“The Arms Control Association and all of the staff I've worked with over the years … have this ability to speak truth to power in a wide variety of venues.”
– Marylia Kelley
Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
June 2, 2022
Even the Last Superpower Needs Friends
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Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's decision to re-examine sanctions policy against Iraq suggests that the Bush administration may be moving beyond campaign posturing to real-world problem solving. In reviewing its foreign policy options, the administration must remember that even though the United States is now the only superpower, it cannot act alone in Iraq or elsewhere but must seek broad support to implement successfully controversial foreign policy objectives.

By driving a wedge between the United States and much of the world community, the sanctions against Iraq have undercut the U.S. policy objective of maintaining the international consensus that Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to re-emerge as a regional threat armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Ten years of sanctions have not rectified Saddam's truly outrageous behavior or brought down his regime. The sanctions have, however, come under increasing criticism by countries such as France and Russia that want to resume economic relations with Iraq and by many countries that believe the sanctions have unfairly impacted ordinary Iraqis. Although it is probably true that adequate food and medicine could have been available had Saddam not manipulated their distribution for political purposes, it is widely perceived that sanctions have resulted in serious privation among innocent civilians.

This situation can be remedied by limiting the sanctions to equipment that could potentially contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq's indigenous capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. This narrowing of sanctions would be a small price to pay to keep the countries presently seeking to end sanctions united in the effort to prevent Saddam's rearmament. In return for the relaxation of sanctions, Iraq would have to readmit United Nations inspectors, which Saddam has vowed never to accept. However, if inspections were reoriented from the almost impossible task of seeking out the last remnant of Iraq's pre-Gulf War WMD programs to the simpler but more important task of monitoring whether a WMD rearmament effort is underway, this inspections process could be a more focused and less intrusive effort. This would put UN inspectors on the ground while allowing Saddam to claim he had protected Iraqi sovereignty. If Saddam can be persuaded by countries favoring resumption of trade to accept such an arrangement, the main U.S. objective will have been achieved. If Saddam rejects the initiative out of hand, as he may well do, he will have lost much of his political leverage to end the existing sanctions.

As he reviews the world scene, Powell will also find that ample opportunities already exist to deal constructively with other non-proliferation problems. If addressed in concert with other interested parties (South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia) and not allowed to become fodder for U.S. domestic political posturing, North Korea's WMD and ballistic missile programs should be containable. And even Iran, where further political change seems likely, may present a fertile field for constructive diplomacy together with other concerned parties.

The opportunity for serious progress in bolstering the non-proliferation regime is within our grasp. But, if any of these efforts are to succeed, Powell must also listen carefully to what the world is saying about the apparent Bush commitment to deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) in clear violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Not only have Russia and China vehemently opposed the proposed U.S. NMD deployment, but Russia has also shown no interest in amending the ABM Treaty. Russia has even threatened to withdraw from START II—and possibly START I and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—if the ABM Treaty is abrogated. Moreover, U.S. NATO allies, Japan, and even South Korea, as well as almost all members of the United Nations, have also expressed serious concerns about the consequences of unilateral U.S. action to deploy a treaty-non-compliant NMD. Unless the United States backs off from its explicit threat to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and its implicit threat to eschew arms control treaties that would in any way restrict U.S. freedom of action, the international community is unlikely to follow the U.S. lead when it jeopardizes other countries' economic and political interests.

In the process of transitioning the Bush administration from campaign rhetoric to responsible policies, Secretary Powell should draw on his considerable talents and prestige to determine and communicate objectively to his new colleagues the attitudes of other countries to U.S. military and arms control policies. As in the case of Iraq, he must bring home to the administration that the United States needs the genuine support of the world community, which must not be alienated by objectives driven by U.S. domestic political considerations.