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"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
Issue Briefs

The New Nuclear Proliferation Crisis

Daryl G. Kimball

For over five decades, the United States has sought to make the acquisition and development of nuclear weapons more technically challenging and less acceptable. Republican and Democratic leaders alike have worked to restrain unbridled nuclear weapons competition and to stop the spread of these deadly weapons through the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 and associated diplomatic strategies.

Even as the nonproliferation system has become more sophisticated, the challenges it confronts have become more complex. Over the last decade, the NPT has endured successive crises involving Iraqi and North Korean nuclear weapons programs. Iran now appears to be on the verge of a nuclear weapons capability. Non-NPT member states India, Pakistan, and Israel have advanced their nuclear weapons programs with relative impunity. The possibility of terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons has added a new layer of risk.

In the face of these problems, it has become fashionable for many U.S. policymakers to dismiss arms control and nonproliferation as ineffective. Instead, they emphasize the role of pre-emptive military action and the pursuit of new nuclear-weapon capabilities to dissuade and destroy adversaries seeking weapons of mass destruction. Such an approach would forfeit essential nonproliferation tools and provide a false sense of security.

In practical terms, military pre-emption is no substitute for a comprehensive and consistent preventive approach. As the recent U.S. experience in Iraq shows, wars cost lives and money and lead to unintended consequences; nonmilitary solutions should not be undervalued. Iraq’s nuclear program was actually dismantled through special international weapons inspections, which likely could have contained the Iraqi weapons threat if they had been allowed to continue.

Proliferation problems in North Korea and Iran defy easy military solutions. In both cases, multilateral diplomacy aimed at the verifiable halt of dangerous nuclear activities is the preferred course. Nuclear proliferation must be met with firm resolve but not in a way that creates an even more uncertain and dangerous future. Rather, the United States must strengthen and adapt—not abandon—preventive diplomacy and arms control. Nonproliferation efforts have succeeded when U.S. leadership has been consistent and steadfast.

The NPT security framework has led several states to abandon their nuclear weapons programs. The NPT is so broadly supported that, in addition to the original five nuclear-weapon states, only three clearly have nuclear arsenals and they are outside the NPT. Cooperation with international inspections and safeguards against proliferation are now a standard expectation of all states. U.S.-Soviet agreements corralled their nuclear arms competition and increased transparency, thereby reducing instability and the risk of nuclear war.

Nevertheless, the evolving nature of the nuclear threat requires a more comprehensive and robust global nonproliferation strategy. First, the United States should fully support strengthened international monitoring and inspection capabilities, which aid U.S. intelligence and provide the basis for collective action against noncompliance. Evidence of North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons work was discovered in 1992 as a result of that country joining the NPT and agreeing to inspections. The dangerous extent of Iran’s nuclear program has been revealed only through new international inspections.

Second, all cases of nuclear proliferation must be addressed. The United States and other global powers can no longer ignore the possession of nuclear weapons by their allies and friends. Although India and Pakistan are not a direct threat to the United States, they do threaten one another, and so long as Israel possesses nuclear weapons, others in the region will likely seek them too. China has aided Pakistan’s nuclear program, and in turn, Pakistan has aided North Korea and Iran.

It is also time for the international community to consider new ways to restrict access to dangerous nuclear technologies. The NPT guarantee of access to “peaceful” nuclear technology and the broad diffusion of that technology has allowed states such as Iran to acquire uranium-enrichment or plutonium-production facilities useful for weapons. The availability of the most weapons-relevant technologies can be limited without denying access to basic and legitimate nuclear power technology.

Finally, the United States and other nuclear-weapon states must reduce the role of nuclear weapons. To comply with their own NPT disarmament commitments, they must actually dismantle—not test and improve—their deadly stockpiles. In the long run, the continued possession and threat of use of nuclear weapons by a few undermines the security of all. Without more effective U.S. leadership in each of these areas, the struggle against proliferation will fall short and leave a more dangerous world for generations to come.

 

 

 

 

Course Correction on North Korea?

Daryl G. Kimball

Wearing a somber gray suit, North Korea’s number two leader entered the White House and met with President Bill Clinton for 45 minutes. The unprecedented visit produced a joint communiqué and put efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programs back on track.

