of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
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In peace, LCNP Staff
The Bush administration has now discovered multilateralism when it comes to combatting terrorism. But this is a tentative multilateralism, tentative because it is based on what the US can get, not what the US is willing to give. It would be a historic mistake and disservice to the victims of terrorism to utilize multilateralism for anti-terrorism but ignore disarmament since the former can not be fully addressed without the latter.
As Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Jayantha Dhanapala noted in an interview on UN television a few days after the attack, "We need to be aware of the fact that this situation could have been much worse than it has been. Consider for example if weapons of mass destruction were used by these terrorists. We need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction because they could fall into the hands of terrorists. We dont want to give terrorists more tools than they have at the moment."
It seems like some distant past now when the US tied the UN conference on small arms into knots insisting that it must defend against the non-existent threat to the Second Amendment or when Washington turned its back on ten years of negotiations on a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention saying the protocol "would put national security and confidential business information at risk." (Both occurred in July.) In February, during a UN debate on the proposed international conference to combat terrorism, the US delegate said such a conference would have no practical benefits, adding, "The issues suggested as possible subjects at such a conference had historically confounded a practical solution."
One right-wing pundit welcomed these moves as rejection of "the notion that there is real safety or benefit from internationally endorsed parchment barriers." Not surprisingly, Dhanapala takes the opposite view, stressing the importance of international anti-terrorism treaties saying, "Treaties are important because they set norms, and give us - civilized society - the moral right to act in the name of those laws."
The new test will be whether the Administrations reconsideration of the utility of alliances in fighting terrorism will extend to disarmament. The initial signs are not encouraging: the September 11 tragedy does not seem to have given the Administration a moments pause about pursuing the treaty-busting missile shield. When shield opponents pointed out the obvious - a missile defense system would have been useless against civilian airplanes turned into missiles - proponents said it validated their position. One congressional missile shield booster dismissed the argument saying, "Thats akin to saying we were just hit on the right flank, so lets not protect the left flank." Actually its akin to saying since your opponent has long-range artillery you should dig a deeper moat.
The moratorium on nuclear testing is the other arms control measure on the endangered list. Before September 11, the Bush position was awkwardly balanced: no testing but no ratification of the CTBT. Now hawks who have already advocated new nuclear weapons will reframe their campaign for "mini-nukes" and better bunker-busting missiles as part of the anti-terrorism campaign. In some cases, this could increase pressure for a resumption of testing.
Aside from the irrational strategic choices involved, pursuing these weapons campaigns make no fiscal sense. In the coming months, even the Pentagon will have to make choices and spending money on the shield and the infrastructure for new nuclear weapons are diversions from the most important short-term arms control enterprise: the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Washington needs to rediscover the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program to keep Russia nuclear weapons materials under control. Beyond that, a global program to inventory and secure nuclear material and warheads is imperative. Just after the attacks, Ted Turner said at the UN his Nuclear Threat Initiative is "ever more relevant that before" and is looking at ways to revamp it. (In addition, it would be useful to beef up the decaying public health system to better detect and address possible biological or chemical attacks.)
But to be truly effective, nonproliferation has to focus on more than
terrorist organizations and address the responsibilities of states, and that means the
Nonproliferation Treaty. It has to be said over and over that as long as the nuclear
weapons states ignore their Article VI obligations for nuclear disarmament and reject the
opinion of the International Court of Justice, a cloud of hypocrisy will hang over any
attempts to improve global security. The 13 steps agreed to at the 2000 Review Conference
deserve renewed attention. Its remarkable for a document written under incredible
time pressure and with the demands of consensus that its relevance has not been shaken by
The UN General Assemblys First Committee, the Conference on Disarmament and other multilateral fora offer the opportunity to forge a multilateral disarmament campaign as thorough as anything envisioned for the anti-terrorism drive. The disarmament obligations of the NPT, an unequivocal commitment to the CTBT, deep (irreversible) cuts in strategic and tactical weapons, dealerting nuclear weapons, a fissile materials ban, no-first-use commitments, serious negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, controls on missiles, and negotiations on the framework for the total elimination of nuclear weapons need to be embraced as parts of the solution, not dismissed as a sideshow.
Jim Wurst is the Program Director of LCNP.