( Washington, D.C.): Reducing the dangers posed by chemical and nuclear arms, as well as the missiles that can deliver them, is a worldwide priority. The monthly magazine Arms Control Today (ACT) recently conducted a series of exclusive, in-depth interviews with leading international and U.S. officials about their contributions to this mission and the challenges they face. The interviewees were:
- the head of the international institution charged with helping countries eliminate their chemical weapons;
- the director of the organization established to monitor and verify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT);
- the president of Brazil’s expanding civilian nuclear program; and
- the top military official leading the controversial U.S. effort to develop anti-missile systems.
Tibor Tóth, who assumed two months ago the top spot of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), told ACT Sept. 30 that construction of an international system to detect nuclear tests is about two-thirds finished. However, he warned that several factors will make completing the last one-third of the work “difficult.”
One element essential to making the system as robust as possible is adequate funding. The Bush administration, which opposes the CTBT, pledged $7.5 million less than its allotted share of the annual CTBTO budget. Tóth, who expressed hope that Congress might still restore some of the cut funding, said the full amount is necessary “for the continued buildup of the system,” which augments U.S. and scientific monitoring assets and provides high confidence of detecting clandestine nuclear testing.
The Preparatory Commission is responsible for paving the way for implementation of the CTBT once it enters into force. A total of 176 states have signed the treaty and 125 have ratified it, but the United States and 10 other designated countries must still ratify the accord before it can become legally binding. Despite the treaty’s uncertain fate, Tóth assessed his organization as doing an “extremely important job.”
Similarly, “the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has proven to be a successful experiment,” said Rogelio Pfirter in a Sept. 23 interview with ACT. Pfirter is the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which helps verify that the treaty’s 174 states-parties abide by their commitments.
To fulfill this objective, Pfirter emphasized that member states must maintain the option of challenge inspections as a “viable, not just theoretical, but actual instrument.” Although members have a right to call for such extraordinary inspections if they suspect other states are not faithfully executing the agreement, none have ever done so even though various allegations of cheating have been made. The United States, for instance, has accused Iran of violating the treaty.
Eradicating chemical weapons from the Middle East is one of the more serious challenges confronting the CWC, according to Pfirter. However, “chemical weapons are hostage to nuclear weapons,” he said. Pfirter was referring to the refusal of some countries in the region to forswear chemical weapons because they see them as balancing Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear arms stockpile.
One country that has been applauded for forswearing chemical and nuclear weapons is Brazil. Odair Gonçalves, who is president of the Brazil’s Nuclear Energy Commission, dismissed in a Sept. 28 ACT interview recent allegations by former leading Brazilian officials that the country secretly pursued a nuclear weapons program longer than previously believed. Yet, he indicated it would not be possible to substantiate either side of the argument, stating, “we don’t have any documentation.”
Gonçalves asserts Brazil is now abiding by all of its obligations to forswear nuclear weapons, including subjecting its declared nuclear material to international supervision. This material includes some enriched uranium imported from an unknown source. The uranium is not enriched to a level suitable for making nuclear weapons. Brazil is also one of a handful of countries seeking to build facilities capable of enriching uranium.
Still, Gonçalves said Brazil is evaluating whether it will sign an agreement, known as an additional protocol, to grant greater inspection authority to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with deterring and detecting the illicit use of peaceful nuclear materials and technologies for building nuclear weapons. One reason Brazil has put off a decision on concluding such an agreement is its unhappiness with the lack of progress by states with nuclear arms to give them up, Gonçalves implied.
The continued possession and pursuit of nuclear weapons by some states necessitates that the United States build defenses to protect against missiles that might carry such lethal payloads, Lieutenant General Henry Obering told ACT Sept. 29. Obering is the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA).
Obering said the future unpredictability of which countries or nonstate actors might attempt to strike the United States, its forces, or allies with ballistic missiles requires that a multilayered missile defense system be built. Therefore, he said the United States was seeking a “fairly sound, solid foundation of agreement in the next several months” with a partner country in Europe to deploy long-range U.S. missile interceptors there.
The general added that the United States would also begin exploring space-based interceptors. “We have a very modest amount of money beginning in the 2008 timeframe to begin to do this experimentation,” he said. Obering said the American public and the Congress should hold an informed debate about this approach.
The Pentagon has already deployed nine long-range ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California. Although the last successful intercept test employing a prototype of this interceptor took place in October 2002, Obering still expressed confidence in the deployed interceptors. “From a technical and performance perspective, we have a capability that we can use,” Obering stated.
The Gonçalves, Pfirter, and Tóth interviews are all currently available at the Arms Control Association’s Web site at: http://www.armscontrol.org/interviews/. The Obering interview will be published in the November issue of ACT and then appear on Arms Control Association’s Web site. The November issue of ACT will also feature articles based on the interviews with Gonçalves, Pfirter, and Tóth.
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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.