"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

U.S. Grapples with Use of Nonlethal Agents

Kerry Boyd

Picture yourself commanding U.S. forces entering Baghdad. As you march through the streets, you encounter Iraqi mobs armed with stones and two-by-fours exacting revenge against Baath party members or venting their anger against your troops. There might be combatants mixed in with civilians. Your orders are to secure the area with minimum civilian casualties while also protecting your soldiers. If you could choose between firing bullets into the crowd, charging with police batons, or temporarily incapacitating them with chemical agents, what would you do?

To many Pentagon officials, the appeal of such nonlethal chemical agents is obvious. Yet, the wisdom of using nonlethal chemical weapons is far from clear. Critics contend that so-called nonlethal chemical weapons are nearly as lethal as well-known killers, such as grenades and artillery. They argue that their use would undermine the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction. And they warn that much of the world would see U.S. use of riot control agents or stronger nonlethal chemical agents as hypocritical, since the Bush administration cites Iraqi possession and use of deadly chemical weapons as one of its primary reasons for overthrowing President Saddam Hussein. Much of the debate revolves around different legal interpretations of the CWC and U.S. law.

The use of chemical nonlethal weapons is sure to be a subject of discussion in The Hague, where delegations from around the world will gather April 28-May 9 for the first CWC review conference. It is unclear whether any state-party to the treaty will raise the issue at the conference, but many nongovernmental organizations are encouraging states to discuss the legality of using riot control agents and other incapacitating chemicals in military operations.

The Pros and Cons

The basic argument for using nonlethal chemical agents is that military commanders and soldiers often have only two options in conflict: kill or be killed. Drawing on the U.S. military experience in places such as Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, proponents argue that there are times when the military should have an alternative—something that temporarily incapacitates hostile forces or civilians without killing them.

Nonlethal weapons, according to the 1996 Department of Defense directive that established the department’s policies on nonlethal weapons, “are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or materiel, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment.” There are various types of nonlethal weapons, including rubber bullets, electromagnetic weapons, sticky foam, and chemical agents. Development and use of chemical agents designed to incapacitate people is particularly controversial.

One military option is using riot control agents to disperse crowds. The CWC defines riot control agents as chemicals that “can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure.”

Another nonlethal weapon the military might consider is chemical incapacitants such as the fentanyl derivative used to rescue hostages in a Moscow theater last October, which have more severe effects, such as loss of consciousness, and are longer lasting and more likely to cause fatalities. A general rule of thumb for understanding the difference between riot control and other chemical incapacitating agents is that riot control agents are designed to cause irritation and disperse a crowd while other chemical incapacitants, such as calmatives, are designed to incapacitate a person completely so that they could not run away.

With the need for a military alternative to killing in mind, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Congress February 5 that he was working to find ways to allow troops to use riot control agents without breaking any laws. In addition, the National Research Council, a private organization that provides services to the government, issued a report in November 2002 that recommended giving development of nonlethal weapons, including chemical incapacitants, a higher priority.

Some experts, however, question the claim that chemical incapacitants are less lethal than conventional weapons. They note that the gas Russian forces used to knock out Chechen militants and their hostages in Moscow defeated the captors but also killed at least 127 of about 750 hostages—nearly 17 percent. (See ACT, November 2002.) A 2003 Federation of American Scientists paper concluded that an “exceptionally safe” agent “delivered under ideal conditions to a uniformly healthy population” would kill 9 percent of those it sought to incapacitate. Under more realistic conditions, more people would die, since civilian populations would include many people in less than perfect health. By contrast, the FAS paper noted, the lethality of artillery in combat is 20 percent and is 10 percent for fragmentation grenades.

Debating Legality under the CWC

As the CWC review conference nears, arms control advocates are hoping to advance another key criticism of using chemical incapacitants in Iraq or other battlefields: that it would violate the treaty.

The CWC is somewhat murky on the issue of using such agents beyond domestic law enforcement. One provision bans the possession and use of chemical weapons but allows the use of “toxic chemicals and their precursors” in “law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes.” Another provision allows states-parties to possess “riot control agents” but bans their use “as a method of warfare.” (See ACT, March 2003.)

Therefore, a gray area between using nonlethal chemical agents for domestic law enforcement and for warfare remains undefined. U.S. officials argue that overseas peace-support missions fall under the rubric of law enforcement, therefore allowing the use of riot control and, possibly, stronger chemical incapacitants. But critics contend that the United States is the only country that considers it legal under the CWC to use chemical agents overseas.

Some critics have expressed particular concern that the United States would use such agents in Iraq. The debate will continue over the legal, moral, and military aspects of using nonlethal chemical agents. The issue, however, might be decided on the battlefield.

Picture yourself commanding U.S. forces entering Baghdad. As you march through the streets, you encounter Iraqi mobs armed with stones and two-by-fours...

U.S. Might Use Landmines In Iraq; Future Policy Unclear

Wade Boese

Among the many weapons that U.S. military forces might use in combat against Iraq is one that its key coalition partners, the United Kingdom and Australia, have forsworn: anti-personnel landmines (APLs).

U.S. forces might use APLs to deny Iraqi forces access to facilities or sites suspected of housing chemical or biological weapons, according to a senior Pentagon official who briefed reporters March 5.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an advocate of eliminating landmines, warned in a March 17 statement that U.S. APL use in Iraq would be “unnecessary and potentially counterproductive.” He added, “U.S. APL use [in Iraq] would put us at odds with the policies of many of our allies and set back efforts to ban these indiscriminate weapons.”

All U.S. NATO allies except Turkey, as well as some 120 other countries, have signed the Ottawa Convention banning the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of APLs. The United States refused to sign the accord when it was opened for signature in December 1997 because it had stricter provisions than what the United States deemed acceptable. Iraq also has not signed the treaty.

U.S. officials and commanders have been told that British personnel should not be asked to lay APLs, because it would contravene the United Kingdom’s Ottawa obligations. When London deposited its instrument of ratification for the Ottawa Convention in July 1998, it did so with a declaration that British participation in planning, exercises, or operations with countries not bound by the treaty would not be contrary to its treaty commitments.

At a February 27 meeting of the 66-member Conference on Disarmament, Australian Ambassador Michael Smith condemned the use of APLs, stating that they “are not a weapon essential to any state’s security.” He continued, “On the contrary they constitute a menace to civilians and they have no place in any country’s arsenal.”

U.S. landmine use is governed by the 1996 amended mines protocol of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The protocol does not prohibit landmine use, but restricts their use in a number of ways. For example, the protocol requires that mines delivered by aircraft or artillery must be equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms to limit the amount of time they can be triggered to explode.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.S. forces employed approximately 118,000 landmines—both APLs and mixed systems that comprise both anti-tank and anti-personnel components—for several intended purposes, including protecting the flanks of U.S. forces, restricting Iraqi troop movements, and frustrating the freedom of movement of Iraq’s mobile Scud missile launchers.

Whether U.S. landmine use in the 1991 Gulf War had any effect on the Iraqi military is uncertain, according to a September 2002 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which does studies and investigations for Congress. GAO reported that the Pentagon provided “no evidence of specific military effects on the enemy—such as enemy killed or equipment destroyed.”

The GAO said some U.S. military commanders in that conflict had qualms about employing landmines due to concerns about limiting their own battlefield mobility or accidentally killing U.S. and allied soldiers. Iraqi or “unknown” types of mines caused 81 total U.S. casualties, but none of the U.S. military’s 385 deaths or 979 wounded in the 1991 conflict were directly attributed to U.S. landmines.

The GAO, however, reported that “some portion of the 142 casualties caused by an unknown type of land mine or unknown or misidentified type of unexploded ordnance might have been caused by U.S. or other land mines, but there is no way of knowing.” The Pentagon contested this assertion in a September 12, 2002, letter, claiming that the GAO report “implies, wrongly, that landmines (including U.S. use of landmines) caused greater casualties to U.S. forces than the available data substantiates.”

At the time of the 1991 Gulf War, landmines were considered by most countries to be legitimate weapons of war. President Bill Clinton then called on countries in September 1994 to start working toward the elimination of APLs, because they often continue to pose risks to civilians after fighting ceases. Support for the effort increased rapidly, culminating September 1997 in the completion of the Ottawa Convention.

The United States did not play a major role in negotiating the treaty, however, and decided against joining the accord because Washington wanted to continue using mixed systems that the Ottawa Convention prohibited and preferred a scheduled phase-out of APL use rather than an immediate ban. This last concern stemmed mostly from a desire to preserve the right to use APLs on the Korean Peninsula.

In May 1998, Clinton pledged that the United States would end the use of APLs outside the Korean Peninsula by 2003 and join the Ottawa Convention by 2006 if the United States could identify and field suitable alternatives to its APLs and mixed systems by then.

Neither the Clinton nor Bush administration clarified whether “by 2003” meant January 1, 2003 or December 31, 2003. The course of recent events has made December 31 the de facto date, a State Department official said in a March 18 interview.

The general consensus among government officials currently reviewing U.S. landmine policy is that both the 2003 and 2006 objectives are contingent upon the successful development of APL alternatives.

But Tim Rieser, a Leahy aide, strongly disputed this assertion, noting that a May 1998 letter from Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, to Leahy spelling out the administration’s policy was unambiguous and did not tie ending APL use beyond the Korean Peninsula by 2003 to developing alternatives.

The letter Berger wrote stated, “The United States will end the use of all APLs outside Korea by 2003, including those that self-destruct.” Berger’s letter continued, “The United States will aggressively pursue the objective of having APL alternatives ready for Korea by 2006.”

Another State Department official knowledgeable of the Clinton landmine policy said in a March 20 interview that the commitment ending APL use outside the Korean Peninsula was not linked with having APL alternatives. The official pointed out, however, that the 2003 pledge did not apply to mixed systems.

The Bush administration is currently conducting a review of U.S. landmine policy and has yet to announce its findings. Clinton’s policy will remain in effect until it is either replaced or renounced.

Among the many weapons that U.S. military forces might use in combat against Iraq is one that its key coalition partners, the United Kingdom and Australia, have forsworn: anti-personnel landmines (APLs).

U.S. Levies Sanctions for Transfers to Iraq

The United States levied sanctions February 13 against an Indian company and a Jordanian national for knowingly contributing to Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons program. This is the second time this year an Indian company has been sanctioned for contributing to Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons program. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Protech Consultants Private, Ltd. of India and Mohammed Al-Khatib of Jordan were sanctioned under the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act. This is the first time either one has been sanctioned by the United States.

Under the sanctions, the U.S. government is prohibited from conducting any business with the sanctioned entities or from issuing an export license to the entities—essentially barring any U.S. companies from doing business with them. The two-year sanctions took effect immediately upon issue.

During a press briefing March 11, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher refused to say what items had been transferred or when the transfers took place. He said only that these sanctions should not be linked “to something happening this week or last week.”

The sanctions do not apply to the Indian or Jordanian governments.

U.S., Russia Spar Over Alleged Iraqi Arms Deals

Wade Boese

President George W. Bush urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a March 24 phone call to rein in private Russian companies that the United States has implicated in illegal arms deals with Iraq. Putin denied that Russian companies are guilty—an answer the Kremlin has been giving Washington for nearly a year and which has not satisfied the Bush administration.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters March 24 that the United States has “credible evidence” of Russian companies supplying Iraq with weaponry prohibited by a 1990 UN arms embargo. Night vision goggles, anti-tank missiles, and equipment to jam U.S. global positioning systems are the arms at issue.

Bush administration officials have not said exactly when the deals took place or whether some are still ongoing. Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, said in a March 24 interview with Fox News that, “in the last 48 hours, I’ve seen even more information that causes me concern.”

It also remains unclear whether the Russian government authorized the alleged transactions or has simply failed to prevent them. Speaking the same day as Fleischer, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted, “We don’t think that we have the kind of [Russian government] oversight and interdiction that we’ve been asking for.”

Powell said that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has pledged that Russia will act if provided proper and sufficient evidence. “Frankly, we believe we have given them more than enough information so that they should have been able to find out the truth of this,” Powell stated. The secretary added that he was “very confident of our facts” and described himself as “disappointed” in Russia’s response to date.