The joint statement pledged that North Korea would grant U.S. and international inspectors better access to its nuclear facilities. In turn, the United States vowed to accelerate the normalization of relations and to provide a negative security pledge stating that it bears “no hostile intent” toward the military-controlled regime.

That was three years ago. Since 2000, the security situation on the Korean peninsula has deteriorated badly. President George W. Bush’s decision to delay additional talks and his infamous “axis of evil” remarks did not help. North Korean efforts to acquire uranium-enrichment capabilities and the subsequent U.S.-led decision to cut off fuel aid poisoned the relationship further. Pyongyang escalated the crisis by ejecting international inspectors and restarting its advanced plutonium-production facilities.

Bush has prudently maintained that he seeks a “peaceful” and “diplomatic” solution. This makes sense. North Korea can potentially churn out enough material to make six bombs in a year, and pre-emptive military action against the North’s nuclear sites could lead to catastrophic war. Yet, the president’s advisers have thus far failed to provide him with a practical and effective negotiating strategy. A midcourse correction is now essential.

At the previous multilateral meetings in April and August of this year, Bush’s envoy essentially told the North Koreans that they must dismantle their nuclear programs before discussions on other issues could begin. Disappointed, the other states involved in the talks—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—have pressed the United States to develop a workable proposal. North Korea threatened not to engage in further talks.

Now, as a possible third and final round of talks approaches, Bush has stepped into the policy void by suggesting that the administration is interested in discussing multilateral security guarantees not to “attack” or “invade” North Korea. Like the 2000 meeting and no-hostile-intent pledge, a formal negative security pledge from Bush could jump-start progress.

A peaceful way out of the latest North Korean nuclear crisis requires that the United States address the North Korean regime’s perceptions of insecurity. North Korea has indicated that it will verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, but it will not do so if its concerns are not met. Bush’s willingness to discuss a security pledge should signal to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that he is not only being responsive to his negotiating proposals but to his fears about U.S. aggression.

So long as North Korea agrees to give up its entire nuclear weapons program, allows re-entry of inspectors, and suspends further plutonium separation or uranium enrichment, the Bush administration should pledge not to attack North Korea. The pledge should continue as long as the North is actively dismantling any nuclear weapons and fissile-material production facilities, according to the terms and timetable of a new agreement.

Even if a negative security pledge changes North Korea’s behavior in the short term, the path forward remains littered with hazards. Conducting effective diplomacy requires more than issuing non-negotiable demands. The president and his closest advisers must overcome internal differences about its negotiating stance and begin to engage in a genuine give-and-take with North Korean officials. In addition, the White House cannot afford to allow senior U.S. officials to jeopardize progress by leveling gratuitous personal criticism against North Korea’s leaders, as Undersecretary of State John Bolton did on the eve of the August round of talks.

If progress remains slow, as it most likely will be, hard-line skeptics within the administration will lobby the White House to impose tougher political and economic sanctions, hoping this will produce regime change in Pyongyang. Sanctions would do little to stop North Korea’s advanced nuclear programs and could provoke even more destabilizing actions, such as a demonstration nuclear-test explosion.

As William Perry, former secretary of defense and special envoy on North Korea, said in 1999, the United States must remain focused on the most urgent threat: North Korea’s plutonium program. As Perry noted, success would require that U.S. leaders work with our allies to meet North Korea’s basic security and economic concerns.

Bush finally appears to have recognized the wisdom of Perry’s formula. Now, the administration must put this plan into action. Otherwise, it will have failed to prevent the emergence of a new and dangerous nuclear power in Asia.

 

 

 

 

A Foundation to Strengthen, Not Erode

Daryl G. Kimball

Forty years ago this month, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom began observing the first major arms control agreement of the nuclear age. The Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which took effect on October 10, 1963, not only led to the end of poisonous atmospheric nuclear testing but, in the words of President John F. Kennedy, was a first “step towards reduced world tension and broader areas of agreement.”


The LTBT laid the foundation for later treaties designed to control the number and types of existing nuclear weapons, end all nuclear testing, and prevent the spread of nuclear arms. The result is an imperfect but vital framework of legal, political, and technical barriers that have reduced the dangers of unbridled nuclear weapons competition. To one degree or another, Republican and Democratic presidents since Kennedy have all worked to strengthen these interlocking nonproliferation and disarmament treaties, verification mechanisms, and related export control systems.

