Expounding Bush's Approach To U.S. Nuclear Security: An Interview With John R. Bolton

Arms Control Today met with John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, on February 11 to discuss the Bush administration’s strategic nuclear policy, its ongoing negotiations with Russia, and its approach to nonproliferation.

In the interview, Bolton acknowledged for the first time that the United States did not offer Russia amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty before announcing its withdrawal December 13. Bolton also questioned the value of the negative security assurances the United States has offered non-nuclear-weapon states since 1978, but the State Department subsequently indicated that U.S. policy had not changed and that the Bush administration does support negative security assurances. (For more information, see U.S., Russia Agree to Codify Nuclear Reductions.)

Bolton was sworn in as undersecretary on May 11, 2001. Before joining the State Department, Bolton was senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington policy organization. A lawyer by training, Bolton was a partner in the law firm of Lerner, Reed, Bolton & McManus from 1983 to 1999. He has held several government positions, including assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs from 1989 to 1993 and assistant attorney general from 1985 to 1989.

During Bolton’s time as the nation’s top arms control official, the Bush administration has generated controversy by announcing the U.S. intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and by rejecting an internationally negotiated protocol intended to help strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. Currently, the most prominent arms control debate concerns how to implement President George W. Bush’s proposal to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads the United States operationally deploys to 1,700-2,200, as well as Russia’s offer to reduce its nuclear forces. Although the administration recently said it would codify the reductions in a legally binding arrangement with Russia—a commitment not clear in November when Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin initially announced the cuts—the Pentagon has said that warheads removed from operational deployment will be stored in a reserve force rather than dismantled. This position has been criticized by Russian and American experts, as well as U.S. congressional leaders, who want to see the warheads and their delivery vehicles dismantled in order to make the reductions as difficult as possible to reverse.

J. Peter Scoblic, ACT’s editor, and Wade Boese, the Arms Control Association’s research director, met with Bolton in his office at the State Department. The following is a transcript of their conversation.

ACT: Secretary Powell said last week that he expects the United States and Russia to sign a legally binding accord to reduce the number of offensive strategic weapons that they deploy. In earlier months, the administration had suggested that it would prefer an informal agreement because Cold War-style treaties are unnecessary, given our new relationship with Russia. Why has the administration changed its mind?

Bolton: Well, I don’t think we have changed our mind. I think the point about not wanting Cold War-style treaties remains entirely valid, and the reason for that is that, in many respects, the way those treaties were negotiated reflected the geostrategic environment of the Cold War. That environment is now very much different, and our relationship with the Russian Federation is very much different. In those circumstances, you don’t want to be negotiating a kind of formal agreement that actually exacerbates diplomatic tensions as much as it might have the prospect of relieving them. So, the issue is looking for the right kind of agreement that reflects the new relationship, which could well take the form of a treaty or something other than a political declaration. We’re still in the process of deciding that. We’re having conversations with the Russians. We’ve told them for quite some time we’re open as to form. They have also said they’re open as to form. We’ll have to see how it works out.

ACT: What did Secretary Powell mean by “legally binding agreement”?

Bolton: Well, that would be something that could be a treaty, could be an executive agreement, might be something else that would embody the offensive weapons numbers.

ACT: Is there a preference for a treaty or an executive agreement on the U.S. side?

Bolton: At this point, we’re still open as to form. I’m sure as we get closer to May that decision will be made.

ACT: When we are speaking about a legally binding agreement, are we talking about the numbers of the warheads, are we talking about transparency, are we talking about verification? What exactly is the substance of this?

Bolton: Well, I think we’re still contemplating exactly what we mean by that—what the most appropriate format would be, how it would be structured, and that sort of thing. And I think that’s all part of the negotiating process.

ACT: The administration has indicated that it wants to reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,700-2,200 and that it wants to place many of the downloaded warheads in a “responsive force” that could be reconstituted within weeks, months, or years. The Russians have indicated that they want to make these cuts irreversible by destroying the warheads. Is the United States considering a commitment to destroy the warheads it removes from deployment?

