Painting a stark picture of a world facing growing dangers from the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), President George W. Bush offered seven proposals to tamp down rising proliferation threats in a Feb. 11 speech at the National Defense University.
Bush said today’s “greatest threat” is the specter of a “secret and sudden attack with chemical or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons.” He described the possibility of such an attack as less remote than during the Cold War, contending that, unlike the Soviet Union, terrorists view such dangerous arms as weapons of “first resort.” Making matters worse, the president noted, “[t]hese terrible weapons are becoming easier to acquire, build, hide, and transport.”
Bush said that rising awareness and condemnation of the problem is not enough. International consensus against proliferation “means little unless it is translated into action,” the president declared. He said the world must do more to deny, ferret out, and punish individuals, groups, and governments seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Toward that end, Bush set out seven proposals, not all of which were new, that his administration will pursue.
The most far-reaching initiative calls upon governments to revisit, in part, the right of states lawfully to possess, under certain conditions, equipment and technologies to reprocess plutonium or enrich uranium. These technologies can be used to make fuel for power reactors and to produce nuclear bomb material. Specifically, Bush argued that states not already legally operating reprocessing and enrichment plants ought to be prevented from acquiring such capabilities from the 40-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, which includes many of the world’s leading exporters of nuclear technologies, equipment, and materials. That group excludes several countries with significant nuclear capabilities, such as India and Israel, as well as known proliferators Pakistan and North Korea. On Jan. 26, China formally applied to join the voluntary regime.
Bush's Seven Proposals
During his speech at the National Defense University Feb. 11, President George W. Bush proposed seven steps to help combat the development and spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD):
· Expand the Proliferation Security Initiative to take direct action against proliferation networks and seek greater cooperation among intelligence, military, and law enforcement services.
Bush’s proposal conflicts with the key bargain of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that promised states forswearing nuclear weapons “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” Bush charged that unscrupulous governments have exploited this “loophole” to advance nuclear weapons programs illicitly under the guise of civilian programs. Iran and North Korea are the two states under the greatest suspicion by Washington as wrongfully taking advantage of the NPT provision.
The president said that governments truly interested in peaceful nuclear programs have no need for enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. Governments forgoing these capabilities should be guaranteed nuclear fuel for civilian reactors at “reasonable cost,” he stated.
The chief international official charged with verifying that non-nuclear-weapon states under the NPT do not misuse their civilian nuclear technologies for weapons shares Bush’s concerns about reprocessing and enrichment activities, although he has advocated a different approach. Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has recommended that the rights of all states to nuclear technology be preserved but that capabilities useful in building arms be put under multinational control and supervision.
Bush said his proposal “will prevent new states from developing the means to produce fissile material for nuclear bombs.”
However, Bush did not call on all states currently capable of producing fissile materials—highly enriched uranium and plutonium—to cease such activities. For more than a decade, the United States has pushed for the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) to end the production of these two materials for nuclear weapons purposes, but Bush made no mention of the proposed agreement. The administration initiated a review of the FMCT concept late last year after China appeared to remove a long-standing obstacle to starting negotiations on the treaty at the UN Conference on Disarmament. (See ACT, November 2003.)
In his speech, Bush described in great detail how the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, built up a proliferation ring that supplied nuclear know-how and technologies to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The president said governments must act more aggressively to uncover and prosecute black-market peddlers and smugglers such as Khan that operate across borders.
Bush proposed that the U.S.-led effort to intercept shipments of dangerous weapons—the Proliferation Security Initiative—be empowered to halt proliferation earlier in the supply chain before weapons and other deadly goods are already in transit. He further called on states to support a U.S.-sponsored UN Security Council resolution to “criminalize proliferation.”
Despite his tough talk on the need to arrest and penalize proliferators, Bush did not comment on or criticize Pakistani Gen. President Pervez Musharraf’s pardon of Khan.
The president also spoke of the need to eliminate and better secure weapons and materials at their source so they are unavailable or inaccessible to terrorists and other potential buyers or thieves. As part of this effort, Bush implied that operations similar to ones conducted in Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia to extract weapons-usable materials from their territories could be replicated elsewhere. “We will help nations end the use of weapons-grade uranium in research reactors,” he stated.
Bush also said that national and international programs dedicated to dismantling and safeguarding leftover arsenals, as well as providing work for former weapons engineers and scientists in the former Soviet Union, should be expanded to additional states, such as Iraq and Libya. The United States announced last December that it would soon start an initial two-year, $2 million program to employ Iraqis with weapons expertise in that state’s reconstruction efforts. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)
Bush did not propose any specific increase in U.S. funding for all these activities. In fact, overall spending on global WMD reduction and security programs has remained constant at about $1 billion annually, despite calls from Bush’s potential Democratic presidential opponents to spend up to three times as much.
Bush also urged all states to adopt an IAEA additional protocol giving international inspectors more power to roam around and collect information inside their borders on short notice. He recommended that governments that do not become bound by additional protocols by next year be made ineligible for imports to their civilian nuclear programs. The U.S. additional protocol is currently awaiting Senate approval, and in his speech, Bush prodded the Senate to act quickly.
Bush also suggested that the IAEA should set up a special body to work on verification and compliance issues and prohibit states suspected of illegal nuclear activities from serving on the organization’s Board of Governors. “Those actively breaking the rules should not be entrusted with enforcing the rules,” the president explained.
Addressing proliferators, Bush held out two options with very different ends. He said they could drop their pursuit of dangerous weapons and thereby improve relations with the United States and the world or continue to seek WMD and face “political isolation, economic hardship, and other unwelcome consequences.”
Bush recommended that proliferators follow the example of Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi in choosing the former and not that of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who he said opted for the latter and now “sits in a prison cell.” Bush did not comment on the continuing and so far fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, merely saying that Hussein “refused to disarm or account for his illegal weapons and programs.”
Bush’s address received a generally positive response from Congress, but Democrats challenged the president to match his words with deeds and money.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pointed out that the administration is seeking roughly $42 million less in funding this year than last year for Department of Defense programs to eliminate and guard Soviet-era weaponry. “There is a glaring gap between [Bush’s] statements today and the paltry funding for nonproliferation efforts that he has called for in his budget for next year,” Hoyer stated in a press release.
Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused the administration of saying one thing and doing another when it comes to nuclear weapons. Biden charged the administration with seeking to develop new nuclear weapons of “dubious utility,” showing disdain for arms control treaties, and suggesting that the United States might use nuclear weapons against states without them. “Such administration actions have unwittingly promoted a world of proliferation, thereby undermining U.S. security,” Biden declared in a Feb. 11 press release.
Biden’s colleague on the Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), took a different tone. “Implementing the steps outlined today by President Bush will make great progress toward a safer world,” Lugar said.