Today, President George W. Bush faces the daunting challenge of persuading Iran and North Korea to forswear nuclear weapons and strictly comply with the standards of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Likewise, he needs to dissuade rivals India and Pakistan, which never joined the NPT, from deploying and improving their limited nuclear arsenals. Yet, the Bush team appears to believe that diplomacy and nonproliferation strategies cannot work.

Instead, the Bush administration is reviving a Cold War-era program of research and development on a new class of nuclear weapons designed to counter emerging nuclear and non-nuclear threats. Bush is seeking congressional authorization and funding for research and development of new “low-yield” nuclear weapons intended to incinerate chemical or biological weapons caches and higher-yield “robust nuclear earth penetrators” to destroy deeply buried and hardened enemy targets.

Not only are such weapons militarily impractical, but in the long-run, they are self- defeating. As President Kennedy noted in 1963, “A nation’s security does not always increase as its arms increase … and unlimited competition in the testing and development of new types of destructive nuclear weapons will not make the world safer.” The pursuit of new nuclear weapons erodes the nonproliferation norms established over the last four decades and will likely encourage other states to match or counter the U.S. bid.

Proponents argue that, by reducing the weapons’ explosive yields, collateral damage can be minimized to the point that they become “usable.” But a “small” nuclear blast, with just 1/13 the power of the Hiroshima bomb, detonated at a depth of 20-50 feet, would eject more than a million cubic feet of radioactive debris. If used to target chemical or biological weapons, nuclear strikes would probably spread, rather than destroy, the deadly material.

It is possible to improve the depth of penetration of weapons to destroy deeper targets, but these weapons are hardly “usable.” The “robust” bunker-busting nuclear warheads now under study—the B61 and B83—are not small, but rather high-yield, city-busting behemoths with yields exceeding 100 kilotons.

A nuclear weapon, however big or small, is still a weapon of mass destruction. So long as nuclear weapons exist, their role should be limited to deterring their use by others. The key to holding such buried chemical or biological targets at risk is better intelligence and more effective conventional munitions, not the threat of nuclear attack.

If left unchecked by Congress, the proposals for new nuclear capabilities might well lead to the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing in the next two to three years. This would defy the de facto global test moratorium and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty—a central U.S. nonproliferation commitment. The result would be a new action-reaction cycle of arms competition and renewed nuclear testing by other countries.

Like the LTBT itself, which allowed the nuclear arms race to continue through underground testing, existing arms control and nonproliferation measures do not address every security threat. But to meet today’s proliferation challenges, the nonproliferation regime must be strengthened, not abandoned.

The international community must bolster and expand verification capabilities to detect and deter cheating, countries must work better together to deal with cases of noncompliance, and all states must make good faith progress on their nuclear disarmament obligations. But if the White House continues to underutilize diplomacy and arms control and to claim special exemptions, it will undermine the rules upon which U.S. and global security depend.

Iraq's WMD: Myth and Reality

Daryl G. Kimball

The 2003 “pre-emptive” war against Iraq has been lauded by its proponents as a new model to address growing dangers posed by “rogue” states with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). To this day, senior U.S. officials such as Undersecretary of State John Bolton insist that the war was necessary because “the international regime that tried to enforce restrictions on Iraq obviously didn’t succeed.” Or did it?

A far different story has emerged than the one told by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Although Iraq clearly failed to fully comply with UN disarmament mandates, by March 2003 it was apparent from the work of the UN inspectors that Iraq did not retain weapons of mass destruction that could pose an urgent threat. Years of intrusive UN inspections had dismantled the bulk of Iraq’s unconventional arsenal and effectively contained what remained of its WMD capabilities.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British intelligence did not uncover reliable, new information about Iraqi WMD activity to justify the abandonment of inspections. Nevertheless, senior U.S. and British leaders systematically misrepresented earlier national intelligence assessments in order to exaggerate the Iraqi threat and cast doubt on the utility of inspections. Over the last few weeks, each of their key charges has been discredited.

An ongoing public inquiry in the United Kingdom has shown that the September 2003 British claim that Iraq could “deploy some WMD within 45 minutes” was based on questionable single-source intelligence and was included over the objections of some British intelligence analysts. To date, no chemical or biological weapons have been uncovered.