Bolton: Any agreement we reach with the Russians will be consistent with the nuclear posture review that was basically concluded, and what we do with the downloaded warheads would really be a matter for us to decide, and that would follow the same pattern that has obtained in prior strategic weapons agreements, which do not provide, one way or the other, for what happens to downloaded warheads or warheads above the limits of the treaty. We’ve discussed this with the Russians. Secretary Powell has discussed it with President Putin, and I think the fair thing to say is there are a number of different views within the government of Russia on that, and I think, as our discussions go forth, we’ll have a better sense of exactly what their position is.

Let me just say that a lot of these questions you are asking go to the negotiations that are underway now, and therefore there aren’t hard and fast answers to them. That’s the nature of being in this kind of negotiation. I don’t know when you plan to publish this, but if it’s another couple of months from now, it may be that those things have been resolved, that they’ve been announced publicly. It may be that they haven’t been resolved. I just don’t know. I’m just trying to let you know that, when you are in medias res like we are here, it’s just not possible to give necessarily definitive answers to some of these points.

ACT: As you stated, the START agreements did not call for the destruction of warheads, and the administration has said that a number of times. But those treaties called for the destruction of the missiles and the bombers. Is the administration planning on destroying the delivery vehicles that carried the warheads?

Bolton: Well, it’s already part of the Department of Defense’s plans, and it was discussed again in the nuclear posture review, for example, to download four Trident submarines and to phase the Peacekeeper missiles out of operation. What would happen over the course of the life of the nuclear posture review with respect to other platforms would depend on circumstances, but the key—and one of the main differences between this nuclear posture review and prior strategic frameworks—was the focus on operationally deployed warheads, and that’s why this review came to the conclusion it did at the level that it did.

ACT: When outlining the framework for START III in March 1997, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that the two sides would explore measures relating to “tactical nuclear systems.” Does the Bush administration intend to try and reach an agreement with Russia on tactical nukes?

Bolton: I think we’re certainly willing to discuss tactical nukes with them. It’s a different subject from the strategic subject, and I don’t anticipate that in the run-up to the May summit, we will be looking for an agreement on that issue. But we have raised this issue with them periodically over the past year, and I’m sure we’ll continue to discuss it with them.

ACT: Is it a high priority for this administration?

Bolton: Well, it’s a different circumstance. Our first priority is missile defense, which we have now resolved satisfactorily. The second priority is going to be discussions about the offensive warheads, which we are now engaged in. The next priority is the discussion of Russian proliferation behavior, which we have also raised with them. But the issue of tactical nuclear weapons is obviously still out there.

ACT: In the nuclear posture review, the administration said that we’re not sizing our nuclear force relative to the Russians’, but aside from a prompt counterforce strategy aimed at Russia, what contingency does the administration expect that could require 1,700-2,200 deployed strategic warheads?

Bolton: I think there are a lot of contingencies that are inherent in the planning that underlies the nuclear posture review. I’m not going to get into specifics because that still remains classified, but the issue has never been one just of bean-counting—of how many warheads there are or whether they’re operationally deployed or in the response force. The overall question is whether we think we’ve got a deterrent capability that’s robust enough to prevent a first use against us and also that we’ve got an adequately sized force in the event there’s a need to use it.

ACT: I guess what confuses me is, if we’re not sizing our force specifically relative to the size of the Russian force, what could we possibly aim 1,700-2,200 warheads at?

Bolton: Well, I think it’s in the contingency that you would need to have that number of warheads for the targets that we think would be important. This is not a case where there’s just an abstract decision to pick a certain number, and a lot of planning went in to deciding what the range of operationally deployed warheads would be. That is obviously still very highly classified, and I think what we can say is that we think the numbers that were arrived at were adequate for our defensive purposes, consistent with the president’s stated objective of having the lowest number of warheads possible consistent with that objective.