At least three Russian companies are reportedly suspected of engaging in the illegal deals, though the U.S. government has not named them. News accounts have identified two of the companies as Aviaconversiya and the Tula Design Bureau, which the United States sanctioned last August along with two other Russian companies for arms transfers to Libya, Sudan, and Syria.

The Bush administration has not decided whether to impose sanctions against the companies or on the Russian government, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a March 25 interview.

The U.S. allegations have been publicly aired after Russia failed to side with the United States during several weeks of intense and often bitter debate at the United Nations over Iraq’s disarmament.

Boucher gave three reasons to explain why the United States had not made its concerns public earlier. He suggested the United States has recently acquired more information on the alleged deals, that the issue became more “acute” as it became clearer U.S. forces might have to deal with the weapons on the battlefield, and there was a hope that Moscow would be helpful in exerting some control over the shipments or providing the United States with information.

Last fall, the United States blasted Ukraine for its possible transfer of an early-warning system to Iraq, though a joint investigation by U.S. and British experts was inconclusive. (See ACT, December 2002.) Washington also publicly identified Serbian arms companies in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Republika Srpska, part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as violating the UN arms embargo on Iraq. (See ACT, November 2002.)

President George W. Bush urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a March 24 phone call to rein in private Russian companies that the United States has implicated in illegal arms deals with Iraq.

Pentagon Claims PAC-3 Success Against Iraqi Missiles

Wade Boese

Initial military reports from the Iraq war say that the small stockpile of U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-ballistic missiles is performing well, but one destroyed a British fighter jet and another targeted a U.S. combat aircraft. The Pentagon deployed a predecessor of the PAC-3 in the 1991 Persian Gulf War that was also credited initially with working almost flawlessly, but those claims were later significantly revised.

The number of PAC-3 interceptors available for action is limited. Just more than 50 had been purchased and delivered to the U.S. Army for deployment by the end of last year. Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said March 18 that the Pentagon planned to have as many as 348 PAC-3 missiles by the end of 2005.

In a nearly $75 billion fiscal year 2003 supplemental budget request unveiled March 25, the Bush administration is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to replenish expended munitions, or at least munitions that are expected to be expended, including the Patriot.

As of March 27, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported that Patriot interceptors, some specifically PAC-3s, have destroyed eight Iraqi missiles since the start of the conflict. CENTCOM did not respond to questions on exactly how many Patriot interceptors have been fired, which specific Patriot systems were involved in the intercepts, and the total number and type of Iraqi missiles launched at Kuwait and U.S.-led forces.

The loss of a British Tornado combat aircraft and its two crewmen returning from a March 23 mission over Iraq was also attributed to a PAC-3 interceptor. U.S. military officials are not certain why the PAC-3 fired on the jet, and they are conducting an investigation.

Although early developmental testing of the PAC-3 went very well, the system failed to meet expectations in tougher testing last year. In four tests between February and May involving multiple targets and multiple interceptors, PAC-3s destroyed only two of the five targets assigned them. Of the seven PAC-3s to be fired in those tests, two destroyed their targets, one hit but did not destroy its target, one missed its target, and three did not launch.

PAC-3 is an updated version of the Patriot system deployed during the 1991 Gulf War. Designed to counter aircraft and not missiles, the earlier version employed a warhead that exploded when it was in close proximity to its target. The PAC-3, however, does not have an explosive warhead but destroys targets by colliding with them.

Shortly after the 1991 conflict, the Army claimed that the Patriot system successfully intercepted 45 of 47 Iraqi Scud missiles that the system engaged. Although the Pentagon would gradually lower its estimate, the General Accounting Office, which conducts investigations for Congress, reported in September 1992 that the “strongest evidence” suggested that Patriot succeeded in only nine percent of its intercept attempts. Israel has contended that the Patriot system might have shot down just one Iraqi missile.

Initial military reports from the Iraq war say that the small stockpile of U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-ballistic missiles is performing well, but one destroyed...

Creating a New Multilateral Export Control Regime

Michael Beck and Seema Gahlaut

As the United States turns to military means to disarm Iraq, it is an opportune time to reflect on the role that Western governments played in arming Iraq with the technologies and components needed for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and on the failure of export controls to limit Iraq’s access to such items. It is important to remember that much of Iraq’s WMD capability was derived not from smuggling and theft, but from purchases of key weapons-related components by Iraqi agents who systematically exploited gaps in Western export control systems. Post-Persian Gulf War national and international investigations revealed that Iraq purchased—either directly or through front companies—the majority of materials and technologies needed for its various weapons programs.

Much of what we know about Iraqi capabilities indicates that they were built over the years by setting up elaborate networks of shell companies, innocuous procurement agents, and convoluted financial and transshipment routes.1 One recent media report notes that “Iraqi agents have been known to carry 30-page shopping lists of prohibited equipment. They usually pay in cash and buy in bulk. The military industrial commission usually remits the money through the nearest Iraqi ambassador or military attaché.”2 All of this effort converged on one goal: to divert legitimate exports of dual-use goods and technologies, those with both civilian and military applications, into Iraq’s illicit weapons programs.

The Iraqi case has at least three serious implications for the future U.S. arms control and nonproliferation agenda. First, the post-September 11 focus on preventing nuclear and other WMD materials and technology with military purposes from falling into the hands of terrorists needs to be complemented with a parallel focus on ensuring that trade in dual-use technologies is closely monitored and regulated. For those trying to operate under the radar while building their WMD capability, seemingly legitimate purchases of technologies and materials are as attractive as smuggling of such technologies. Indeed, the recent revelations about the WMD capabilities of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea suggest that these states apparent capabilities owe a great deal to the export decisions—deliberate or inadvertent—made by supplier states such as Russia, China, Germany, France, and Pakistan.

Second, the U.S. reliance on supply-side strategies such as export controls, which involve government licensing and oversight of the trade in weapons and sensitive weapons-related technologies, need to be tempered with the understanding that these tools comprise only one segment—albeit an important segment—within the broad spectrum of arms control and nonproliferation tools available to the international community. Export controls are designed to thwart and delay proliferation by limiting access to WMD-related technologies and goods. By limiting access, these controls help to make WMD programs more expensive, financially and diplomatically, for countries seeking such weapons. Unfortunately, the ease with which technical knowledge and hardware spread in our globalized world means that export controls by themselves cannot end proliferation. They are the proverbial finger in the dike that stanches the flow while waiting for reinforcement. That reinforcement stems from parallel support on multiple fronts, such as confidence-building measures, arms control agreements, multilateral sanctions and incentives, and counterproliferation, all of which are aimed at offering viable alternatives to merely coping with the effects of proliferation. Although export controls may have inherent limitations, they are certainly less costly than pre-emptive strikes and armed interventions to disarm proliferators.

Finally, the United States must work with its allies and other major suppliers to strengthen cooperation in regulating and monitoring trade in weaponry and dangerous technology. Currently, they seek to coordinate their export regulations on proliferation-sensitive technologies and conventional arms through four multilateral export control regimes: the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies. These multilateral regimes operate at the cutting edge of security, economics, and technology. Consequently, they have borne the brunt of the dizzying changes in their operating environment. Uncertainty about who is “the enemy,” which markets to ignore, and which technologies to consider obsolete is the dominant characteristic of this environment. Despite the challenge of operating in a fluid environment, the export control regimes will remain relevant if suitably modified. (See ACA Fact Sheets for more information on multilateral export control regimes.)

The four existing export control regimes have scored some noteworthy successes. They have improved international cooperation in regulating and monitoring the trade in sensitive technologies, and they have helped harmonize the export control systems of major supplier states. Without these export control regimes and coordinated international efforts to monitor proliferation-relevant technologies and arms, states such as North Korea, Iraq, and Iran and nonstate groups hostile to the United States would have access to even more advanced and dangerous weaponry.

Nevertheless, these regimes have serious flaws and are ill-equipped to respond to an increasingly complex environment characterized by technology trade on a global scale, as well as new substate threats.3 Perhaps most importantly, advances in technology—including technology with potential military applications—are far outpacing changes in national regulations and multilateral agreements.4 Even with incremental improvements, export controls are becoming less, not more, effective. The United States and its allies should rethink their approach to controlling dangerous exports, and sooner rather than later.

Problems with Current Regimes

Governments are struggling to coordinate export controls for several reasons. First, the members of the regimes are finding it more and more difficult to agree on which countries should be targeted for stringent controls. The export control regimes originated with groups of like-minded supplier states, notably the United States and its allies in Western Europe and Japan, that agreed on the nature of the threat and appropriate responses.

Since the end of the Cold War, the number of states participating in the regimes has grown, but at the cost of diluting the original membership criteria. This expansion was driven primarily by the euphoric belief in the nonproliferation community that the end of the Cold War had inaugurated an era in which former Warsaw Pact states would make common cause with the West to squelch WMD proliferation. Another factor was the consolidation of the European Union (EU) into a common economic market with few barriers to the movement of goods and services. The extension of the export control regimes to include the EU thus became almost automatic. The MTCR, for example, has grown in membership from seven members (the Group of Seven) in 1987 to 33 in 2002. That means that the regimes now include nonsuppliers as well as states that differ significantly in their definition of threats and their understanding of the letter and spirit of the requirements imposed by the regimes.5

In part, these differences reflect the disparate economic and strategic interests of the member states. Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, for instance, are now members of some of the regimes. Unlike traditional U.S. allies, these countries face serious economic hardships, making their defense establishments far less willing to walk away from questionable but lucrative dealings with China, India, and Iran.6 Instead, these countries are inclined to search for loopholes in the export control regimes.

Second, the former communist countries and U.S. allies in Europe resent U.S. pressure—and U.S. political power—to implement strict controls. U.S. regulations are much stricter than are those of the other regime members, leading them to see U.S. controls as unreasonable and as a means of maintaining the already-commanding U.S. technological edge. As such, some countries have begun finding ways to undercut U.S. export controls. Reports have surfaced that Germany and Sweden permitted the export of electron-beam machines needed for making computer chips to the Chinese firm SMIC, even though the United States routinely bars its own companies from exporting these items to SMIC for fear of proliferation.7 Britain and France have long been suppliers of conventional weapons to India and Pakistan.8 U.S. companies, predictably, have become increasingly vociferous in their complaints about their declining ability to compete.

Third, the control regimes do not require their members to fully disclose which exports they have approved and which they have denied; consequently, they lack the kind of transparency that is crucial to prevent one country from supplying an item that was denied by another. For example, a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report noted that many governments that participate in the Nuclear Suppliers Group have yet to share any information on export denials. Nor have they shared even the informal suggestions they have issued to businesses advising them not to pursue contracts with suspect end-users.9

The GAO report also drew attention to problems of timely information-sharing. The report noted that the United States did not report any of 27 Australia Group-related export license denials between 1996 and 2001 and also pointed out that nearly half of the Wassenaar member states failed to submit information on export denials within established reporting time frames. The report observed, furthermore, that regime members often failed to incorporate the decisions reached within the regimes into their national export control regulations quickly and uniformly. There have been cases in which some countries, including the United States, have taken as long as a year to make the agreed-upon changes to their national laws.

Fourth, the regimes continue to operate informally and by consensus. Although unanimity may enhance the regimes’ perceived legitimacy, it also allows any single member to hold any decision hostage. In addition, members sometimes ignore even those decisions to which they have freely assented, since those decisions are not legally binding. Member states have been left to decide for themselves which regulations they want to incorporate into their national export control systems and how they will be implemented. Even when states egregiously disregard their commitments, other member states can do little more than attempt to shame the violator. Although 32 of the 34 members of the NSG agreed that Russia’s shipments of nuclear fuel to India in January 2001 were inconsistent with Russia’s NSG commitments, they could do no more than exhort Moscow not to continue with the deal.10

Finally, the new members of the multilateral export control regimes, including former Warsaw Pact members, lack the institutional capacity and the resources to implement export controls fully. To be sure, the United States has created an active and effective export control assistance program that provides vital help to much of the former Soviet bloc. Yet, many in Europe and the United States have clamored to reward East European countries with membership in the regimes for political reasons—and to do so before these countries have proved their ability to implement and enforce controls.11

The Challenge of Globalization

In addition to dealing with the internal strains caused by their growing membership, the regimes must also cope with external pressures from increasing globalization and the rapid advancement of technology. In the high-technology sector, for example, industry standards and practices change rapidly, and these innovations spread quickly around the world. At the same time, the growth of global trade and financial markets has encouraged consolidation and integration across national borders through mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, and strategic partnerships. In addition, the leveling effect of the skill revolution and technology diffusion has induced industry to reorganize its functions in global networks rather than nationally based hierarchies. Intra-firm and intra-industry intelligence gathering and information-sharing have become the prime requisites for rapid innovation.12 At the same time, global defense and high-technology firms are engaged in an increasingly competitive struggle for markets. Export controls that place uneven or significant hurdles in the way of efficient sharing of information, ideas, and personnel across national boundaries are viewed by many global companies as a threat to their ability to innovate and to capture new markets.