In Washington, a similar pattern of deception occurred. National Security Council officials repeatedly ignored high-level CIA and State Department objections to the charge that Iraq was seeking processed uranium for weapons from Africa. As a result, the discredited uranium allegation was not only repeated in Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address but in numerous other prewar statements and op-eds by top officials.

Another contested U.S. claim was that Iraq sought high-strength aluminum tubes for enriching uranium. In a classified October 2002 intelligence estimate, however, State and Energy Department intelligence agencies dismissed that interpretation as “highly dubious.” Nevertheless, Bush and his cabinet repeated the claim without qualification. When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigated the claim and found that the tubes probably were for rockets, U.S. officials questioned the IAEA’s credibility.

The administration also charged that Iraq had unmanned aircraft “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent” and could be used to carry out attacks on U.S. cities. The Air Force intelligence office, however, disagreed, saying that the small aircraft were for reconnaissance. Fresh evidence from Iraq now supports the Air Force assessment.

Another major U.S. charge was that Iraq had mobile facilities to produce biological weapons agents. In April and May, the United States discovered two mobile labs, and claimed they were used for bioweapons agent production. But the Defense Intelligence Agency now indicates the trailers were used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons.

A defensive White House might be hoping that the U.S. Iraq Survey Group will discover new proof of prewar WMD programs. Such findings would not alter the fact that the administration’s most dramatic claims about unconventional Iraqi weapons were wrong. The key question before the war was not whether Iraq had WMD programs in the past. Rather, did Iraq have active programs or weapons posing an imminent threat?

Taken together, the evidence shows that after a decade of inspections and sanctions, Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was dormant. Its chemical and biological weapons programs, while illegal and potentially dangerous, were probably geared to support rapid production capabilities rather than maintaining active stockpiles.

Intelligence is meant to inform government decision-making, not to be invoked or discarded selectively to justify predetermined political decisions. The conduct of the Bush and Blair administrations on Iraq has severely damaged the credibility of their governments, their intelligence assessments, and their leadership on other global issues.

The Iraq episode underscores the fact that international weapons monitoring and inspections are vital to augment limited national intelligence capabilities and provide an objective, factual basis for collective international enforcement of the nonproliferation regime. As the United States faces the next round of WMD proliferation challenges, it cannot afford to abandon its first and best line of defense against global WMD dangers: intrusive inspections and the arms control rules and institutions that make them possible.

Turning Iran Away From Nuclear Weapons

Daryl G. Kimball

Situated in a rough, nuclear-armed neighborhood, Iran has for more than two decades been on the short list of states with the potential capability and motivation to get the bomb. Troubling revelations make it clear that Iran is now within closer reach of a nuclear weapons-making capacity than previously thought.

With Iran nearing the nuclear weapons crossroads, the international community must redouble its efforts to persuade Tehran’s leaders to accept greater transparency and forego the nuclear weapons route. In the long run, success hinges on whether the United States can fashion a new and more sophisticated strategy to reduce Iran’s incentives to acquire nuclear weapons and increase the benefits of openness and compliance.

Over the years, U.S. policymakers have successfully used the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group to conduct special inspections in Iran and further limit Iran’s access to sensitive nuclear technologies. But recent site inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prompted Iran to reveal that it is pursuing a very extensive array of nuclear projects, including uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz that could provide the ingredients for nuclear weapons.

The leaders of oil-rich Iran claim that the projects are strictly for “peaceful” uses and will remain under IAEA safeguards which guard against diversion for military purposes. But without Iranian acceptance of a more intrusive inspection protocol, the IAEA cannot determine whether additional, undeclared nuclear capabilities exist or whether Iran has already enriched uranium, a step that would violate its NPT obligations.

With increased attention focused on its intentions, Iran’s wisest course would be to promptly dispel doubts by signing up to the Additional Protocol and providing the IAEA with honest answers to its inquiries. Without such cooperation, the European Union should delay the establishment of closer economic ties and Russia should withhold further technical assistance on the current light-water reactor project at Bushehr.

U.S. efforts to gain Iran’s support for the IAEA’s Additional Protocol and for reducing Russia’s nuclear assistance are vital but insufficient. Even with greater transparency under the Additional Protocol and strict compliance with the NPT, Iran may still have the capacity to produce bomb-grade nuclear material within the decade, and it might withdraw from the treaty and build nuclear weapons.