ACT: Can you give a sense of what specific contingencies require us to keep a responsive force of several thousand warheads that could be reconstituted within weeks, months, or years?

Bolton: Uncertainty. Uncertainty about the world. Uncertainty about the geostrategic circumstances that we might face due to threats that we can’t foresee. I think central to this thinking in the nuclear posture review is the need—while we bring the operationally deployed numbers of warheads down—is the need to retain flexibility in the event that the international context that we live in changes. There is a whole series of other things in the nuclear posture review, in addition to warhead levels, that are also important, such as fixing the deteriorating nuclear infrastructure, making sure that we’ve got scientific and other capabilities to be able to test within a period of 18 months if there is a need to do so. We’re in a very different position from the Russians, who still have a huge nuclear infrastructure left over from the Cold War, and the need to have that kind of assurance is very real, especially if you come down to relatively low numbers of operationally deployed warheads.

ACT: Is one of the unforeseen possibilities—one of the geostrategic contingencies that we are preparing for—a resurgent Russia, a Russia with whom our relations are not as positive as they are now?

Bolton: It’s not a question of preparing for it. It’s a question of acknowledging that the world today is likely to be different from the world 10 years from now and that there are a whole range of uncertainties that are out there that you can’t even necessarily put a particular probability on. But the risk of renewed threat to us from countries that might have nuclear warheads is obviously one of those contingencies. Hopefully, as time goes by, we will see the theoretical size of the response force and even the range of operationally deployed warheads go down. But there’s nothing inevitable in life, and I think that’s what is inherent in the planning assumption.

ACT: There are some analysts who are concerned about a resurgent Russia that could even be overtly hostile to the United States in the future. Given that nothing is inevitable and that we don’t know what to expect from the future, doesn’t it make some sense to try to lock in progress in the U.S.-Russian relationship now by making cuts to our warhead levels as difficult to reverse as possible?

Bolton: I think that is exactly what we’re doing in terms of the president’s decision to take down our number of operationally deployed warheads. But you can’t lock in something if there’s a dramatic political change in another country. And I think it’s that degree of realism that informs our overall approach to the offensive weapons question.

ACT: Wouldn’t it be beneficial to lock in Russia at a lower number so—

Bolton: You’re not going to lock them in if there is a substantial political change. In other words, locking them in—in every one of these treaties there’s a supreme national interest clause that allows somebody to withdraw. We just invoked it to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. You don’t lock anybody in forever as long as there is a withdrawal clause. It is the flexibility to deal with something that we can’t contemplate now that we think is important.

ACT: In 1995—

Bolton: And you disagree with that? I’m just curious. The “lock in” notion seems to me to require treaties—under the theory as I understand what you are saying—to require treaties that don’t have withdrawal clauses. Otherwise, you are not locked in. And then, let me just say, if somebody violates the treaty, what are you going to do? You going to sue them? Let’s be clear about what “lock in” means, and I don’t think the treaty itself, even without a withdrawal clause, is going to lock them in because there is no court you can go to get specific performances.

ACT: I think the question was going to the idea that, if relations do sour and if there is a crisis situation, that a treaty—even if it is possible to withdraw from it within six months or whatever—provides a time frame and a period of stability that would help the United States and Russia, or whatever country, work out their differences before having to respond by building up their deployed warhead levels.

Bolton: I think if there were substantial change in the international environment that would cause us to be concerned about what our offensive warhead level was, it wouldn’t be something that could be worked out in six months. What we’re looking at are big changes over long periods of time. It could go in the other direction as well. It could result in substantially closer, warmer relations with a number of countries, where we could kind of play the operationally deployed number of warheads going down too. The point is not to be precluded, on our part, from relatively rapid change if our security circumstances warrant that kind of change.

ACT: In 1995, Secretary of State Warren Christopher reaffirmed U.S. negative security assurances, which—and I’m going to paraphrase here—say that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state unless that state attacks the United States or its allies in association with a nuclear-weapon state. Is that the policy of this administration as well?