The multilateral control regimes include provisions for revision and updating of the necessary lists and rules. In theory, then, they should be able to adapt swiftly to changes in technology and industry. In practice, they operate in a bureaucratic environment that allows only glacial change—meaning that reform measures inevitably fall behind technological innovation. Government regulations on the export of goods, technologies, and skilled personnel, whether national or multilateral, have lagged far behind business. Even at the national level, officials have to struggle to build a consensus around new regulatory needs and, in some cases, even struggle to comprehend how emerging technologies are related to security requirements. As a result, timely international coordination is even more problematic.

Controlling exports of emerging dual-use technologies today requires particular foresight and the ability to juggle competing demands. Officials in supplier states have to keep pace not only with technologies that pose a threat today but also with technological innovations that might be militarily relevant tomorrow. At the same time, they have to stay abreast of whether foreign competitors are moving forward with similar sales, for fear that by clamping down too hard they could threaten the competitiveness of domestic firms—harming their own constituents.

Such assessments have become even more complicated now that states outside the regimes are becoming important economic and military powers. Most prominently, regime members are torn over how to treat countries such as China, India, and Israel, which have emerged as attractive markets for high-technology goods and as useful partners to help develop certain technologies. But exporting sensitive dual-use goods to these countries is problematic because they could fuel weapons programs and encourage these states, along with North Korea, Iraq, and Pakistan, to supply WMD technology to third parties—resulting in secondary proliferation.

These nontraditional suppliers represent the latest proliferation concern. The Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, asserted recently that a number of countries were determined to preserve their WMD and missile programs over the long term by innovative means. These countries, said Tenet, were seeking to insulate their programs against interdiction and disruption. They were also trying to reduce their dependence on imports by developing indigenous production capabilities. Although indigenously manufactured components are not always good substitutes for foreign imports—particularly when more advanced technologies are involved—they suffice as a stopgap in many cases. In addition, as they refined their domestic capabilities, these countries could emerge as new suppliers of technology and expertise. Most worrisome, many of these countries—such as India, Iran, and Pakistan—do not adhere to the export restraints embodied in such supplier groups as the NSG and the MTCR.13 The United States and other regime members must now find strategies to ensure that these countries do not supply other states with weapons of mass destruction and missiles.

The business of controlling exports in today’s global era is complex because threats are numerous and difficult to categorize, and the list of technologies that appear innocuous on their face but can add to the lethality of hostile groups is growing. At the same time, the rapid growth and diffusion of dual-use technology makes it more difficult to pinpoint the sources of proliferation. It weakens the arguments for controlling basic technologies, since these technologies have numerous commercial uses as well as the capacity to be pressed into service to build armaments.

Proposed Solutions

How can the multilateral export control regimes be reformed to address the growing list of challenges before them? Knowledgeable observers have proposed a variety of options for strengthening them. We can broadly categorize these into policy- and process-level solutions. Policy-level solutions recommend a frank re-examination of the purpose of the regimes, the role of the United States in them, the demands issued by the new members, and their policies toward nonmembers. Process-level solutions recommend ways to improve the export control regimes by making them more robust, by improving information sharing, and by socializing new members into the norms of nonproliferation. Strengthening the regimes will require solutions at both the policy and process levels.

As a first step, export control regime member states should institute a permanent secretariat in Vienna for the four existing regimes and arrange for them to hold their plenary meetings in that city. A meeting of all countries that are party to one or more of the export control regimes would be held prior to the individual plenaries. This grand plenary meeting might be called “The Multilateral Export Control Coordination Forum.” This forum would facilitate discussions of how best to address many of the cross-cutting export control issues currently facing the regimes while serving as a platform for negotiating a newly restructured export control regime that would encompass the controls embodied in the existing four regimes. Bringing together the work of the existing regimes would help minimize their inefficiencies while putting their limited political and technical resources to best use.

Holding the plenary meetings of existing export control regimes jointly would yield manifold benefits. First, it would promote inter-regime dialogue on cross-cutting export control issues such as transshipment, controls on transfers of intangible technologies, information sharing on end-users of concern, best practices, and harmonized export documentation. Second, it would help avoid duplication of effort, because the strategies to deal with complex control issues and problematic end-users vis-à-vis different types of technologies are similar, if not the same.

Third, it would save money. Too much of what occurs at regime meetings is “diplomatic tourism.” For example, in 2003 the regime plenaries will be held in Seoul (NSG), Buenos Aires (MTCR), and Vienna (Wassenaar Arrangement). The presence of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other security and economic institutions such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Preparatory Commission in Vienna would also facilitate cost savings because regime members could post their technical experts on nuclear and other security issues in the city for managing related nonproliferation work.

Fourth, co-locating the activities of all the regimes would allow them to build some institutional memory and semi-permanent expertise—counteracting the high rate of personnel turnover in national export control agencies and helping new entrants negotiate the sharp learning curve. A single location would also streamline the current, scattershot efforts of the regimes’ staffs to keep records of what transpired at various meetings.

Finally, if multilateral export control efforts were centralized, higher-level policymakers would be more likely to attend the plenary sessions and see the importance of coordinating international controls on all dangerous items. Their participation, in turn, could mobilize the resources and the political capital needed to pursue a more significant restructuring of the existing four export control regimes.

Vienna is the natural location to host these meetings and a secretariat, since the Wassenaar Arrangement has already been working there for some time. The functioning Wassenaar Secretariat could provide organizational support for the annual plenaries and the biannual technical meetings. Moreover, the secretariat could become the locus for training new representatives from member states on export controls.

Still, these procedural reforms do not go far enough. The existing regimes remain far too informal to promote coordinated and harmonized export controls. They are also limited in their ability to formulate timely and actionable policies to meet new challenges because, as noted earlier, they operate on the basis of consensus decision-making. The situation will continue to worsen as the membership of the regimes becomes even more diverse in terms of capabilities and interests.

To be sure, the Bush administration’s National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction recognizes these shortcomings and calls for strengthening the existing multilateral regimes. But it fails to lay out specific suggestions. And the reality is that these regimes are beyond tinkering. They cannot be strengthened as currently constituted and must be restructured.

The changed environment of the existing regimes strongly suggests that a new, combined, and somewhat more formal regime should be established. This new regime should be based on an explicit agreement among its members to formulate and implement policies that will impede the efforts of hostile states, states that sponsor terrorism, terrorist organizations, and individuals to obtain weapons of mass destruction and the goods, technologies, and know-how that can be used to build them. Specifically, the members of a beefed-up regime would undertake to establish transparent, effective, and harmonious export control policies and practices—especially common regulations for the trade and transfer of conventional weapons and dual-use items—so that they can accomplish the objectives of the regime without impeding legitimate commercial transactions. All of the members would also have to agree to abide by the decisions of the regime, including those that are reached without unanimous consent.

Membership in such a regime should be open to those states that are currently participating in any of the four export control regimes (NSG, MTCR, Australia Group, or Wassenaar) as currently constituted. Membership should also be open to states that are both able to transfer or retransfer relevant goods or technologies and ready to make an unambiguous commitment to the goal of nonproliferation in general and the regime’s objectives in particular. All members, new and old, would be evaluated both for their commitment and their ability to implement export control regulations.

A restructured multilateral export control regime should be governed by the following principles and objectives:

1. Replace consensus decision-making with majority voting, at least in such areas as admitting new members, identifying violations by existing members, and developing remedies to deal with violations. Prospective members of a new regime should also consider replacing consensus decision-making rules with weighted voting on issues such as modifying the control lists. This would give more weight to the preferences of suppliers of a particular item than to transit states.

2. Specify the commitments and responsibilities of members and formalize the operations of the regime. For instance, prospective members might be required to agree to incorporate decisions taken within the regime into national law within a specified period and with minimal exceptions based on national circumstances. Measures of this kind would limit the scope for arbitrary flouting of the regime by individual governments.

3. Introduce a dispute-resolution mechanism that allows collective discussion about possible violations by a member, gives that member an opportunity to explain its behavior, and requires all members to abide by the collective decision at the end of the process.

4. Establish clear and uniform criteria for membership, possibly including conditions for expulsion.

5. Establish a tiered list of end-users. Tier 1—the Denied Parties List—should consist of end-users, such as terrorist organizations, that all members agree must be denied controlled technologies. Tier 2—the Sensitive Parties List—should consist of end-users and destinations that are considered proliferation sensitive. Transfers to entities on this list would require approval from a two-thirds majority of member states. Tier 3 should constitute a watch list. Transfers to actors on this list would be based on national discretion, but members would agree to share information on the transaction with the regime after they have approved exports to these actors.

6. Establish an Executive Committee composed of representatives from all member countries. The committee would meet regularly to review proposed transfers to entities on Tier 2; to share information on end-users and developments of common concern; and to chart out new regime policies, such as best practices, to be considered at the annual plenary meetings.

7. Create a team of international experts to provide export control training to prospective members and countries interested in adhering to the standards upheld by the regime.

8. Strengthen information-sharing requirements to include not only denial notifications, but approvals.

9. Require all existing members to agree to these changes explicitly and reaffirm their membership in the new regime and requiring any new entrants to do the same.

Opposition to Restructuring

Officials commonly offer several different objections to the notion of fundamentally revamping the export control regimes. Some experts and officials argue that even a sweeping process of centralizing and restructuring would not yield control regimes that are substantially more effective than the current ones. Others claim that any attempt to restructure or merge the regimes would risk moving export control efforts toward the least common denominator, thereby weakening multilateral efforts. Some point to problems that could arise from the fact the four regimes have differing memberships. From this, they conclude that establishing one control regime would be nearly impossible. Finally, some argue that renegotiating the regimes would be too politically difficult, and thus muddling through under the status quo is preferable.

These concerns are worth considering. Yet, on closer examination, none of them provides grounds for failing to move quickly to strengthen multilateral proliferation controls given the growing challenges posed by global trade and the spread of dangerous weapons technology. First, crafting an overarching multilateral control regime would result not in a weaker regime, but in a stronger one. The point of restructuring a new regime is to raise the bar, not lower it. If the potential members of a new regime failed to negotiate a significantly improved arrangement, they would simply stick with the status quo and continue to make incremental improvements.

Second, the reality is that the existing hodgepodge of regimes already represents the least common denominator. Almost any change would be an improvement. At present, all decisions are taken on the basis of consensus, allowing even one member to stall efforts at reform. By contrast, our idea is to begin by informally coordinating multilateral export controls across regimes and to use this collaborative work as a springboard to a new, overarching institution. The member governments would not agree to abandon the existing export control regimes until they were convinced that the new regime would be a meaningful improvement over the old. The existence of a new regime would also not obviate the possibility of, or need for, micro-regimes that might allow two or three countries to coordinate additional controls on selected technologies.

The fact that the existing regimes have different memberships is also not an insurmountable obstacle to reform. The most politically significant membership issue is Russia’s absence from the Australia Group. Some officials in the United States and Europe are quick to note that the Australia Group is the most effective of the control regimes precisely because Russia is not a member. However, a restructured regime could deal with problem countries such as Russia, as well as concerns that members will not uphold the decisions laid down by the regime, in at least three ways. First, under the aegis of a single regime, sub-arrangements might be devised that excluded Russia and thus sidestepped the difficulties entailed in dealings with Moscow. Second, if consensus rules were replaced with more democratic voting rules, Russian attempts to stall reform would be thwarted. Third, if incorporated into the new regime, as we have proposed, a dispute-resolution mechanism would allow other members collectively to censure, or even expel, problem countries.