Ultimately, Iran’s leaders will decide whether to pursue the nuclear weapons path, but the United States can help affect that decision and avoid the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. To do so, Washington must finally address the factors that could encourage Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

To begin, the president and his aides must refrain from inflaming Iranian nationalism with bellicose threats and demands. Such statements, along with the inclusion of Iran in the administration’s “axis of evil,” only increase Iranian perceptions of insecurity. They reinforce arguments from hardline clerical leaders in Iran who wrongly believe that nuclear weapons enhance their national prestige, help counter Israel’s nuclear arsenal, and balance U.S. conventional forces deployed in the region.

The value of nuclear weapons for Iran is illusory. They would undermine rather than enhance Iran’s security by increasing the threat of pre-emptive attack from nuclear-armed Israel or the United States. Some Iranian leaders appear to recognize this reality. In 2002, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Iranian defense minister, said, “The existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region.”

As long as U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy in the region is solely trained on denying Iran nuclear weapons while overlooking NPT outliers such as Israel, Iranian leaders are likely to ensure that they are in a position to produce nuclear weapons relatively quickly, despite the costs. Instead, the United States should convey assurances rather than threats.

One important step would be to clarify to Iran that neither the United States nor Israel will initiate a military attack as long as it does not acquire nuclear weapons, support terrorism, or threaten Israel’s existence. Washington should also reaffirm its longstanding commitment to support a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free-zone.

Iran’s nuclear activities create difficult challenges that defy quick military solutions and will require steadfast and multifaceted diplomacy. The NPT’s safeguards have their limitations, but they provide the fundamental legal and technical basis for preventing proliferation in Iran and elsewhere. Not only must Iran abide by its commitments, but the United States must also adopt a more consistent nonproliferation policy that reinforces the view within Iran that it does not need and will not benefit from nuclear weapons.

 

The Case of Iraq's "Missing" Weapons

Daryl G. Kimball

The stated rationale for President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was intelligence indicating the presence of chemical and biological weapons and renewed nuclear weapons work. Turning its back on a UN arms inspections process it never fully supported, the administration embraced pre-emptive war as its preferred method of curtailing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

After scouring Iraq for more than two months, however, the Pentagon has thus far failed to uncover evidence backing up the administration’s prewar claims. The case of the “missing” Iraqi weapons requires that we re-examine the administration’s rush to war in Iraq, as well as the use of intelligence to justify pre-emptive action against other states. It also underscores the enduring technical and political value of international weapons inspections.

To be sure, Iraq has possessed chemical and biological weapons, used chemical weapons, and pursued nuclear weapons in the past. During the 1990s, the first group of UN inspectors destroyed the bulk of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons and dismantled its nuclear bomb program, but the Iraqi government failed to cooperate fully. For this very reason, arms control advocates pressed for the prompt return of the UN inspectors with expanded capabilities and authority. After three months of renewed inspections in 2002 and 2003, scant evidence of WMD was uncovered. Still, more time and cooperation was needed to resolve a number of serious questions about unaccounted-for nerve and mustard agents, as well as chemical and biological munitions.

Although the administration now cites several reasons for the war, its chief claim was that UN weapons inspections had failed and that Iraq’s WMD posed an imminent threat. In his February 5 presentation to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell asserted that “Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons.” A British government report suggested that such weapons could be ready for use within 45 minutes. Vice President Dick Cheney went even further, saying March 16 that Iraq had “reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

Now it is the Bush administration urging patience, as the U.S. “military exploitation teams” that are searching Iraq come up empty-handed. Bush has even suggested that suspected WMD might have been destroyed before or during the invasion. Although it dismissed France’s prewar proposal to boost the number of UN inspectors, the Pentagon has belatedly decided to increase the number of U.S. specialists looking for Iraq’s banned weapons.

Should the absence of dramatic weapons finds be surprising? Not really, given the likelihood that UN inspections had effectively denied Iraq militarily significant WMD capabilities. Neither should it be surprising if the Pentagon finds dual-use technology and documentation about prohibited weapons work in the past—after all, Iraq did have active WMD programs at a time when Hussein was considered an ally by Washington.