Bolton: I don’t think we’re of the view that this kind of approach is necessarily the most productive. What we’ve tried to say is that we’re looking at changing the overall way we view strategic issues, and a large part of that is embodied in the outcome of the nuclear posture review. It’s certainly reflected in the ongoing strategic discussions that we’ve had with the Russians and reflected in the discussions we’ve had with a number of other countries as well. So, I just don’t think that our emphasis is on the rhetorical. Our emphasis is on the actual change in our military posture.

ACT: So, right now, the Bush administration would not make a commitment to non-nuclear-weapon states under the circumstances I outlined, that it would not use nuclear weapons—

Bolton: I don’t think we have any intention of using nuclear weapons in circumstances that I can foresee in the days ahead of us. The point is that the kind of rhetorical approach that you are describing doesn’t seem to me to be terribly helpful in analyzing what our security needs may be in the real world, and what we are doing instead of chitchatting is making changes in our force structures, that we’re making in a very transparent fashion. We’ve briefed the Russians, friends, and allies as well about the nuclear posture review, and we’ll let our actions speak.

ACT: Aren’t those commitments also codified in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT]?

Editor's Note:

In this exchange, ACT made a mistake, and Undersecretary Bolton correctly pointed out that in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) the nuclear-weapon states did not commit themselves to refrain from using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. However, as the follow-up question indicates, the United States made a pledge not to use nuclear weapons, known as a negative security assurance, in the context of the NPT in 1995—a pledge further formalized in UN Security Council Resolution 984.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance first articulated U.S. negative security assurances in 1978. The United States made a similar pledge in 1995, prior to the NPT review and extension conference, to shore up the non-nuclear-weapon states’ willingness to extend the treaty indefinitely. Secretary of State Christopher said, “The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in case of an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State towards which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

That pledge—and similar pledges made at the time by Britain, China, France, and Russia—were then noted in Security Council Resolution 984, which was approved in April 1995. In a 1998 speech to the Arms Control Association, Robert Bell, then-senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, said that negative security assurances had been “codified” by the Security Council resolution, suggesting that the United States considered its pledge legally binding. Bell also said that the negative security assurances had been “reaffirmed” in 1997 by a presidential decision directive (PDD-60) on U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

Following the public release of this interview, the Bush administration reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to negative security assurances, saying that no change has been made in U.S. policy. For more information, see news article on p. 23.

Bolton: In the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty? Suppose we can get the treaty out and look. What section did you have in mind?

ACT: That is a good question. I don’t have a particular section in mind.

Bolton: Being a lawyer, I like to read sections.

ACT: I can appreciate that.

Bolton: [Examining the treaty] This is about nonproliferation in the sense of technology transfers, and all that sort of thing. I’m not sure really where it goes to the question you’re raising about use.

ACT: Well, part of the 1995 extension and review conference—that was the context within which Secretary of State Christopher made his statement, or reiterated or reaffirmed the U.S. position. So, essentially, I think other members of the NPT look at that as an important commitment by the U.S. as far as the NPT is concerned. So, are you in a sense backing away from that? Does that suggest we are not taking our commitments to the NPT seriously?

Bolton: We take our obligations under the NPT very seriously. In terms of what was said at the 1995 and 2000 NPT review conferences, we’re reviewing all of that in the context of our preparation for the 2005 NPT review conference. And I think those statements, as I said before, were made in a very different geostrategic context, so I think it’s important for us to review them looking toward the 2005 review conference.

ACT: On a more theoretical level, what role do nuclear weapons play generally in preserving U.S. security in the post-Cold War world? Is it strictly a retaliatory deterrent capability, or do we also need a war-fighting capability?