It is also true that the United States sometimes uses consensus rules to prevent further erosion of the regime or to defend its economic interests, leading some to suggest that the status quo is adequate. The benefits gained from Washington’s vetoing of the membership of one country or the decontrol of a particular item, however, are fewer than the benefits that would accrue from a new institution that facilitated increased information sharing, the implementation of best practices, common approaches to licensing, and a more coordinated response to actors of proliferation and security concern.

Perhaps the most serious obstacle, however, is the opposition of the business community to a tougher system of export control. To gain a measure of the influence of the defense industry, consider that worldwide military expenditures topped $839 billion in 2001, up from $798 billion in 2000.14 The top five global suppliers of conventional weapons are all members of the Wassenaar Arrangement. In 2001, total world arms transfer agreements were worth nearly $26.4 billion. The United States led the world with 45 percent of all such agreements.15  One reason the defense industry has such influence in the U.S. government is because of federal campaign contributions. Industry contributions totaled $9.5 million during the 2002 election cycle.16 Strengthening the Wassenaar Arrangement and multilateral arms export controls in the face of such influence is especially problematic.

Dual-use technology exports are likewise of great importance for some industry sectors. Moreover, many of the important markets for high-technology companies are in countries of some security concern. The Department of Commerce, for example, licensed more than $12 billion worth of dual-use trade to China between 1991 and 2001. The pace of technological change and innovation in the high-technology sector in the United States has further diminished the latitude and propensity of the Commerce Department, the Department of Defense, and other licensing agencies to severely restrict the market-clearing decisions of domestic companies in these sectors. The situation is not significantly different in other supplier nations.

Nevertheless, the ability of the European Union to construct a common export control system demonstrates that, if governments demonstrate sufficient political will, a new multilateral export control regime can emerge that is better equipped to respond to new threats and new trade realities. Although export decisions are made at the member-state level, the EU’s dual-use export control regime is significant to the extent that it entails binding guidelines and common criteria. Despite these obstacles, in an age in which terrorists and their sponsors seek dangerous technology and weapons, bureaucratic turf wars and the economic interests of suppliers must not dictate policy outcomes, thereby compromising the security of this country and its allies.

The Need for Political Leadership

Greater political leadership is essential. To date, export controls have been underused as nonproliferation tools. They are poorly understood by the public, policymakers, and even nonproliferation specialists—many of whom seemingly believe that controlling weapons of mass destruction is simply a matter of physically securing related materials and technologies. They often fail to appreciate the fact that countries that have acquired weapons of mass destruction have done so by purchasing component parts, technologies, and materials (most of which are dual-use in nature) by lawful means. They also fail to recognize the role that Western suppliers play in arming parties in conflict-prone regions.

An additional barrier to reform is that export controls appear to be too bureaucratically and technically complex to engage the attention of political leaders around the world. Having four regimes that appear to policymakers to be doing the same thing—regulating weapons-related technologies and items—has resulted in a lack of sustained high-level political attention in almost all member states, including the United States. In this context, one can understand the complaints from high-technology firms and their clients about confusing and overlapping regulations and the consequent introduction of piecemeal solutions by individual legislators. In most countries that we have studied, the issues appear so esoteric to national policymakers that few high-level political resources are invested to rationalize the national export control system as a whole. The enterprise of harmonizing national systems with the requirements of the multilateral regimes commands even less support.17

Who should lead the effort to strengthen multilateral export controls? The United States is the obvious candidate to spearhead an effort to strengthen export controls, especially in light of the Bush administration’s emphasis on countering terrorism and the WMD threat from Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Within the U.S. government, however, the idea of merging the export control regimes will likely encounter bureaucratic resistance and inertia. Some of the opposition stems from the concerns that were discussed and discounted above. Each regime also enjoys a handful of defenders in Washington. These individuals typically insist that the language, issues, communities, and status of each individual regime is too unique to blend without incurring significant risk.

In some countries, there are additional bureaucratic hurdles. For instance, it is not clear whether the concerns spelled out by government officials are genuine or whether they reflect more personal anxieties that reform would entail additional work and a loss of control. In some cases, officials who manage export control programs contend that they cannot fathom restructuring and strengthening the system because they are too busy defending the existing regimes from domestic and industry representatives who would just as soon do away with multilateral controls altogether. It is almost certain that, if key policymakers turn to the individuals currently implementing the regimes’ policies for guidance, they will be told that restructuring or replacing the four existing arrangements would be too difficult to negotiate, not to mention fraught with risks.

A more realistic way the United States can help bring about a strengthened multilateral system would be for Congress to call on the secretary of state to strengthen the multilateral system. Such legislation could be included in a reauthorization of the Export Administration Act, which has been languishing on Capitol Hill for more than a decade. A surprising ally in the quest to reform multilateral export controls might also be some U.S. industry groups. An often-heard complaint in industry circles is that control policies and licensing decisions and practices vary widely from supplier country to supplier country. As a result, they argue that foreign competitors in Europe and Japan have an unfair competitive edge. Thus, some businesspeople might welcome a multilateral control system that helps to “level the playing field,” along with legislation that simplifies the licensing process.

The European Union could also help spur reform. There is already considerable support for a reformed and consolidated export control regime, especially among the smaller countries. The expansion of the EU and NATO is in many ways forcing this issue, since new members of these organizations are expected to have export control systems compatible with those of the present members. All of the current EU member states are participants in all four regimes. As a group, however, the ten states most likely to be admitted to the EU are a mixed bag. Estonia does not take part in any of the regimes; Cyprus, to name one, is a member of only two of the regimes; the Visegrad countries are full members of all four regimes. If future EU members are not party to the regimes, there is the risk of conflict between regime export requirements and EU export privileges. There is also the problem of prospective EU countries that lack robust and effective export controls.

Reform or Stasis?

The grave threat posed by continued WMD proliferation and loosely regulated military exports suggests that export controls can no longer be entrusted to lethargic and informal organizations. Four regimes with vague provisions, limited information-sharing requirements, and crippling consensus rules are no match for terrorist organizations, to say nothing of countries such as Iran that are seeking weapons of mass destruction and other arms. The magnitude of this threat requires a wholehearted commitment by the political establishment in the United States and other countries.

We recommend forging a single, strengthened regime characterized by binding commitments on its members and some form of majority-based decision-making. We believe that a consolidated multilateral export regime would realign the multilateral effort to implement, enforce, and coordinate WMD and dual-use export controls in two highly beneficial ways: it would provide an opportunity for existing member states to renew their commitment, and it would allow other supplier states to join the nonproliferation effort. It is time to step back and retool the regimes in ways that maximize their unique strengths vis-à-vis the other nonproliferation tools and institutions.

History amply demonstrates that crisis is usually required to precipitate reform. One would think that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Iraq’s success in acquiring Western components for its WMD arsenal, and current concerns over proliferation elsewhere would prompt the kind of sweeping change we advocate. Yet, it is not apparent that even these clear signs of danger are adequate. Will it take an actual WMD attack on an American city, followed by revelations that American firms supplied the means to build the weapons used in the attack, to goad us into action?

Two possible futures await us. Either international efforts to strengthen the norms and legal barriers to weapons of mass destruction will be bolstered through a significantly improved regime or international efforts to monitor dangerous technologies and weaponry will falter. If our choice is the latter, we will have repeated the mistake of selling the rope used to hang ourselves.

1. See David Albright and Khidhir Hamza, “Iraq’s Reconstitution of Its Nuclear Weapons Program,” Arms Control Today, October 1998.
2. Bob Drogin, “How Hussein Gets ‘Anything He Wants,’” The Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2002.
3. See Joseph Cirincione, ed., Repairing the Regime: Preventing the Spread of Mass Destruction (New York: Routledge, 2000), and Michael Barletta and Amy Sands, eds., Nonproliferation Regimes at Risk, Occasional Paper No. 3, Center for Nonproliferation Studies (Monterey: Monterey Institute for International Studies, 1999).
4. See William W. Keller and Janne E. Nolan, “Proliferation of Advanced Weaponry: Threat to Stability,” Foreign Policy, winter 1997-98, and Michael Hirsh, “The Great Technology Giveaway,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 1998, 2-9.
5. See Seema Gahlaut and Victor Zaborskiy, “Do Regimes Have The Members They Need?” Center for International Trade and Security Working Paper (Athens; Center for International Trade and Security, February 2003).
6. George Tenet, “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January through 30 June 2000.” (Publisher/date)
7. See Richard Read, “U.S. Trade, Security Interests Clash Over Tech Exports to China,” Oregon Live, February 3, 2003.
8. “UK’s Arms Exports to India and Pakistan,” available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/2012620.stm; “Al-Qaeda vs France, Or India vs Pakistan?” available at http://www.atimes.com/ind-pak/DE11Df01.html.
9. See U.S. General Accounting Office, Strategy Needed to Strengthen Multilateral Export Control Regimes (Washington, DC: General Accounting Office, 2002), GAO-03-43.
10. Ibid., 23.
11. For example, partly as a reward for its decision to forego nuclear commerce with Iran, Ukraine was allowed to enter the MTCR. As part of the membership agreement, Ukraine will keep its hundreds of Scud missiles – the type of rocket MTCR was specifically designed to counter – through the end of their service lives, and will not forswear future production of short-range missiles should Ukraine find it necessary. Howard Diamond, “U.S., Ukraine Sign Nuclear Accord, Agree on MTCR Accession,” Arms Control Today, March 1998.
12. See Sam Nunn Bank of America Policy Forum, Executive Summary: Globalization, Technology Trade and American Leadership: A New Strategy for the 21st Century (Athens: The University of Georgia, March 2000), Technology and Security in the 21st Century: U.S. Military Export Control Reform (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2001), and Sten Lundbo, “Nonproliferation: Expansion of Export Control Mechanisms,” Aussenpolitik 48, no. 2 (August 1997).
13. See his annual Congressional testimony, “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January Through 30 June 2000.” See also Jason Ellis, “Beyond Nonproliferation: Secondary Supply, Proliferation Management, and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Comparative Strategy (2001), 1-24, and Michael Moodie, “Beyond Proliferation: The Challenge of Technology Diffusion,” The Washington Quarterly 18, no. 2, (spring 1995).
14. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Yearbook 2002: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
15. Richard F. Grimmet, "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1993-2000,” CRS Report for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, August 16, 2001).
16. This includes combined amounts from three categories, Defense Aerospace, Defense Electronics, and Miscellaneous Defense, in the database “Top Industries Giving to Members of Congress 2002 Cycle,” from the Center for Responsive Politics; available at http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/mems.asp?party=A&cycle=2002.
17. See, Michael Beck, R. Cupitt, Seema Gahlaut, and Scott Jones, To Deny or To Supply: Nonproliferation Export Controls in Five Key Countries (New York: Kluwer International, forthcoming).


Michael Beck is assistant director of the Center for International Trade and Security (CITS) at the University of Georgia. Seema Gahlaut is a senior research associate at CITS.


How Will the Iraq War Change Global Nonproliferation Strategies?

Joseph Cirincione

Trying to determine what the Iraq war will mean for global nonproliferation regimes is difficult. The war is less than a month old, and the many uncertainties that remain make it hard to render an assessment with sufficient confidence. Even within the time that it takes to write these words and print them, dramatic events might occur that change this article’s tentative conclusions. As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Nonetheless, even at this point, it is useful to examine how leading policy-makers in the administration would like the nonproliferation regimes to change and to outline the key questions we must answer to forge a new strategy.

From Eliminating Weapons to Regimes

If President George W. Bush’s vision of a quick military victory, a benign and untroubled occupation, and the quick construction of a democratic Iraq is correct, the rules and structures of the international system might be further rewritten in favor of a U.S.-centric system. But even if the war goes badly and the occupation is difficult, many in the Bush administration can be expected to push on boldly, lest they lose momentum. In Washington, the executive branch almost always sets the agenda, and the Bush administration is particularly good at this.

Still, it is a bit erroneous to talk about “the administration” as a single unit. Until the White House makes final decisions, there is fierce contention among various groups within the government on national security issues. Most observers see three main factions: the moderate internationalists, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell; the national conservatives, sometimes epitomized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and the aggressive neoconservatives, led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Mark Danner of The New Yorker characterizes what I call the moderates as the pragmatists in line with the policies of the administration of President George H. W. Bush. “These are so-called realists. They believe that foreign policy is the patient management of alliances, competitions and, to some extent, conflict.”1

The neoconservatives, on the other hand, “take a somewhat ideological and almost evangelical view of the world,” says Danner. They believe that American power “should be used to change the world, not simply to manage it.” Finally, the traditional conservatives have little use for international organizations and would not favor overseas deployments unless vital U.S. interests were threatened.