What is shocking is the failure of U.S. and British forces to secure known Iraqi nuclear facilities in the final days of the war. The Department of Defense says only 200 personnel were assigned to the task. Reports indicate that widespread looting occurred at the Tuwaitha facility and six other sites in early April. As a result, dangerous nuclear materials might now be in unfriendly hands—one of the dangers Bush said the war would prevent. Not until late last month did the Pentagon agree to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to return to help secure the sites.

The lack of clear evidence of Iraqi WMD makes it all the more apparent that the latest round of tougher UN inspections were successful in stopping Iraq from assembling a militarily significant chemical or biological weapons arsenal and that they blocked further nuclear weapons activities. UN and IAEA inspectors should be allowed to return to Iraq to complete the task of long-term monitoring and disarmament. Unfortunately, the U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution on postwar arrangements effectively denies UN inspectors the opportunity to do so.

The case of Iraq also underscores the limitations of national intelligence as a basis for pre-emptive war. A good deal of the administration’s case against Iraq was built on information from groups with an interest in the overthrow of Hussein, such as the Iraqi National Congress. In a 2002 report, the CIA itself documented the unreliability of such sources.

If, over time, the dire prewar assessments of Iraq’s weapons prove false, it will be harder to win support for efforts to check the proliferation behavior of foes and even friends. In the long run, the United States can ill-afford to undermine international inspection efforts or injure its own credibility by invoking shaky assessments of weapons dangers to fit preconceived political or military objectives.

 

North Korea: What's Next?

Daryl G. Kimball

The North Korean nuclear crisis that has been simmering for months is getting closer to the boiling point, and it urgently requires a better-coordinated, more effective diplomatic effort to cool tensions and reach a deal to verifiably dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. In late April, at the first such meeting in six months, North Korea’s representative reportedly told a senior U.S. official that Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons. Although the restart of talks was a positive step, and long overdue, the nuclear boast could polarize views, making a peaceful resolution of the conflict even more difficult.

As the Bush administration considers its next move, its first priority should be avoiding statements or actions that could worsen the situation. During the past two years, the administration’s “axis of evil” approach has clearly not halted North Korea’s nuclear programs. Instead, North Korea has undertaken a dangerous series of actions: it expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, withdrew from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and accelerated uranium-enrichment and plutonium work.

North Korea’s defiance must be met with firm, universal condemnation. At this stage, however, the pursuit of economic sanctions would do little to stop North Korea’s dangerous nuclear activities and could further escalate tensions. Nor should the administration talk publicly about military options, which would further stoke North Korean fears andbrinksmanship. South Korea would not support preemptive military action, in part, because it would likely lead to a major conventional war that could devastate Seoul.

Despite North Korea’s ominous and typically brash negotiating tactics, the United States cannot afford to rule out further talks or to lose focus on achieving prompt results. Doing so would only give the North the time it needs to produce plutonium and uranium for additional weapons, thus further undermining regional security. The late-April meetings in Beijing were only the second such exchange in more than two years. Each time, substantive proposals for resolving the crisis have been withheld or overshadowed as a result of dramatic accusations and threats.

Further diplomacy, absent a realistic U.S. negotiating strategy, however, will not eliminate the North’s nuclear weapons potential either. For months, the Bush administration has been at war with itself over how to handle North Korea. Hard-liners resist further talks and want to use the Iraq war to pressure Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs or else to meet the same fate as Saddam Hussein’s regime. Other factions seek a diplomatic solution but have been undercut by North Korean missteps and unnecessarily tough talk from other administration officials.

As a result, the administration’s plan has amounted to little more than demonizing Pyongyang and demanding that it dismantle all of its nuclear capabilities before agreeing to substantive negotiations on achieving that very goal. Such an approach might play well on the television talk shows, but it leaves Pyongyang without a face-saving means to meet the United States’ bottom-line objectives and risks further escalation of the crisis.

Pyongyang’s claim that it already has nuclear weapons suggests it fears it is on the U.S. target list and believes that nuclear weapons can help avoid attack. In reality, North Korea’s sizeable conventional force already constitutes a powerful deterrent, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons increases, not decreases, the motivation of Washington to strike. The Bush administration should be willing to clarify that it bears no hostile intent and pledge not to attack the North so long as Pyongyang freezes current nuclear activities and allows the verifiable dismantlement of any nuclear weapons, along with its fissile material production facilities, to proceed according to a clear timetable.