Bolton: Well, I think the nuclear arsenal is central to our ongoing security needs. Hopefully, it will never be used in anything other than a deterrent capability. But in the God-awful circumstance where deterrence failed, where some regime is just not susceptible to deterrent theories, we would certainly want an arsenal that was capable of being used and being used with effectiveness. That has been, I think, the view of every administration since the development of nuclear weapons.

ACT: So the Bush administration’s nuclear doctrine is relatively similar to the doctrine of the administrations that have preceded it?

Bolton: Well, that is a big statement. The whole point of the nuclear posture review was to look at the changed circumstances in the world and come up with a new force structure, new levels of operationally deployed warheads, and new levels of looking at the role of the nuclear arsenal in our overall defense posture. And I think that’s what we have done. Obviously, circumstances change, the conditions under which the deterrent is kept up change, and that’s what we’re trying to implement.

ACT: What I’m getting at is, the administration has suggested that it has a new way of thinking about strategy and a new way of thinking about nuclear weapons. But a deployed level of 1,700-2,200 strategic warheads suggests a counterforce strategy, which is a strategy—as you say—that has been in place for decades now. So, I’m not quite clear what the difference is.

Bolton: Well, it’s a difference of going from just under 6,000 operationally deployed warheads to 1,700-2,200. I think that is a fairly dramatic reduction, which if we are able to achieve would be something, I think, overall very positive for the international environment.

ACT: Is that not still mutual assured destruction?

Bolton: To the extent that there’s a potential opponent that has its own large nuclear capability. The whole point of deterrence theory is not to get to the actual use of the weapons, and it may be that that’s what we will face; it may not be. I can assure you that in terms of the review, people were not sitting around having theoretical discussions. They were trying to determine what the lowest number of warheads would be consistent with our overall security. And this is where they came out.

ACT: You’re emphasizing “new,” you’re also emphasizing that we are going from 6,000 down to about 2,200 to 1,700. But back in 1997, there was a commitment by Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton to go down to about 2,000-2,500. What is radically new about going from 2,000-2,500 down to 1,700-2,200?

Bolton: I think the question is not simply a bean-counting exercise of how many numbers you are talking about. The nuclear posture review looks at a completely different role for nuclear weapons in our overall defensive posture, and, although the number of warheads sounds the same, I think it is actually different. I think operationally deployed is probably different from the kinds of counting rules they were talking about—it reflects a different approach to the nuclear triad and to the new triad that the nuclear posture review refers to.

ACT: Would the United States consider using nuclear weapons in retaliation for a chemical or biological attack?

Bolton: I think that’s a hypothetical question that really doesn’t serve much purpose in getting into. In the Persian Gulf crisis, the administration had already decided not to use nuclear weapons if Iraq in fact used chemical or biological weapons after the actual hostilities broke out. But it was decided not to tell [Iraqi Foreign Minister] Tariq Aziz that in Geneva—to let him worry about what the consequences might be. And I think there was a good reason to take that approach then. I think it’s a good reason to leave it like that now.

ACT: In an interview with Arms Control Today, published in September 2000, then-candidate George W. Bush declared that he would “offer Russia the necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty so as to make our deployment of effective missile defenses consistent with the treaty.” But Russian officials, including President Putin, claim the United States never offered amendments to the treaty before President Bush announced the U.S. intention to withdraw on December 13. Did the U.S. propose specific amendments to the ABM Treaty?

Bolton: We proposed a variety of different ways to deal with the threat of ballistic missiles held by rogue states and the possibility of accidental launch to see if there wasn’t some way that we could reach agreement with the Russians that would be mutually acceptable to move beyond the ABM Treaty as written. And we had extensive discussions with them. I think in the period after the first meeting between the two presidents at Ljubljana that Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Ivanov met something like 16 or 17 times, and God only knows how many telephone calls they had. We had many, many other meetings at many other levels. I went to Moscow seven times in the fall of 2001 to meet with a variety of Russian officials, and my counterparts at the Department of Defense did the same. The Russians came here. We had a very intense diplomatic effort to see if there wasn’t some mutually satisfactory way to get out of the constraints of the ABM Treaty and allow us to build a limited national missile defense, which is what candidate Bush had committed to. Ultimately, that didn’t work out satisfactorily, but we were as creative as we could be in trying to offer the Russians a whole different series of measures that we hoped we could have reached agreement on. As I say, unfortunately we were not able to do it, and we had to announce our withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which now allows us, frankly, to go on and focus on other issues like codifying our agreements on reduced offensive weapons.