Unless the war turns into a quagmire, the neoconservatives can be expected to continue their dominance of the policy apparatus and to press their carefully constructed agenda. That consists primarily of a “permanent regime change” policy focused on the Middle East. “There is tremendous potential to transform the region,” says Richard Perle, a prominent neoconservative who recently resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. “If a tyrant like Saddam [Hussein] can be brought down, others are going to begin to think…and act to bring down the tyrants that are afflicting them.”2

There might be less unity among neoconservatives after the war, however, as some might want to turn their sights on Iran, others on Syria, and still others might argue for action against North Korea. Traditional conservatives who support the Iraq war might split from the neoconservatives’ radical and expensive agenda, preferring to consolidate gains and start bringing troops home. They might find that they have a lot more in common with moderate Republicans concerned about deficits and homeland defense than with neoconservative ambitions for global transformation.

Still, the neoconservatives are firmly established in the administration, and their ideas have captured the minds of the president and his key advisers. Most now see this as a pivotal moment in world history, comparing it to the years 1945-1947 when a small group in the White House led the construction of the institutions that shaped the Western world throughout the Cold War, including the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the development of the doctrine of containment. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker that September 11 “has started shifting the tectonic plates in international politics. And it’s important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions and all of that before they harden again.”

These institutions are now outdated, according to some, as is the central principle that has guided U.S. nonproliferation policy since World War II. For more than 40 years, there has been a bipartisan consensus that focused on eliminating nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The weapons themselves were the problem: as long as they existed, they would be used. “The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us, ” President John F. Kennedy said in September 1961. “The mere existence of modern weapons…is a source of horror and discord and distrust.” Thus, Kennedy started, Lyndon Johnson completed, and Richard Nixon signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that promised the elimination of nuclear weapons. Nixon unilaterally ended the U.S. biological weapons program in 1969 and negotiated the Biological Weapons Convention that bans these deadly arsenals. George H. W. Bush in 1993 signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that similarly bans chemical weapons, and President Bill Clinton won its ratification in 1997.

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been general agreement that the most serious threat to the national security of the United States “is posed by the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and their means of delivery,” as Clinton put it in November 1998. But George W. Bush has changed that formula. Now, as he said in his 2003 State of the Union address, “The gravest danger facing America and the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.” (Emphasis added.)

The new clause makes all the difference. The focus has shifted from eliminating weapons to eliminating certain regimes that have those weapons. It is a strategy of picking and choosing good guys and bad guys. Possession of these weapons by allied or friendly regimes is tolerated, even encouraged, while governments designated as threats must not only disarm, but be deposed. In this strategy, universal norms and treaties are a hindrance to U.S. freedom of action, not strategic levers in the battle against nonproliferation.

Burning the Bridges We’re On

To neoconservatives, the construction of new institutions begins with the destruction of the old. They say the failure of George W. Bush to win UN Security Council support for the war shows that the United Nations itself must go. Columnist George Will writes, “The United Nations is not a good idea badly implemented, it is a bad idea.”3 The March 17 cover of the Weekly Standard is devoted to “Present at the Destruction: The United Nations Implodes.” Inside, contributing editor David Gelernter says the United Nations “today is an impediment to world safety. It should be replaced.…The core of the new organization—call it the Big Three—would be a Britain-Russia-America triumvirate.” In another example of neoconservative thinking, Charles Krauthammer, America’s most passionate unilateralist, tells the president in the Washington Post simply to “walk away.”4

Such extreme views are now commonplace in neoconservative circles. Yet, many noted foreign policy experts find it difficult to take this challenge seriously. “What is most striking is just how relevant the United Nations has become,” argues Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “And contrary to all the bluster on both sides of the Atlantic, that will continue to be true.”5

Unfortunately, Slaughter appears to be wrong. Her mistake, however, is understandable. In its public statements, the Bush administration has sought to minimize opposition and please both the neoconservatives and the mainstream foreign policy establishment. The best example of this schizophrenic approach is the Bush administration’s September 2002 National Security Strategy. At one point, the document appeals to more traditional thinkers:

We are also guided by the conviction that no nation can build a safer, better world alone. Alliances and multilateral institutions can multiply the strength of freedom-loving nations. The United States is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States and NATO as well as other long-standing alliances.

The National Security Strategy, however, cut and pasted verbal concessions to outsiders and administration moderates alongside more hard-line views. Indeed, we can now see that the document drafters were willing to put in multilateral boilerplate as long as they could get official blessing for the radical new concepts of pre-emption and unilateral action. They had learned from bitter experience: These ideas were put forward by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz a decade ago in the first Bush administration but were harshly rejected. Given another chance, the neoconservatives have sought to advance their agenda with stealth tactics.

The drive to war in Iraq quickly sacrificed multilateral principles in favor of the more deeply felt new doctrine, also in the strategy: “We will not hesitate to act alone” and, “if necessary, act preemptively.” In this view, there is no need for permanent alliances or permanent multilateral organizations. Indeed, these are seen as impediments to U.S. action, unnecessary fetters on American power. Why should the greatest nation on Earth be forced to seek the approval of Cameroon for its vital national security policies?

Similarly, NATO is now treated as a tool kit for the administration. When they see something they need, they take it; otherwise, it is ignored. As Wolfowitz noted in his draft 1992 defense policy guidance, the United States “should expect future coalitions to be ad hoc assemblies” that might not outlive a particular crisis. “The United States,” he argued, “should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated.”

The End of UN Inspections?

The idea that the United States would cast aside key international institutions that we ourselves created and that are so integral to the idea of collective security might seem incomprehensible. Surely, the United Nation’s work on hunger, women, children, and other causes is too valuable to lose? But even if the more extreme views in the administration are moderated and the United States continues to cooperate with the United Nations, the attacks on the inspections process in Iraq might have fatally weakened all international inspection operations.

In order to press the case that war was the only way to save the world from Saddam Hussein, the administration had to diminish, defile, and dismiss inspection efforts. Most of the fire was focused on the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and its leader Hans Blix, but if anything, the International Atomic Energy Agency is hated more, particularly for its repeated rebuttal of administration charges that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program.

If the administration did not trust UN inspectors in Iraq, why should it trust them in Iran, North Korea, or any other state? But what could take their place? After all, the United States depends on UN inspections to monitor compliance with key nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons treaties.

Post-war Iraq might provide an alternative model of inspections more amenable to the neoconservatives’ new doctrines. Senior national security aides have been working on the concept of U.S.-based disarmament teams for months. Former UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors have been drawn into this new disarmament apparatus by the Pentagon, alongside intelligence analysts and veterans from the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which helps secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. “Mobile Exploitation Teams” of inspectors are in Iraq equipped with the latest detection technologies, including:6

  • Chemical Agent Monitors, hand-held devices for rapid detection of chemical molecules.
  • Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy, which uses a neutron beam to identify the contents of sealed containers.
  • Handheld Advanced Nucleic Acid Analyzers, which can identify specific sequences of DNA in biological samples (such as those for anthrax) within 15 minutes.
  • Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy, which can precisely identify materials from a distance.

All the plans to find and eliminate Iraqi arms were drawn up independently of UN weapons inspections. They might prove an attractive alternative to chronically underfunded and geographically balanced international inspection teams. These would be under complete U.S. control and could be used in a bilateral process between the United States and the offending country, much as the U.S.-Soviet inspections were conducted during the Cold War, although these would be strictly one-way.

Rebuilding the Regime

Three excellent articles in this and the March 2003 issues of Arms Control Today address the key issues involved with the administration’s policies toward the use of nuclear weapons, the salami tactics being used to bring us closer to resuming testing of new nuclear weapons, and the anemic support provided for nuclear nonproliferation efforts. Representative John Spratt (D-SC) warns in one of these pieces of “a dangerous drift” in U.S. policy. “My greatest concern is that some in the administration and in Congress seem to think that the United States can move the world in one direction while Washington moves in another—that we can continue to prevail on other countries not to develop nuclear weapons while we develop new tactical applications for such weapons and possibly resume nuclear testing,” he writes.

The war is likely to exacerbate this drift. Spratt last month laid out a clear agenda for what he believes is a better course. Similarly, Sidney Drell, James Goodby, Raymond Jeanloz, and Robert Peurifoy in their March article detailed steps to strengthen the NPT. In the current issue, Michael Beck and Seema Gahlaut call for restructuring the current export control regimes. All of these suggestions make sense. They must be placed, however, in the context of a new, overarching strategy that recognizes both the flaws of the existing nonproliferation regime and the value of some of the correctives proposed by regime critics.

This strategy does not yet exist. It needs to be created—and soon. Then and only then can we progress beyond just repairing a regime badly damaged by neglect, disagreement, noncompliance, and outright rejection to rebuilding it entirely into a new, stronger, more universally accepted barrier to the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

“Conservative defense intellectuals and officials deserve credit for highlighting the fact that effective nonproliferation requires changes in the policies of governments of states unwilling to abide by international laws and norms,” notes George Perkovich. “Yet they then proceed to make the reverse mistake, looking only at the outlaws and ignoring the challenges posed by nuclear weapons in general.”7

Still, it will not do to try to go back to the antebellum regime. Clearly, changes are needed, and new approaches must be tried. It should be possible to join the best of both the traditional and the new approaches. This new synthesized strategy could be developed around key questions that I and my colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are proposing as a starting point for our efforts.8

Key Questions for a New Strategy

1. What are the most pressing proliferation dangers that a nonproliferation strategy must address?

2. What are the strengths and liabilities of the traditional, treaty-based approach? How can a regime designed for a world of state actors be adapted to deal effectively with nonstate threats as well? How can recent experiences help strengthen enforcement of the nonproliferation regime?

3. Under what conditions are regime change and/or military pre-emption a viable policy for preventing proliferation or blocking its consequences? Does focusing nonproliferation policy only on certain regimes—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—while implicitly accepting others’ possession of nuclear weapons—India, Israel, and Pakistan—undermine long-term prospects of preventing proliferation?

4. Can the strengths of both approaches be captured in a coherent synthesis? Where do they clash counter-productively?

5. Neither coercive counterproliferation nor the current nonproliferation regime fulfills the requirement for detailed and reliable accounting and monitoring of global fissile material stocks. What steps must be taken to establish such an accounting and monitoring system?

6. How can we strengthen cooperative threat reduction policies and techniques? Conversely, what is the potential of coercive inspections and disarmament techniques?

7. Drawing from the new and the traditional approaches, what are likely to be the most effective strategies for dealing with the toughest remaining cases—North Korea and Iran?

8. Is it desirable or necessary to find a “legal” place for India, Israel, and Pakistan within the nonproliferation regime? If so, how can this be done without weakening the regime? If not, what are the implications of their not being accommodated formally? In either case, how can the threat of nuclear war in South Asia or the Middle East be reduced?

9. Are new approaches needed to replace the two central “bargains” of the NPT?

  • The Article IV commitment by the nuclear “haves” to assist the “have-nots” in gaining the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology and know-how. In the case of Iran, and perhaps elsewhere, the United States argues that peaceful cooperation cannot be prevented from providing military applications.
  • The Article VI commitment by the nuclear “haves,” updated in 1995, to pursue a cessation of the nuclear arms race and other steps toward nuclear disarmament. U.S. refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is only the most dramatic example of disregard for these commitments.

10. If these elements of the old bargain are tacitly being discarded by the nuclear “haves,” will the “have-nots” at some point make this a global crisis? How can the existing commitment of the member states to the NPT be sustained if the terms of the bargain are being changed? What would be the real effects of a weakened or shattered international nonproliferation regime?

A comprehensive, international nonproliferation strategy should be based on solid, validated answers to these questions. Developing those answers will not be easy. Achieving political consensus around them will be even more difficult. However, if there is one assumption that will certainly still be true after the Iraq war, it is that the existence and spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons will remain an urgent public concern and policy problem. The nonproliferation community must forge a new national and international strategy that can win broad consensus, or it risks abandonment by a frightened public or displacement by illusionists promoting quick military cures.