Meanwhile, to reinforce its North Korea policy and preserve the nuclear nonproliferation regime, the United States must adopt a more consistent and balanced global strategy. If the lesson Pyongyang has drawn from the Iraq war is that it needs nuclear weapons, the lesson it has drawn from Pakistan and India is that there are only short-term penalties for violating nonproliferation norms. These two NPT holdouts, along with Israel, have maintained nuclear weapons programs with little or no U.S. criticism.

In the next few weeks, other Asian states must help press for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and urge North Korea and the United States to seek a comprehensive agreement. A new deal centered on security assurances and energy assistance in exchange for a verifiable end to the North’s nuclear and missile programs is still feasible. Such a result would not represent a reward for bad behavior as much as it would eliminate Pyongyang’s stated motive for going nuclear and help end a new Asian arms race before it starts.

 

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.

 

At the Crossroads on Iraq

Daryl G. Kimball

Three months after the return of UN arms inspectors to Iraq, chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei have, not surprisingly, reported mixed results. While there is broad international agreement on the need for Iraqi compliance with UN Resolution 1441, the UN Security Council is once again divided about the next steps.

After providing needed leadership for renewed and tougher inspections last fall, the Bush administration now asserts that further inspections are futile and threatens to go to war even without broad international support. Is there a need to take further action? Yes. Does this mean that armed invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government is the advisable and necessary action at this juncture? No.

If ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is the real goal and war is truly the last resort, then the United States and the Security Council can and must reinforce the powers of the UN inspectors and increase diplomatic and military pressure on Baghdad. The current inspections regime need not last indefinitely, as some fear it might. Blix told Time magazine, “If [the Iraqis] cooperate fully and spontaneously, then the time should be short. If it’s a moderate amount of cooperation…it’s a question of months.”

Baghdad has cooperated more than it did in the 1990s but has yet to provide a complete explanation of past activities and evidence that it has ceased its pursuit of prohibited weapons. Perhaps of greatest concern are the suspected and unaccounted for nerve and mustard agents; chemical and biological munitions; and the presence of ballistic missiles with ranges beyond UN-imposed limits.

Even unobstructed weapons inspections will not guarantee that every prohibited Iraqi weapon has been eliminated. But tough inspections can provide the necessary confidence that Iraq cannot reconstitute militarily significant chemical, biological, and nuclear capabilities. Further inspections might also produce more definitive findings to help the Security Council members bridge their differences on the next steps.

Currently, there is no imminent threat that justifies a full-scale invasion of Iraq and the many risks and casualties such a course entails. The return of the inspectors and the presence of U.S. troops are, for now, effectively containing the potential threat posed by Iraq. The ability of the United States to maintain the diplomatic and military pressure needed to sustain this process over the next several months exceeds its ability to absorb the political, monetary, and human costs of a precipitous military invasion.

Inspectors have now conducted nearly 600 inspections of more than 425 sites but are just now beginning to use all the tools, such as U2 overflights, afforded to them under Resolution 1441. More can and must be done to make inspections more effective and to compel greater Iraqi cooperation. To start, U.S. intelligence agencies have not yet supplied the inspectors with their most useful data on suspected weapons-related activities and should do so immediately. The United States and other UN members should take steps to further limit Iraqi access to dual-use items.

For their part, Blix and ElBaradei must test Iraq’s commitment to allow its weapons scientists and engineers to be interviewed without interference. They should also substantially beef up their contingent of just over 100 inspectors. This would enable them to maintain an ongoing presence at the most worrisome sites. The inspectors should also exercise their authority to prohibit the movement of vehicles and aircraft around suspected sites in order to prevent the movement of banned weapons materials.

It is also crucial that Blix and ElBaradei establish a timetable to compel greater Iraqi cooperation. Such milestones would clarify for council members whether Iraq is meeting its obligations and help restore much needed unanimity on how to respond if Iraq complies and if it does not. Blix has wisely established a March 1 deadline to begin destruction of Baghdad’s prohibited al Samoud 2 missiles.