ACT: So, you are saying that the United States never proposed actual amendments to the ABM Treaty?

Bolton: What we said was we’re not going to get into a line-in, line-out amendment of the ABM Treaty because, in fact, that would have been impossible. The treaty is very well written. It was intended to prevent the creation of a national missile defense system, and that’s exactly what it did and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. But we discussed a whole range of other possible approaches to the problem with the Russians that, for their own reasons—no doubt good and sufficient to them—they declined to follow.

ACT: Excuse me, sir. I don’t mean to press this, but I just want to make sure I’m perfectly clear. So, the answer is that we did not offer Russia specific amendments to the ABM Treaty, is that right?

Bolton: We didn’t do line-in, line-out amendments. We talked about ways possibly with a new treaty that would replace it, or other ways that would give us what we wanted in terms of freedom from the constraints of the ABM Treaty as written. And I think the Russians understood exactly what we were talking about. They have a very sophisticated knowledge of the subject and the treaty, and it was not something they were prepared to agree to—despite, I think, good-faith efforts on their part and on ours—to see if there wasn’t a mutually acceptable way to get beyond the ‘72 treaty.

ACT: Very briefly, could you describe some of those ways you discussed? There was a column, I believe by Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post, a couple of weeks ago where he mentioned that there was an offer to extend the treaty—extend the U.S. remaining within the treaty for a period of two years or so—but by what mechanism would we have done that? What kind of options were we discussing?

Bolton: Well, I think there were a whole range of options that we were discussing that extended over a six-month period. There were a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions looking—and the nature of those discussions is throwing out ideas and seeing who is responding to them. It’s not unusual in those kinds of consultations. So, there were a lot of things we wanted to do in terms of testing and development, perhaps ultimately deployment, of missile defense systems that were not fixed, land-based systems, which is the only provision in the—the only kind of ABM system that the treaty allows. So, it would have required giving us the freedom and flexibility to do that, and, as I say, ultimately the Russians decided that they couldn’t live with that.

ACT: The administration has said that it wants to pursue a limited missile defense designed against accidental launches and rogue states and terrorist ballistic missile attacks. Would the administration consider a new agreement with Russia that would codify limits on missile defenses?

Bolton: I don’t see, at this point, that there is any need or any prospect for an agreement on missile defenses. I think we’ve said from the beginning that we want to be free from the constraints of the ABM Treaty and be able to develop, across the range of possible architectures, a limited national missile defense system, and I think, now that we have given notice pursuant to the ABM Treaty of our withdrawal, that’s what we are going to do once the treaty ceases to exist.

ACT: Are we considering—within the broad framework or the strategic framework, are we considering transparency agreements and confidence-building measures with Russia on missile defenses?

Bolton: Sure. We are considering a lot of—we’ve had discussions. In fact, we are having more discussions next week in Moscow on the kinds of transparency and possibly even joint work that we can do with the Russians, whether bilaterally or in the context of Russia-NATO relations or others on missile defense, because one of the points we made to them is that, in many respects, we face the same threats from rogue states and that if anything, given the geographic proximity of some of these rogue states, it is the Russians who face the greater threat. So, our offer to work with them and to continue to tell them what our activities are, as I say, even to have them join in some of those activities, remains on the table.

ACT: Are we looking at options of cooperating with the Russians on missile defenses?