1. “The War Behind Closed Doors,” Frontline, PBS, January 25, 2003.
2. Ibid.
3. George F. Will, “U.N. Absurdity,” The Washington Post, March 13, 2003, p. A23.
4. Charles Krauthammer, “Don’t Go Back to the U.N.,” The Washington Post, March 21, 2003, p. A37.
5. Anne-Marie Slaughter, “The Will to Make It Work,” The Washington Post, March 2, 2003, p. B1.
6. Debora MacKenzie, “Experts to Hunt for Banned Iraqi Weapons," New Scientist, March 21, 2003, available at http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993534.
7. George Perkovich, “Bush’s Nuclear Revolution: A Regime Change in Nonproliferation,” Foreign Affairs, March-April 2003.
8. These questions were developed as part of a collaborative project involving George Perkovich, Rose Gottemoeller, Jessica Mathews, Michael Swaine, Jon Wolfsthal, and others at the Carnegie Endowment. The author alone takes responsibility for the particular wording in this article.


Joseph Cirincione is the lead author of Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (Carnegie Endowment, 2002) and the director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Unfinished Business in Iraq

IAEA and UNMOVIC Outline Remaining Disarmament Tasks

Wade Boese

On March 19, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted work programs to the UN Security Council detailing the status of their efforts to verify Iraq’s disarmament and future steps to realize that goal. UNMOVIC was charged with overseeing Iraq’s elimination of its proscribed biological, chemical, and missile programs, while the IAEA was responsible for the abolition of Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.

The presentation of the work programs had a surreal quality. All of the arms inspectors had departed Iraq the day before under the prospect of a looming U.S.-led invasion of Baghdad, an action that U.S. and British officials said was intended to disarm Iraq. That attack began March 19. Backed by the United Kingdom and several smaller countries, the Bush administration argued force was needed to accomplish what it said the inspectors could not do. Many other countries, including China, France, Germany, and Russia, disagreed.

Although it appears that the UNMOVIC and IAEA work programs might have come to an end with the U.S.- led invasion, the inspectors’ lists of key remaining disarmament tasks may well serve as a starting point for any post-war effort to account fully for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

The IAEA expressed confidence that it had a “coherent” picture of Iraq’s illegal nuclear weapons program and had succeeded in eliminating it by 1998 when inspectors first left Iraq—only days before Washington and London carried out military strikes against Baghdad for its failure to cooperate fully with inspectors. Upon resuming its Iraq inspection work in November 2002, the IAEA set out to determine whether Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons program during the four-year absence of inspectors. This year, the IAEA has reported several times to the UN Security Council that it “found to date no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq.” With that said, the IAEA still has some unresolved questions about Iraq’s past nuclear weapons efforts, which the IAEA’s work program was designed to answer.

UNMOVIC’s predecessor, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), had said it succeeded in dismantling the key facilities involved in Iraq’s efforts to acquire chemical and biological weapons and in supervising the destruction of significant quantities of proscribed weapons, including missiles. Yet, it had a much more difficult time than the IAEA in accounting for Iraq’s past weapons efforts. UNMOVIC inherited from UNSCOM a host of unresolved questions and most of those remain unanswered, which UNMOVIC’s much more extensive work program makes clear.

Summarized below is the IAEA’s list of actions Iraq needs to take with regard to its past and current nuclear activities as well as the dozen disarmament issues in the biological, chemical, and missile fields that UNMOVIC highlighted as remaining unresolved.


Saying its main task—the elimination of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program—has been accomplished, the IAEA focused its work program on obtaining as complete a picture as possible of Iraq’s past nuclear efforts as well as a clear understanding of any current Iraqi activities or personnel that could be employed to reconstitute an illicit weapons program. To achieve these objectives, the IAEA said Iraq must provide full technical descriptions of its past nuclear weapons activities; turn over all documents related to nuclear activities; name and make available for interviews all personnel previously involved in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program; describe any industrial infrastructure improvements over the past four years; list and explain any procurement activities that could be related to a nuclear weapons program; and describe its current procurement system. The IAEA also called on Baghdad to institute laws and create administrative bodies for enforcing UN prohibitions against weapons of mass destruction.


1. Scud Missiles and Associated Biological and Chemical Warheads

Beginning in 1974, Iraq began importing Scud-B missiles, which are surface-to-surface ballistic missiles with an estimated range of 300 kilometers. Iraq claimed it imported a total of 819 Scud-B missiles, a matching number of conventional warheads, and liquid missile propellants. Iraq also initiated its own programs to develop similar capabilities. Those programs, according to Iraq, resulted in the production of seven “training” engines for its own missiles and 121 Scud-type warheads. It is uncertain whether they were biological, chemical, or conventional warheads. Iraq also imported turbo-pumps needed to produce its own missiles.

  • Although UNSCOM concluded that 817 of Iraq’s 819 imported Scud-B missiles had been “effectively” accounted for—meaning that inspectors verified each missile’s destruction or use—UNMOVIC reported, “It cannot be excluded that Iraq retained a certain number of the missiles.” In addition, UNMOVIC said Iraq had not provided evidence to support its claims that it had destroyed the seven training engines. Also unaccounted for were some 21 imported turbo-pumps and a significant amount of the liquid propellant. Iraq stated that the liquid propellant would no longer be usable even if it did exist, a contention UNMOVIC disputed. UNMOVIC further found it could not verify Iraq’s claim to have destroyed approximately 50 Scud-type warheads. Iraq could not account for a 50-ton trailer that it had imported to convert into a mobile missile launcher.

Some, perhaps all, of Iraq’s domestically produced Scud-type warheads were to be filled with chemical or biological agents. Baghdad repeatedly altered its claims as to how many “special warheads” it built and the ratio of chemical to biological warheads. The last Iraqi statement on the issue claimed that 50 chemical and 25 biological warheads were manufactured, although UNSCOM had received evidence suggesting that at least 100 total special warheads had been produced.

  • UNSCOM verified the destruction of 73-75 special warheads. Due to Iraq’s various claims, discrepancies in evidence, and its attempts to mislead UNSCOM about its biological weapons program in general, UNMOVIC assessed that “uncertainty remains concerning the types and numbers of chemical and biological agents [Iraq] filled into the special warheads.”

2. SA-2 Missile Technology

In the early 1970s, Iraq started importing SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, which are also called Volga missiles. Iraq launched a number of programs to modify or reverse engineer the SA-2 missiles into surface-to-surface missiles. Early projects were the Fahad-300 and Fahad-500 missiles. Later, when UNSCOM was in Iraq (1991-1998), Iraq initiated covert programs, G-1 and al Rafidain, based on the SA-2. Iraq subsequently claimed it had canceled these programs with few results, but it did not provide evidence to back up its assertion.

In a December 7, 2002 declaration to UNMOVIC, Baghdad admitted production of al Samoud-2 missiles, which were based on the SA-2. Iraq contended the new missile was legally compliant with the UN prohibition against any Iraqi missile capable of traveling 150 kilometers or more. But al Samoud-2 flight tests exceeded the limit, and UNMOVIC ordered Iraq to destroy its 76 al Samoud-2 missiles, 118 warheads, and 9 launchers. By the time UNMOVIC left Iraq in March, it had supervised Iraqi destruction of 72 missiles and 47 warheads.

Related to its al Samoud program, Iraq illicitly purchased an undetermined number of Volga engines. Iraq initially claimed importing 131 Volga engines, but UNMOVIC discovered 231 such engines, and one Iraqi engineer said a total of 567 Volga engines had been acquired all together.

  • UNSCOM oversaw the elimination of nine Fahad-300 missiles but said it could not confirm the total number of SA-2 missiles that Iraq modified or used in testing. UNMOVIC stated, “It cannot be excluded that some Fahad-300 missiles still remain in Iraq.” Overall, UNMOVIC remained concerned about the amount of uncertainty regarding how all the SA-2-based programs were interrelated and how much progress Iraq made on each. UNMOVIC noted, “Other missile systems with ranges in excess of 150 kilometers may possibly be under development or planned.” UNMOVIC supervised the destruction of solid propellant casting chambers that could be used to build proscribed missiles. As a result of this action, UNMOVIC described Iraq’s ability to produce large rocket motors as “diminished.”

3. R&D on Missiles Capable of Proscribed Ranges

Around the mid-1980s, Iraq began researching the development of medium-range ballistic missiles capable of traveling 1,000-3,000 kilometers. Iraq also said it looked into development of a space-launch vehicle. Baghdad further explored technology to enable warheads to separate from their boosters and imported a different fuel than what was needed for Scud-B missiles. UNSCOM uncovered Iraqi efforts initiated after 1991 to develop turbo-pumps for a proscribed missile as well as a computer disk with missile flight simulation information for illegal missiles.

  • UNMOVIC said it would be unlikely that Iraq could build proscribed missiles based on the computer simulations. The inspectors declared, however, “What is of concern is the apparent intent behind such activities and, in particular, the conscious decision to act in contravention” of UN prohibitions. UNMOVIC also stated that Iraq could use its past prohibited research and development to make headway on “less ambitious and less complex proscribed missile systems.”

4. Munitions for Chemical and Biological Agent Fill

Iraq began domestically producing a low-altitude bomb that could be filled with chemical or biological agents for use by combat aircraft in 1990. Iraq designated this bomb the R-400. Iraq initially claimed in 1992 that it had produced 1,200 R-400 bombs for chemicals but amended the figure to 1,550 following revelations about its biological weapons program in 1995. Iraq provided various figures on how many R-400 bombs had been filled with what type of agent.

  • UNSCOM could not account for at least 300-350 R-400 bombs. (Two UN reports in 1999 put this figure at 500.) Claiming that it is “impossible” to confirm production or destruction tallies for R-400 bombs, UNMOVIC stated that it “cannot discount the possibility that some [chemical] and [biological] filled R-400 bombs remain in Iraq.” UNMOVIC further noted that Iraq possesses the knowledge and resources to produce R-400-type bombs “easily.”

Iraq made or acquired more than 30,000 “major aerial bombs” for delivering chemical or biological agents between 1983 and 1990. An Iraqi Air Force document seen by UNSCOM—later handed over to UNMOVIC—suggested that Iraq used roughly 6,500 fewer chemical bombs during its eight-year war with Iran than Baghdad claimed, casting doubt on Iraq’s declarations. Iraq explained that the air force document was incomplete.

  • UNSCOM could not confirm Baghdad’s assertion that it destroyed some 2,000 empty bombs. Nor could UNSCOM verify that some 450 bombs filled with mustard, a chemical blistering agent, were destroyed in a fire. UNMOVIC noted that, although much of Iraq’s chemical and biological aerial bomb arsenal was “presumably eliminated, its ability to reconstitute that inventory remains largely intact.”

Before 1991, Iraq declared it filled some 70,000 155-millimeter artillery shells and more than 100,000 122-millimeter rocket warheads with chemical agents.

  • UNSCOM could not account for 550 155-millimeter artillery shells or some 15,000 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads that Iraq said it had destroyed. UNMOVIC inspectors found a total of 14 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads in January 2003, and Iraq handed over another four. UNMOVIC expressed concern about the inability to account for the 550 155-millimeter artillery shells because it determined that the mustard in the shells would still be potent. UNMOVIC further noted that Iraq possesses “significant stocks” of conventional 155-millimeter artillery shells and 122-millimeter rocket warheads that Iraqi industry could modify for chemical agents.

Starting in the 1980s, Iraq explored using cluster munitions to deliver chemical agents but denied it ever made much progress. Iraq also claimed it never investigated using cluster munitions for biological agents. UNSCOM, however, noted that Iraq’s main chemical production facility, the Muthanna State Establishment, was involved in testing sub-munitions that could be useful for cluster-type weapons. A high-ranking Iraqi official, who recanted in front of his superiors, also linked cluster bombs and biological weapons together in an interview.

  • UNMOVIC discovered a 122-millimeter cluster sub-munition component for either chemical or biological agents at the warehouse of a cluster bomb factory in February 2003. UNMOVIC concluded, “Iraq’s interest in cluster munitions, and the developments it did make, may have progressed well beyond what it had declared.”
    Iraq claimed that it explored, but abandoned in 1988, developing a warhead to deliver chemical agents for a short-range battlefield rocket known as FROG. Documents dated March 1989 and August 1990, however, were found that suggested such work was still ongoing at those times.
  • UNMOVIC assessed that no evidence exists that Iraq continued work on a chemical warhead for the FROG beyond 1990, but added that “the possibility cannot be ruled out.”

