Two years after taking office, the Bush administration has embraced a “new” National Security Strategy that relies heavily on counterproliferation and pre-emptive action to “deter, dissuade, and defeat” adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). To a greater extent than ever, the policy sets the United States above and apart from the rules other states are expected to follow.
In the long run, this approach is unsustainable and self-defeating. The strategy minimizes the role of diplomacy and arms control and seeks to maintain and even expand U.S. nuclear capabilities. This combination threatens to erode the credibility of the laws and norms against WMD upon which our security and the security of our allies depend.
The emphasis on pre-emption rests on the belief that diplomacy and nonproliferation cannot halt the weapons programs of outlaw states. Consequently, the Bush team wants to free the United States from entangling treaties and agreements that limit new military capabilities intended to counter emerging threats. To the extent that it does rely on arms control, the Bush policy supports only those treaties that limit the capabilities of other states.
For instance, the National Security Strategy appropriately calls for enhanced compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) through additional safeguards. However, the administration boldly rejects key U.S. nonproliferation and disarmament commitments under Article VI of the treaty—most notably the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which restricts the development of new nuclear weapons.
Instead, the Bush strategy calls for improving U.S. nuclear warhead capabilities intended for pre-emptive strikes on underground facilities suspected of producing chemical or biological weapons. Congress has just approved funding for new research on a “robust nuclear earth penetrator” warhead. Using nuclear bombs for pre-emptive attacks on such targets is militarily impractical and morally wrong. The very pursuit of such weapons undermines norms against WMD and might prompt other states to follow our lead.
In defense of its NPT credentials, the administration claims that the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty helps meet U.S. disarmament commitments. But in contrast to U.S. policy goals prior to 2000, this treaty does not mandate the dismantlement of a single warhead or missile, provide for adequate verification measures, or reduce the readiness posture of U.S. weapons deployed against Russia and other states.
As a result, the United States will retain the flexibility to field at least 4,200 strategic warheads through the next decade. Some Bush officials are calling for reductions of Russia’s nonstrategic warheads, but the strategy document fails to list this or any further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions as an objective.
The Bush plan does acknowledge the value of continued efforts to assist Russia dismantle and secure its Cold War WMD stockpiles. President Bush’s tepid support for this vital endeavor, however, leaves funding for these vital programs at the mercy of annual congressional wrangling and executive branch infighting.
The Bush strategy correctly identifies biological weapons as a growing danger and professes support for Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) compliance. Unfortunately, the administration has blocked global consensus on a comprehensive verification protocol for the treaty. Instead, the national security plan calls for expanded U.S. biodefense research. Without the investigations the protocol would have authorized, BWC noncompliant states continue to escape scrutiny.
In the case of North Korea, key U.S. objectives—a verifiable freeze of Pyongyang’s missile program and an end to its uranium and plutonium weapons work—are only possible if leaders from Washington and Pyongyang meet. But for now, the administration refuses to negotiate until North Korea verifiably eliminates all nuclear weapons activity. This may be morally satisfying but will not likely produce good results.
In South Asia, the center of an ongoing missile race, the Bush administration has been inconsistent in the application of its own WMD principles. Washington has downplayed the urgent need for further Indian and Pakistani nuclear and missile restraints. Recently, the administration has turned a blind eye toward recent reports of illicit missile transfers to Pakistan from North Korea in exchange for uranium enrichment technology.
Diplomacy and arms control measures obviously cannot address every security threat, but today’s WMD challenges cannot be successfully met without consistent U.S. support for multilateral arms control. If the White House continues to underutilize diplomacy and arms control and to claim special exemptions, it denies the United States and its allies the tools essential for preventing, reducing, and eliminating chemical, biological, and nuclear dangers.