Treaty mandating warhead dismantlement. There's no precedent for such a requirement in any bilateral arms control agreement with Russia.

ACT: There was an agreement at the Helsinki Summit to explore warhead dismantlement within START III though.

Rademaker: I was talking about arms control agreements. I mean, you have START II, you have START I, you have SALT II, SALT I. None of them required dismantlement of warheads. Then the Bush administration negotiates the Moscow Treaty and suddenly there's this objection that it doesn't contain a dismantlement provision, which was not an objection that was ever voiced with respect to START II, START I, SALT II, SALT I.

ACT: The Bush administration has focused much of its attention on rolling back or denying Iraq, Iran, and North Korea nuclear weapons programs, yet the administration has said little about the programs of Israel, India and Pakistan. Is the Bush administration conferring legitimacy on these weapons programs?

The most important distinction, of course, between the two categories of countries you cited were, in the case of the first category, we're talking about countries that have nuclear programs that violate their obligations as parties to the NPT. The second category of countries, you're talking about countries that are not violating the international legal obligation that they've undertaken. Those countries, and obviously it's the vast majority of countries in the world, that entered the NPT did so with their eyes open and we all understood as we came in that there were particular problems when it came to adherence by India, Pakistan, and Israel. So, does the U.S. support nuclear weapons programs in those countries? Absolutely not. But do we see it as a different kind of threat to the NPT regime? Absolutely. North Korea is a profound threat to the NPT regime. Countries can be a part of the regime while it serves their interest and then pull out when they feel like they've sufficiently advanced their nuclear programs to go it alone outside the NPT, well, the entire regime has been subverted. We think holding countries that adhere to the NPT to their commitments is a very high priority.

ACT: Why is the U.S. opposed to negotiating an agreement banning weapons from outer space?

Rademaker: It's our view that there's not an arms race in outer space so to negotiate a treaty prohibiting an arms race in outer space presumes a fact not in evidence. The fact is that we do have an arms control regime in outer space under the Outer Space Treaty and we think that treaty adequately covers the field. Now, we have said in Geneva that we're prepared to have a discussion about arms control considerations as they might apply to outer space, but the idea that its right to negotiate some new treaty banning a nonexistent arms race in outer space we consider premature, so we've not been prepared to agree to the commencement of such a negotiation.

ACT: Last question. Have proposals to shift and realign U.S. force deployments in Europe taken into account the provisions of the CFE and Adapted CFE Treaties, as well as the NATO/Russia Founding Act?

Rademaker: The decision-making on any redeployments in Europe is still underway, so it would be premature for me to assure you that the outcome of our decision-making has been something that fully complies with the CFE Treaty. What I can assure you of is that we are very mindful of our existing obligations under the current CFE Treaty, the obligations we hope to one day have under the Adapted Treaty and I expect that the results of the decisions will take account of those obligations and will be compliant with them. But, again, until the final decisions are made, I hesitate to tell you that. Well, it's impossible for me to tell you that they're compliant with the treaties, because the decisions haven't been reached yet.

ACT: Is there anything you want to add?

Rademaker: No.


1. The accuracy of this statement is debatable. Under START I, Washington and Moscow both committed to reduce their arsenals by more than 4,000 warheads, from more than 10,000 warheads down to 6,000. Under SORT, they agreed to reductions of between 3,800 and 4,300 warheads from 6,000 warheads to no more than 2,200 warheads and no less than 1,700 warheads. In addition, the SORT treaty followed on the preexisting if unimplemented START II agreement which committed both countries to no more than 3,500 warheads.
2. See "Curbing Nuclear Proliferation, an interview with Mohamed ElBaredei," Arms Control Today, November 2003.
3. The CD agreed to negotiations on a FMCT in August 1998, although they did not evolve to a point where a chairman was appointed to lead the talks before the session (and the agreed mandate) expired.