5. Spray Devices and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Iraq researched two types of devices for spraying chemical and biological weapons from the air: modified auxiliary fuel tanks and modified agricultural sprayers. Iraq provided conflicting accounts of when it tested these systems and for what purposes. Baghdad said its plans to modify 12 auxiliary fuel tanks for use with a Mirage F-1 combat aircraft were frustrated by a shortage of valves. Iraq claimed it only managed to build three modified fuel tanks and one prototype. Baghdad said the prototype and the Mirage jet were destroyed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and that it destroyed the three other tanks.

The other serious Iraqi research program on a spray device entailed developing biological weapon aerosol generators for a modified crop-dusting helicopter. This system was called the “Zubaidy” device. Iraq described field tests of the helicopter system as inconclusive. Iraq also separately explored using a MiG-21 fighter and a L-29 training jet as remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) for delivering various payloads.

  • Arms inspectors were never able to confirm that the Mirage F-1 combat aircraft and prototype fuel tank were destroyed. In addition, a document was found suggesting that Iraq had an excess, not a shortage, of valves for modifying fuel tanks. UNSCOM also found an Iraqi report indicating the helicopter field tests went well. None of the components of that system were ever accounted for. UNMOVIC asserted, “Spraying devices modified for [chemical and biological weapon] purposes may still exist in Iraq” and reported that Iraq possesses many agricultural aircraft spray systems identical to the ones converted to disseminate biological weapons. UNMOVIC found modified fuel tanks in December 2002, which Iraq explained as being part of an air force agricultural spray system. With regard to Iraqi RPV/UAV programs, UNMOVIC said more investigations must be done.

6. VX and Its Precursors

Iraq initiated laboratory research into VX, a potentially lethal nerve agent, as early as 1975 and intensified its work in 1985. Iraq explored four different methods for producing VX. Initially, Iraq denied that it ever produced more than a few grams of VX, but it started changing its story in 1995. Iraq eventually admitted to producing 3.9 tonnes of VX. Baghdad claimed it used or destroyed its entire stockpile. Iraq further denied ever weaponizing VX, but samples of warhead remnants revealed traces of VX.

  • Although arms inspectors found the presence of VX at the sites where Iraq contended it destroyed the chemical, no determination could be made about the actual quantities destroyed. The absence of complete production records, including for all of 1990, have frustrated inspectors’ efforts to conclude how much VX Iraq made. UNMOVIC stated, “Given Iraq’s history of concealment with respect to its VX programme it cannot be excluded that it has retained some capability with regard to VX.” UNMOVIC further highlighted that there are “significant discrepancies in the accounting for all the key precursors…required to produce VX.”

7. Mustard Gas and Its Precursors

The largest quantity of illegally produced chemical agent acknowledged by Iraq was mustard. Between 1982 and 1990, Iraq churned out 2,850 tonnes of mustard agent. However, Iraq did not provide arms inspectors with a complete accounting of its production, weaponization, and use of mustard gas, raising questions about the accuracy of its declarations.

  • As stated above, arms inspectors have been unable to verify Iraq’s claims of destroying 550 155-millimeter artillery shells and 450 major aerial bombs filled with mustard. In addition, the Iraqi air force document suggesting that Iraq used roughly 6,500 fewer chemical bombs in its war against Iran raises doubts that all of Iraq’s mustard weapons have been accounted for. UNMOVIC declared, “It is possible that viable Mustard filled artillery shells and aerial bombs still remain in Iraq.” UNMOVIC reported that Iraq is not currently capable of producing new mustard because it lacks a dedicated facility. UNMOVIC added, however, that Iraq does have the necessary equipment spread throughout the country to assemble such a facility and it has the necessary starting materials, making mustard the “easiest agent for Iraq to produce indigenously.”

8. Sarin, Cyclosarin, and Their Precursors

Sarin and cyclosarin, two related nerve agents, constituted about 20 percent of Iraq’s chemical arsenal. Iraq claims that from 1984-1990 it produced 795 tonnes of sarin-type agents using two methods. UNSCOM assessed Iraq’s sarin-type agents as being of relatively low quality.

  • UNMOVIC cited discrepancies in Iraq’s claims about the status of nearly 4,800 rocket warheads and 12 aerial bombs filled with sarin-type agents. That would be proportionate to about 40 tonnes of the chemical agent. Due to the low quality of Iraqi sarin-type agents, however, UNMOVIC asserted that it would be “unlikely that [past sarin-filled munitions] would still be viable today.” UNMOVIC noted that uncertainties remain about the amount of precursors Iraq acquired for making sarin-type agents and whether Iraq ever instituted large-scale production of binary artillery shells and rockets for use with sarin-type agents. Unless Iraq retained the right precursors after the 1991 conflict or smuggled them into the country afterward, UNMOVIC concluded Iraq would not be able to produce sarin or cyclosarin. UNMOVIC noted that its inspections had not uncovered any evidence of precursors.

9. Anthrax and Its Drying

After denying the existence of a biological weapons program up until 1995, Iraq subsequently admitted producing, over a two-year period, 8,445 litres of anthrax—a bacteria commonly found in the soil that causes diseases in animals and can be very lethal to humans in certain forms. Iraq claimed to have limited its production of anthrax to two sites, but evidence of it was also found at a third. Iraqi officials several times revised their accounts of how many bombs and warheads they filled with anthrax. Iraq’s last statement was that it had filled 50 R-400 aerial bombs and five al Hussein warheads with anthrax. Iraq contends it destroyed all of its stored anthrax in 1991.

  • UNMOVIC cited several findings by UNSCOM that cast doubt on Iraq’s declarations. UNSCOM determined that, based on Iraq’s production capabilities, it could have produced 22,000-39,000 litres of anthrax. Iraq’s unaccounted for growth media could have contributed to the production of anthrax in the range of 15,000-25,000 litres. UNSCOM further determined that at least seven, not five, al Hussein warheads had been filled with anthrax. UNMOVIC described Iraq’s claim to have ended anthrax production in 1990 as not plausible. UNMOVIC further estimated that the total amount of biological agent—the majority of it suspected to be anthrax—in bombs, warheads, and storage at the time of the 1991 Gulf War as being at least 7,000 litres more than Iraq contended. UNMOVIC concluded, “Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist.” Moreover, UNMOVIC assessed that Iraq “currently possesses the technology and materials, including fermenters, bacterial growth media and seed stock, to enable it to produce anthrax.”

In general, biological agents are produced in a way that results in a liquid product. Converting an agent into a dry form typically means it can be stored for longer periods of time. Iraq reported that it did not conduct any bulk drying of biological agents.

  • UNMOVIC said it did not have evidence to dispute Iraq’s claim, “but given Iraq’s interest in drying, the existence of large quantities of liquid bulk agent in 1991, the availability of suitable dryers and the expertise that Iraq had developed, UNMOVIC cannot be certain that Iraq did not dry agent.”

10. Botulinum Toxin

Iraq began researching botulinum toxin, a lethal bacteria that can be 15,000 times stronger than VX, in the 1970s, but it did not commence dedicated research and development work until 1986. Iraq said it produced a total of 19,000 litres of botulinum toxin and estimated that it filled 100 R-400 aerial bombs and 16 al Hussein warheads with the agent. These munitions and some 7,500 litres of botulinum toxin were destroyed in 1991, according to Iraq.

  • UNSCOM estimated that Iraq could have produced double the amount of botulinum toxin claimed. UNMOVIC assessed that it was unlikely that any remaining or stored botulinum toxin would be very potent. UNMOVIC reported that it was important to obtain a clear understanding of the amount of botulinum toxin produced because that would affect estimates on the quantities of other biological agents, particularly anthrax, that Iraq could have produced. Essentially, this is an issue of fermenter availability. UNMOVIC concluded that Iraq could “rapidly” recommence botulinum toxin production because it has the necessary expertise, equipment, and materials.

11. Undeclared Agents, Including Smallpox

In addition to its major research and development of anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin, Iraq said it investigated a variety of other agents for biological weapons purposes. These efforts, according to Iraq, yielded little.

  • UNMOVIC noted that its predecessor did not find any “substantial evidence” that any of the biological agents, apart from those identified by Iraq as part of its biological weapons program, was produced for weapons purposes. Yet, UNMOVIC reported that Iraq’s failure to account for certain types of growth media raised questions because that growth media is suited for biological agents Iraq declared it did not produce. “Accounting for the outstanding media…would greatly reduce the uncertainty surrounding this issue,” UNMOVIC stated.

Iraq also briefly set up a viral research program, which Baghdad claimed looked at three incapacitating but not necessarily deadly agents (enterovirus 70, rotavirus, and camel pox). Baghdad says its biological weapons virus research lasted only 47 days.

  • Although it assessed Iraq’s viral research as probably being “short-lived,” UNMOVIC noted that the scope of the research “remains unclear.” UNMOVIC further reported, “There is no evidence that Iraq had possessed seed stocks for smallpox or had been actively engaged in smallpox research.” UNMOVIC concluded that it was unlikely Iraq accomplished much through its viral research program, but it added that “these areas of research identify the possible future directions of a [biological weapons] programme and should be followed up.”

12. Any Proscribed Activities Post-1998

UNSCOM left Iraq in December 1998. Iraq contends that, during the intervening period prior to UNMOVIC’s arrival in November 2002, it did not undertake any proscribed activities. UNMOVIC warned that, given the history of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs, Baghdad “could have made considerable advancements in that time, particularly in the biological and chemical fields.” UNMOVIC also noted it had received many reports contradicting Iraq’s claim.

  • According to some governments, Iraq has mobile biological weapons facilities, namely trucks mounted with production equipment, such as fermenters. UNMOVIC noted that Iraq did seriously consider such an option in the late 1980s, but Iraqi officials said the concept was abandoned as impractical. Investigating whether Iraq does have mobile biological facilities would be “inherently difficult,” according to UNMOVIC.
  • Governments have also charged that Iraq has underground facilities for producing chemical and biological weapons. When UNMOVIC was provided with sufficiently specific information, it looked into the charges. UNMOVIC reported that “no underground facility of special interest has been found,” although it added it does not “dismiss the possibility that such facilities exist.”
  • UNMOVIC reported it had not been able to substantiate allegations that Iraq is moving proscribed items around the country deliberately to thwart arms inspectors.
  • In reviewing Iraq’s legal chemical and biological activities, UNMOVIC reported that it detected “no proscribed activities,” although it cautioned, “There are a number of chemical and biological facilities or production units that could be used for both proscribed and non-proscribed purposes.”
  • Iraq’s “largest failing” in its semi-annual declarations, according to UNMOVIC, was in providing adequate information on suppliers of its illicit programs. Iraq failed to provide sufficient information in roughly 40 biological, 70 chemical, and 500 missile cases.
  • UNMOVIC further reported that Iraq had not been forthcoming in providing names of individuals involved with its proscribed weapons programs.

On March 19, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted work programs to the UN Security Council...

Coalition Forces Still Searching For WMD in Iraq

Inspectors' Accomplishments

Paul Kerr

As coalition troops advance on Baghdad and special forces capture Iraqi sites suspected of housing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the United States and its allies are still searching for Iraqi nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons—so far without any visible results. The United States and coalition members initiated military conflict against Iraq March 19, citing Iraq’s failure to comply with its disarmament obligations as a chief justification for military action.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage cautioned that the process of finding and destroying weapons of mass destruction would be “quite time consuming” in a March 25 interview on the PBS “Newshour with Jim Lehrer.”

UN weapons inspectors left Iraq March 18 after almost four months of work when the United States failed to gain support from Security Council members opposed to the immediate use of force against Iraq.

In a March 21 briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listed locating and destroying weapons of mass destruction as one of the most important U.S. military objectives. U.S. Central Command briefer General Victor Renuart said March 25 that coalition forces, consisting almost entirely of U.S. and British troops, are exploiting information gained from seized documents and interviews with captured Iraqi soldiers to find WMD facilities, although no weapons have yet been found.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke said in a March 26 briefing that U.S. forces did discover 3,000 chemical protective suits, along with gas masks, nerve agent antidote, and antidote injectors in an Iraqi hospital March 25. The equipment was to protect Iraqi forces if Baghdad decides to use chemical weapons, Clarke claimed.

