The Department of State charged several countries with violating their treaty obligations in a recently released report. Predictably, some of the accused refuted the allegations, but surprisingly the report also detailed a rift between U.S. policymakers and intelligence analysts over whether Cuba is pursuing biological weapons.
The State Department’s Bureau of Verification and Compliance is responsible for assessing how the United States and other countries abide by their commitments to limit, reduce, and eliminate unconventional and conventional weapons. On Aug. 30, the bureau published its treaty compliance judgments for the period from Jan. 1, 2002, to Jan. 1, 2004.
Although the bureau is supposed to issue annual assessments, it has done so only once previously during President George W. Bush’s tenure, in June 2003. Bureau officials attribute the two-year gap between reports to an effort to make the latest version more robust than previous editions and the need to focus on higher priorities, such as overseeing Libya’s December 2003 pledge to eliminate its chemical and nuclear weapons programs. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)
The State Department report lists more countries as contravening the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) than any other treaty. The report names China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria as possessing or pursuing biological arms.
A senior State Department official told reporters Aug. 30 that verifying countries’ compliance with the BWC constitutes a “real challenge.” The treaty lacks provisions for checking whether a country is cheating. BWC states-parties had been negotiating since 1995 to add verification measures to the accord when the Bush administration in 2001 ended the talks. At the time, administration officials said the proposals under consideration were insufficient to detect wrongdoing and inadequate in protecting U.S. companies from industrial espionage. (See ACT, September 2001.)
Cuba is illustrative of the difficulty in reaching indisputable determinations on a country’s BWC compliance. The report stated that U.S. policymakers believe Cuba maintains “at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.” On the other hand, it noted that the U.S. intelligence community “unanimously held that it was unclear whether Cuba has an active offensive biological warfare effort now, or even had one in the past.”
This is not the first time that divisions within the U.S. government over Cuba’s alleged biological weapons activities have spilled into the public arena. One of the more contentious issues during the Senate’s consideration of John Bolton’s nomination to serve as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations centered on whether intelligence supported his assessment of the status of Cuba’s biological arms activities when he served as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. (See ACT, May 2005.) Bush ultimately installed Bolton to the UN post during this year’s congressional August recess after the Senate failed to hold a vote on his nomination. (See ACT, September 2005.)
The report took a stronger, more unified position on Russia, charging that Moscow “continues to maintain an offensive [biological weapons] program in violation of the convention.” The State Department cited Moscow’s resistance to providing information on its past and current biological activities and the continued employment of former Soviet germ weapons officials in influential positions as causes for concern.
Although the treaty permits states-parties to have biological weapons defense programs, the verification and compliance bureau implied that Moscow could be abusing this right to conduct illicit offensive weapons work. “A substantial amount of [Russian] dual-use research conducted in recent years has legitimate biodefense applicability, but also could be used to further an offensive program,” the report concluded.
The report also accused North Korea of breaking its commitment to the BWC. Although hedging on whether Pyongyang has actually made biological agents in a weapons-usable form, the report alleged that “North Korea probably has the capability to produce sufficient quantities of biological agents for military purposes within weeks of a decision to do so.”
Pyongyang disputed this charge. The Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party, commented Sept. 12 that North Korea does not possess a “single biological weapon” and that it has implemented the BWC “sincerely.”
One bright spot in the report was Libya’s pledge to scrap its unconventional weapons programs, which the State Department described as “perhaps the most significant event” of the past few years. However, the report provided little detail on Libya’s actions to follow through on its promise because they fell outside the reporting period.
By contrast, the report reiterated long-standing U.S. claims that North Korea and Iran had violated their legally binding obligations to forswear nuclear weapons under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). It described these failures as the “less salutary” aspects of current nonproliferation efforts.
Iran, according to the report, “has been vigorously pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.” Tehran rejects this charge and insists that its nuclear program is dedicated to producing energy. The bureau based its conclusion on “Iran’s documented 18-year record of secret nuclear procurement and development, its systematic deceptions of the [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)], and the economic implausibility of its expensive and technically overambitious nuclear fuel cycle program.” The IAEA promotes and verifies the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The report found North Korea “guilty of multiple, and egregious, violations of the NPT.” North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003, but the other treaty states-parties have not recognized the move. Pyongyang recently reached agreement with five other states, including the United States, to eventually give up its nuclear weapons program and return to the NPT.
North Korea has claimed to have produced nuclear weapons, but this contention has not been substantiated. U.S. intelligence analysts have offered varying verdicts on the matter (see ACT, June 2005), but the verification and compliance bureau showed no equivocation, stating North Korea has “possessed nuclear weapons [and] manufactured nuclear weapons.” This finding apparently is based on taking North Korea at its word despite its penchant for bellicose rhetoric.
The verification and compliance bureau also faulted Russia’s adherence to the 1991 START accord, the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. The main complaints were that Russia withholds information on or denies access to facilities or weapons of U.S. concern.
One notable U.S. criticism was that Russia prevents U.S. inspectors from confirming that its long-range ballistic missiles are not equipped with more warheads than allowed by START.
This critique contrasts sharply with the Bush administration’s casual verification approach to its May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) with Russia. The administration did not negotiate any verification measures for the treaty because it claimed to have confidence that Moscow would limit its warheads by the treaty’s terms. (See ACT, June 2002.) Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter told Arms Control Today Feb. 7 that her bureau did not consider SORT to be “effectively verifiable.”
Moscow strongly condemned the U.S. noncompliance allegations. In an Aug. 31 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry blasted the United States for not publishing “concrete facts” on biological and chemical weapons. It further charged the report as presenting a one-sided perspective on START, pointing out that complaints about U.S. compliance are ignored. The report notes that some concerns have been raised about the U.S. START record but asserts “the United States has determined that it is in full compliance with [START].”