It is certainly past time for Iraq to account for and verifiably destroy the rest of its proscribed weapons. But if President George W. Bush abandons tougher inspections and invades Iraq without support from the Security Council and greater evidence of an imminent threat, he may well undermine the very institutions and mechanisms needed to preserve international law and order. An undertaking so complex, serious, and deadly as invasion must have broader international approval and legitimacy.

Unless Blix and ElBaradei report that their efforts have become futile because of blatant Iraqi noncooperation, it remains in the United States’ vital interests to vigorously pursue the inspections process. The prudent course for the Security Council is to further strengthen the inspections regime, maintain pressure on Iraq, and restore consensus on how best to achieve its disarmament.

 

Beyond the 'Axis of Evil'

Daryl G. Kimball

In response to the rapidly worsening crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the George W. Bush administration has quietly reversed itself and agreed to restart direct talks with Pyongyang—and none too soon. Recently, North Korea has said it would unfreeze its plutonium facilities and withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The shift in the administration’s strategy, along with South Korea’s mediation offer, provides a stronger basis for a peaceful solution to end North Korea’s defiant and dangerous bid to become the world’s ninth nuclear-weapon state.

The Bush policy adjustment follows the failure of the administration’s attempts to coerce Pyongyang to implement its denuclearization commitments and threatening punitive economic measures if it does not. Upon its arrival in office, the Bush administration abandoned its predecessor’s policy of engagement, which had produced important, if limited, success in freezing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile activities. In early 2002, Bush also stoked North Korean security fears by naming it as one of three “axis of evil” states subject to the administration’s policy of pre-emption.

Following the Bush administration’s announcement that North Korea admitted it was pursuing prohibited uranium-enrichment capabilities in October, the White House organized a strong response, including cutting off heavy-fuel oil shipments. But the situation worsened as the United States stubbornly refused to talk with the North until it verifiably ended the uranium work. Not surprisingly, Pyongyang has reopened its more advanced plutonium-based nuclear weapons facilities and expelled international inspectors.

As of now, it is estimated that North Korea could—in less than six months—separate enough plutonium for six bombs. If North Korea builds nuclear weapons, a dangerous nuclear action-reaction cycle involving Japan, South Korea, and China would likely ensue. In addition, given Pyongyang’s propensity to proliferate dangerous weapons technology, that nuclear material could very well be sold to terrorists or other states seeking nuclear weapons.

Caught between North Korea’s brinksmanship and the absence of effective U.S. leadership, South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun has launched an important initiative to restart direct talks with Pyongyang and to develop a formula for a new agreement to end the crisis. Seoul is reportedly suggesting that if Pyongyang ends its nuclear weapons work and readmits international inspectors, Washington should offer a formal pledge of nonaggression and resume heavy-fuel oil supplies.

The initiative, and growing bipartisan congressional pressure for talks with the North, might help the White House move beyond its failed “axis of evil” policy and give North Korea a face-saving opportunity to cease its reckless defiance of international nuclear nonproliferation norms.

In line with this approach, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul issued a strong yet positive joint communiqué on January 7. It forcefully calls upon North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons program and fully comply with its nonproliferation commitments. It also endorses direct dialogue with the North. In contrast to the U.S. stance on Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction, the statement also says the United States “poses no threat and has no intention of invading North Korea.”

Although the White House is now willing to talk to North Korea, it has wisely stressed that it will not give way on the bottom line: the North must end its nuclear weapons work and comply with international nonproliferation norms. To compel North Korean compliance, however, Washington must also fulfill its earlier promises. As the South Korean formula suggests, Bush should formally reaffirm earlier U.S. security pledges and resume support for oil and economic assistance pledged under the 1994 Agreed Framework, which defused a similar nuclear showdown a decade ago.

Although the U.S. policy adjustment offers hope, many obstacles lie ahead. North Korea might continue to miscalculate and accelerate work to separate plutonium for weapons. Even as Washington focuses on the search for suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it cannot afford to wait to begin talks to halt North Korea’s known and more advanced nuclear bomb program. At risk is East Asian security, U.S. credibility, and the future of global nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

Tough rhetoric and finger pointing will seldom produce nonproliferation results, especially if the United States itself wields the nuclear-weapons stick. With a little help from our allies, the administration may have finally hit upon a strategy that can end the current crisis, or at least avoid making it worse.

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