By month’s end, no weapons of mass destruction have been used in the war, but Rumsfeld confirmed, in a March 23 briefing, the existence of intelligence reports that Iraq has dispersed chemical weapons among some of their forces and given “selected” commanders the authority to use them.

Diplomacy Fails

The final steps to war began March 7 when the United Kingdom formally introduced a draft resolution stating that Iraq had until March 17 to comply with its disarmament obligations—implying that the council members would take military action if Iraq failed to meet the deadline.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and Spain, stated that, “Iraq will have failed to take the final opportunity afforded by resolution 1441 unless…Iraq has demonstrated full…and active cooperation in accordance with its disarmament obligations…and is yielding possession to UNMOVIC and the IAEA of all weapons, weapon delivery and support systems…and all information regarding prior destruction of such items.”

Resolution 1441, adopted November 8, 2002, gave Iraq a “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” as set out by Security Council resolutions stretching back to the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. (See ACT, December 2002.) The resolution was an attempt at compromise. A similar resolution introduced by the three countries February 24 had said that Iraq had failed to comply with Resolution 1441 and did not give Iraq any further time to disarm. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Washington ultimately failed to persuade a majority of Security Council members to adopt the resolution. France, Russia, China, and Germany called for allowing inspectors more time and increasing their resources. France said it would veto any resolution that implicitly or explicitly authorized the use of force, and Russia backed the French position. Whether China would have vetoed the U.S.-U.K.-Spain resolution is unclear, but it supported France and Russia’s stance. Various compromise proposals to outline specific disarmament tasks and give Iraq more time to comply also failed.

In a March 6 speech, Bush said the United States would push for a Security Council vote on the resolution, regardless of whether it would pass. In the face of opposition to Bush’s plan for an immediate confrontation with Baghdad, however, Washington decided not to call for a vote. In a March 17 statement, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte cited France’s previous veto threat as the reason for the decision.

The Bush administration had repeatedly said that it did not need UN authorization to go to war. After the United States had already begun the invasion, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that existing Security Council resolutions provided justification for the use of force.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced March 17 that he was ordering weapons inspectors to leave Iraq.

Inspectors’ Progress

On March 17, UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei presented their last pre-war briefings to the Security Council. On March 19, Blix and ElBaradei submitted draft work programs to the Security Council outlining remaining disarmament tasks for Iraq. The work programs are required under Security Council Resolution 1284. (See ACT, April 2003.)

Since beginning work November 27, the inspectors have found no concrete evidence indicating that Iraq has reconstituted its WMD programs. ElBaradei stated in a March 7 report to the Security Council that the IAEA found “no evidence or plausible indication” that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program. The UNMOVIC work program states that “no proscribed activities, or the result of such activities from the period of 1998-2002 have…been detected through inspections.”

The inspectors, however, said many unresolved questions remain. Blix noted March 19 that, since his February 14 Security Council briefing, Iraq had turned over several sets of documents related to prohibited weapons programs, but they yielded little new information.

Despite outstanding issues regarding Iraq’s arsenal, Blix reported that Iraq’s cooperation with the inspectors had improved. In his March 7 briefing, which discussed and augmented the UNMOVIC quarterly report submitted March 1, Blix reported that inspectors were able to “perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance.” Iraq had previously objected to the operation of aerial surveillance.

Perhaps the strongest indicator of Iraqi cooperation is its destruction of its al Samoud-2 missiles. Iraq complied with an UNMOVIC order to destroy the missiles, as well as their rocket motors, warheads, and any casting chambers capable of manufacturing motors for prohibited missiles. Iraq agreed to destroy the missiles late last month, and it had destroyed 72 of them as of March 17, according to an UNMOVIC press release that day.

Blix also stated that UNMOVIC continued to supervise the excavation of a site where Iraq had destroyed biological weapons—an effort which began in February.

Additionally, inspectors were able to secure more private interviews with Iraqi weapons scientists. While Blix reported February 14 that only three scientists had agreed to private interviews, 11 had agreed to do so since that briefing, according to a March 17 UNMOVIC press release. Five scientists, however, refused private interviews, according to a March 12 UNMOVIC press release.

Resolution 1441 gives inspectors the right to interview anyone they choose, without Iraqi officials present, and in any location they wish, including outside of Iraq. Most scientists had declined private interviews, insisting on recording the interviews or having an Iraqi official present.

Blix also pointed out that Iraq provided some additional names of scientists involved with Iraq’s chemical weapons program, but its disclosures fell far short of the total number of scientists UNMOVIC estimates to have been involved in the program, according to a March 15 UNMOVIC release.

ElBaradei also said in his March 7 briefing that Iraqi scientists had begun agreeing to private interviews with IAEA inspectors, citing two interviews. Subsequent IAEA press releases, however, indicate only one other such interview took place since the director-general’s briefing. In addition, ElBaradei stated that Iraq “provided a considerable volume” of documents related to procurement issues for its nuclear program.

Both the inspectors and the Bush administration suggested that the cooperation Baghdad offered was due in large part to the pressure created by U.S. military forces stationed in the Persian Gulf.
Differences with the United States

The inspectors’ assessment of Iraq’s weapons activities disputed several pieces of evidence the Bush administration has used to support its contention that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

ElBaradei’s March 7 report stated that documents allegedly detailing Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from Niger were forgeries. A December 19 State Department fact sheet cited such attempts as evidence that Iraq was withholding information about its nuclear program. Powell acknowledged during a March 9 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the documents might be false.

In addition, the IAEA contradicted U.S. assertions that Iraq was trying to import aluminum tubes to build centrifuges for use in a uranium-enrichment program. ElBaradei said in his March 7 briefing that Iraq was probably using them for rocket production and that it is “highly unlikely” that Baghdad could have used them for centrifuges. Powell had asserted during a February 5 briefing to the Security Council that the tubes were linked to efforts to build centrifuges.

Blix also suggested March 7 that the inspectors needed better intelligence from UN member states, saying he would like to have more high-quality information about possible weapons sites. The inspectors have criticized the United States for its hesitancy to provide them with adequate intelligence.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continued to dismiss reports about the inspectors’ progress. Powell stated in a March 5 speech that Iraq was continuing to move weapons around the country in an effort to thwart inspections. He also said that the Iraqi regime had ordered the production of more al Samoud-2 missiles to replace those being destroyed.

Vice President Richard Cheney openly expressed skepticism of the IAEA’s report during a March 16 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that the IAEA has “consistently underestimated or missed what…Saddam Hussein was doing.”

Whether UN weapons inspectors will have a future role to play in Iraq is unclear, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated in a March 20 press briefing.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov stated March 26 that U.S.-British claims about WMD discoveries would not be believed without a “conclusive assessment” by “international inspectors.”

According to a March 30 Washington Post report, the Bush administration does not want to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq except, perhaps, with the limited role of verifying any U.S. and allied discoveries of weapons of mass destruction. The administration prefers to rely on its own inspectors and possibly inspectors hired through private companies, the Post reported.

Inspectors' Accomplishments

UN weapons inspectors began their work in Iraq November 27 and left March 18. Iraq submitted a declaration containing information about its weapons of mass destruction December 7, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1441. IAEA inspectors conducted 237 inspections at 148 sites, including 27 sites not previously inspected. As of February 28, UNMOVIC inspectors had conducted approximately 550 inspections at 350 sites, including 44 sites not previously inspected.
The IAEA found no evidence that Iraq is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but UNMOVIC found and/or supervised the destruction of some items related to proscribed weapons programs.

The UNMOVIC inspectors:

  • Supervised destruction of 72 prohibited al Samoud-2 missiles and 47 associated warheads. Iraq declared 76 of these missiles and 118 warheads to UNMOVIC.
  • Supervised destruction of three al Samoud-2 missile launchers. Iraq declared nine launchers to UNMOVIC.
  • Supervised destruction of two casting chambers capable of producing motors for prohibited missiles.
  • Discovered 231 illegal Volga missile engines.
  • Discovered 14 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads that could be used to deliver chemical weapons.
  • Discovered a component of a cluster sub-munition designed to deliver chemical or biological weapons.
  • Discovered fuel spray tanks modified for possible use in delivering chemical or biological agents.
  • Found and destroyed one liter of a precursor chemical for the production of mustard agent.

As coalition troops advance on Baghdad and special forces capture Iraqi sites suspected of housing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the United States and its allies...

A Perilous Precedent

Daryl G. Kimball

Abandoning a robust inspection regime that was effectively containing Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities, the Bush administration has bypassed the instruments of collective security and used massive military might to attack a state that it considers a potential threat. Was a bloody and costly pre-emptive war against Iraq the only option left? Does it provide a model for denying other states access to weapons of mass destruction? No. The war with Iraq sets a perilous precedent and a flawed formula for dealing with other global proliferation challenges.

According to President George W. Bush, the U.S. decision to invade Iraq outside of the UN framework was due to a “lack of will” on the part of the UN Security Council to enforce its resolutions. The reality is more complex. The impasse between Washington and London and the other council members stemmed from a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the Iraqi threat and how to deal with it.

Never enthusiastic about the weapons inspection process, the Bush administration tired of the mixed results of the process only weeks after it began. The chief inspectors found little evidence to prove the presence of or the verifiable destruction of suspected chemical or biological weapons. In addition, inspectors discovered no evidence of ongoing nuclear weapons work. Until the very onset of the war, the White House could only offer circumstantial evidence of continuing Iraqi weapons work—some of which was disproved by experts—and dubious claims of connections with al Qaeda. The White House nevertheless charged that Iraq represented a grave and growing threat, and it dismissed reports of Iraqi cooperation with inspectors as a further sign of delay and deception.

Most other Security Council members perceived no imminent or undeterrable threat emanating from Iraq. As CIA director George Tenet reportedly said in a letter to Bush in October 2002, Saddam Hussein was unlikely to initiate a WMD attack against any U.S. target unless provoked. With unfettered inspections, some missile destruction underway, and the inspectors saying they needed several more months to complete key disarmament tasks, most states considered immediate military action unwarranted.

Sadly, U.S. diplomats, as well as other council members, failed to pursue the option that could have effectively and peacefully denied Iraq weapons of mass destruction: a strengthened inspections regime reinforced by a clear set of disarmament benchmarks to compel full Iraqi compliance according to a practical timetable. If Iraq still failed to meet these tests, the United States would most likely have been able to win Security Council support for military action rather than undermine the council’s authority.

By invading Iraq virtually on its own, however, Washington has reinforced fears at home and abroad that it considers itself above the rules and norms governing international behavior and the institutions, such as the United Nations, designed to uphold global security. Even if the war goes according to the Pentagon’s best-case scenarios and some chemical or biological weapons are uncovered, the Iraq blueprint should not be applied to the other members of Bush’s “axis of evil.”

North Korea, unlike Iraq, is on the verge of producing nuclear bomb material. Pyongyang’s reckless nuclear brinksmanship is, in part, fueled by fears of a pre-emptive U.S. strike and made more difficult to address as a result of the administration’s policy of malign neglect. Any such U.S. attack would assuredly result in an unacceptable retaliatory attack by the North on South Korea. To arrest the North’s nuclear program, the United States and its allies will need to fashion a verifiable freeze through direct talks with Pyongyang.

Iran’s rapid acquisition of peaceful nuclear technology puts it within close reach of acquiring weapons-grade nuclear material. The situation highlights one of the loopholes in the global nuclear nonproliferation regime and the dangerous and overlooked effect of Israel’s nuclear weapons program on the proliferation behavior of rival states. Preventing Iran from acquiring the bomb will, among other things, require more effective controls on foreign nuclear and missile assistance—a task greatly complicated by U.S. and Russian disagreement over the Iraq war.

These tough proliferation cases require that Washington employ a more sophisticated, sustained, and effective style of preventive diplomacy than it demonstrated in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Each will require the help and assistance of U.S. allies and friends.

To prevent proliferation, the United States must pursue a comprehensive strategy to ensure that the acquisition, possession, and use of these weapons remains technically challenging and universally unacceptable. This requires greater support for a multilateral framework of disarmament and nonproliferation strategies, a willingness to work better with others, and a degree of self-restraint not yet exhibited by this administration.



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