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U.S. Will Not Join Landmine Treaty; Position on Fissile Material Cutoff Pact Uncertain
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Wade Boese

The Bush administration has no intention of joining an anti-landmine treaty and is reviewing past U.S. support for negotiating an agreement to end the production of key nuclear weapons materials, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker told Arms Control Today in a Jan. 21 interview.

Sworn into his post in August 2002, Rademaker serves as a chief deputy to the Department of State’s senior arms control official, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. Like his boss and many other top Bush administration security officials, Rademaker, who worked for several years as a senior aide on the House Committee on International Relations, holds a skeptical view of multilateral arms control agreements.

In the summer of 2001, the Bush administration initiated a review of U.S. landmine policy. A key element was a May 1998 pledge by President Bill Clinton to sign by 2006 the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines (APLs) if the United States was able to find effective alternatives to such weapons. Rademaker said future U.S. landmine policy “will certainly not include signature of the Ottawa Convention.”

Rademaker’s comments mark the first official confirmation that this administration would not fulfill Clinton’s pledge. The administration subsequently announced its new landmines policy Feb. 27.

A longtime champion of ending U.S. landmine use, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed disappointment Feb. 20 about the administration’s intention. “It is unfortunate, but no surprise, that the Bush administration will not join the Ottawa Convention,” the senator said. He added, “Ten years ago the Pentagon pledged to aggressively develop alternatives to landmines, but that turned out to be an empty promise.”

Despite remaining outside the Ottawa Convention, the United States did not use APLs in its invasion of Iraq last March. (See ACT, July/August 2003.) It is also the largest funder of mine action work, such as destroying landmines and helping landmine victims.

The United States is party to the amended mines protocol of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which limits how landmines may be deployed, and is pushing for negotiations on a new CCW protocol to regulate the use of anti-vehicle mines.

Along with the landmine promise, the Bush administration inherited from the Clinton administration a policy calling for the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) to end the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons purposes. During its first years in office, the Bush administration continued its predecessor’s promotion of the FMCT at the 66-member United Nations Conference on Disarmament, and administration officials repeatedly blasted their fellow members, particularly China, for failing to start formal talks on the agreement.

Over the past several years, China insisted that negotiations on a treaty preventing an arms race in outer space be conducted in parallel with the FMCT. That idea had been strongly rejected by Washington. As Rademaker explained, “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.”

Near the close of the conference’s annual working session last fall, China offered to drop its insistence on parallel negotiations. (See ACT, October 2003.) Rather than seizing the apparent opportunity to start the long-awaited FMCT talks, however, Rademaker indicated the administration is now having second thoughts. “We are looking at the threshold question, does an FMCT make sense?” he said.

Rademaker contended that an earlier rationale for the treaty—to prevent a nuclear arms race from emerging in South Asia—is now outdated since both India and Pakistan are armed with nuclear weapons. Rademaker remarked, “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.”

Rademaker said he did not know when the administration would come to a conclusion about the treaty. President George W. Bush made no reference to the FMCT in his Feb. 11 speech outlining seven U.S. nonproliferation initiatives.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Colin Powell the day after the president’s speech, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said that the FMCT would be “an essential supplement” to the president’s proposals. He described it as a “win-win proposition for the United States because we have more than enough fissile material ourselves, while countries of concern continue to seek it.” Powell replied that “some questions have been raised” about the proposed treaty and that the review was still ongoing.

Despite the administration’s uncertain FMCT position, Bush made clear that a top U.S. aim is to limit the spread of nuclear weapons-making capabilities. One of the president’s proposals held that countries not currently possessing working enrichment and reprocessing plants should not be allowed to get them. Enrichment and reprocessing facilities, which a government can legally possess under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if they are open to international oversight, can enable countries to refine materials not suitable for nuclear weapons into key bomb-making ingredients.

Rademaker suggested that Iran, which claims to have suspended its recently exposed, illicit enrichment activities last November, must be denied the right to such capabilities even if done within the context of the treaty. “We certainly would want to make sure that Iran is out of the business of enriching uranium,” he declared.

Changing times and threats require revisiting past agreements and understandings, according to Rademaker. “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,” he said.

The Bush administration itself has not hesitated to break with the past. Rademaker noted that the administration “walked away” from a seven-year process to add a verification protocol to the treaty banning germ weapons because “we didn’t like what we saw” and “parted company” with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty prohibiting nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles because it “no longer made sense.”

Still, Rademaker insisted that the Bush administration has “a very good record on arms control issues.” As evidence, he pointed to the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which entered into force last June and commits the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to less than 2,200 warheads each by the end of 2012. Some outside experts have criticized the treaty for not requiring the destruction of a single warhead or delivery vehicle and for its warhead limit expiring the same day that it takes effect, but Rademaker dismissed these criticisms. “We’ll match our strategic arms control agreement up against that of any other administration,” he said.

For a full transcript of the interview, please click here