Bolton: Sure. I think in some respects, particularly with what used to be called theater missile defense, I think there are a number of areas where we can work with them productively. Those are being explored, and hopefully we will continue them. I think one of the useful outcomes of the discussions we’ve had so far is the prospect for greater military-to-military conversations, so that they can each get to know what the other does a little bit better and find joint projects that they might, on both sides, find useful to pursue.

ACT: In the past weeks and couple of months, the administration has made a point of what has been called “naming names”—pointing out instances of specific states that it feels are violating international norms and agreements, culminating obviously in President Bush’s statement in the State of the Union that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea constitute an “axis of evil.” Can you explain to me how naming names furthers U.S. security interests, and what comes next now that we have named names?

Bolton: I think the most important thing, politically, behind naming names is to focus people’s attention on noncompliance with existing agreements. If countries are willing to sign agreements and then lie about their performance, they’re perfectly willing, it seems to me, to sign other agreements and lie about their performance under those. So that by isolating and putting a spotlight on the countries that are clearly violating their existing obligations, I think it focuses people’s attention on what the real problem is. When you have a large multilateral agreement the overwhelming number of states are complying with but a small number are not, the problem is the noncompliers. The problem isn’t everybody else. This is not therefore an agreement really of equals. It’s an agreement that contains people who are abiding by their word and people who are not. And focusing on those who are not seems to me to be the correct thing to do for those who are in compliance with their word. What comes next depends on the behavior of the noncompliant states. Some of them may conclude that it is just not worth the cost to them politically, and perhaps economically, of lying about their international behavior, but part of the answer to the question depends on the noncompliant states. In effect, they have the key to their political jail cell in their hand.

ACT: In discussing noncompliance and naming names, the United States contends that a number of states are pursuing or possess chemical weapons capabilities, including at least one country that is a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC]. Why hasn’t the United States called for a challenge inspection under the Chemical Weapons Convention to help resolve its concerns?

Bolton: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] formally, which is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, is a very troubled organization for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its management. There are a whole host of issues raised by challenge inspections that require our attention and require also an effectively operating OPCW. We are thinking about the possibility of asking for challenge inspections, but our focus right now is on the management questions at the OPCW because, if those questions are not resolved, the organization itself will not be able to function effectively, and the whole CWC will not be able to function effectively. So, that’s what our focus is, and I think that until we resolve that—I don’t want to say this absolutely—but until we resolve these management issues, I think it would be risky to put a big burden on the OPCW, which it may fail.

ACT: How are we proposing to resolve these management issues?

Bolton: We are having ongoing diplomatic discussions, and I wouldn’t want to go any further than that at this point.

ACT: Coming back to countries that we feel are not in compliance with their obligations, Clinton administration officials have said that in December 2000 they were close to finalizing a deal with North Korea—

Bolton: It’s not a deal that we would have agreed to.

ACT: It’s not a deal you would have agreed to?

Bolton: And I don’t think they were close anyway.

ACT: Can you explain, assuming for a second that there was a deal to stem North Korea’s ballistic missile production and/or exports, can you explain why that wouldn’t have been a deal that the United States—

Bolton: It was grossly inadequate in its verification and compliance provisions, along the lines they were talking about. My reading of the record is they were still quite far away from agreement. I hope that’s true, because if they really thought they were close to agreement, as I say, in the absence of any kind of effective verification and compliance, it would have been an extraordinarily risky deal for the United States.

ACT: Other than a diplomatic effort like that one, what options do we have for getting rid of the North Korean ballistic missile threat, such as it is?

Bolton: Well, I think the ball is in North Korea’s court. The president said last summer that we were prepared to talk to them. They never picked up the phone. I’m not sure they have any inclination to pick up the phone. In any event, we’ve looked at their active biological weapons program, their violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This really is a state that, as the president said, is one of the most dangerous regimes on the planet, having some of the world’s most destructive weapons. The president said very clearly in the State of the Union that we weren’t going to sit by while this threat remains. He is going to South Korea next week and let’s just hope the North Koreans have read the State of the Union message and act accordingly.