The U.S. Response to WMDs (other than in Iraq)

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In the last month or so, the US has been involved in high level discussions regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In one case, the tone presented by the US administration is very different than that employed earlier this year by the US to justify the recent military foray to Iraq. In the other, the rationale for more military actions like the one against Iraq is being established. To other countries, the US presses for nonproliferation while it pushes forward new nuclear capabilities of its own.
Late March saw the convergence of parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in Geneva.
Two years from now will mark the Fifth Review conference of the only international treaty intended to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and to hasten the disarmament of those countries which do possess nuclear armaments. While speaking toward the treaty’s goals of nonproliferation, left unsaid in US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s message was that the US is concerned with nonproliferation by other states. Harsh words contending the need for “strict enforcement”, “resolute action” and choices that “require dealing firmly with countries”were made with reference to North Korea and Iran. Earlier this year North Korea withdrew from the NPT after revealing intentions to resume its nuclear weapons program.
There are legitimate suspicions that Iran, which is party to the NPT, has secret nuclear weapons facilities; the capability for gas centrifuge uranium enrichment was confirmed in late February during International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. Remember the US administration pontificating about Saddam Hussein’s alleged attempt to purchase aluminum tubes? Those would be for gas centrifuge enrichment. “The time for business as usual is over” for those other countries, in the words of the current US administration. The touting of the vague Moscow Treaty (the “handshake agreement” between G.W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin to putatively dismantle all but approximately 2,000 strategic nuclear weapons by 2012 with no verification protocol for either side) by US representatives to the NPT meeting was explicitly countered by a group of NGO’s. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Greenpeace said directly what representatives from other countries had only been hinting … that US nuclear weapons policies are threatening the NPT.
The NGOs criticized US strategies and documents that propose integrating nuclear weapons into military responses, indications of an intent to resume underground nuclear testing, and abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in order to pursue missile defense and space-based weaponry. Further jeopardizing to the NPT has been the explicit threat to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in response to non-nuclear attack. Specifically criticized was the development of new ballistic missile systems and new nuclear weapons, e.g., the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which is better known as the “bunker buster.”
Back home in the US, Los Alamos National Lab has announced the resumption of production of plutonium “pits” – the grapefruit-sized balls of weapons-grade plutonium that are pretty much only used for nuclear weapons applications. These are not dual-use items.
As the NPT meeting was winding up, the First Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) convened in The Hague. The CWC prohibits the development and demands the complete elimination of all chemical weapons. The CWC was designed to have ‘real teeth’. Explicitly delineated are full verification and inspection regimes (lacking in the biological weapons treaties).
In his opening address to the Review Conference, the head of the US delegation Stephen G. Rademaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, made a number of statements that seemed to be setting the stage to justify further military actions, as the specter of chemical weapons was used as rationalization for the recent attack at Iraq. “We confront a number of countries around the world that have or actively are seeking chemical weapons.” The countries targeted by Rademaker’s rhetoric were Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria and Sudan. All have (or there are legitimate suspicions that they have) pursued development and acquisition of chemical weapons.
Rademaker repeatedly emphasized the US administration paradigm that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, but he extended further that line of thinking with the suggestion that inspections are fundamentally flawed. No other means to verify accordance with the CWC under international protocols were offered to the conference delegates. The other (unspoken) option is US military intervention.
The US has met the treaty’s timetable for destruction of 22% of its chemical weapons stockpile, which once consisted of some 31,000 tons of chemical warfare agents. The case in Russia is much different where just over 1% of its 40,000 ton stockpile has been destroyed. The security of the remaining chemical weapons to potential terrorist threats was also highlighted, although perhaps not as forcefully or with as much importance as is warranted considering the potential consequences of insecurity. Completely overlooked was the question of stockpile (in)security in the remaining 24,180 tons of US chemical weapons.
One problem highlighted at the review conference was the failure of nearly half of the state parties to implement any domestic measures to ensure compliance to the treaty. Only one quarter of the 152 nations party to the convention have fully adopted the national enforcement requirements. The US Congress has passed legislation in accordance as specified by the CWC, with some exclusions to the benefit of the chemical industry.
Developing countries account for the majority of those failing to fully implement the treaty. A lack of resources, both financial and technical, and dearth of expertise are cited as reason for non-compliance by most developing countries. This deficiency of resources for chemical weapons nonproliferation is not going to discourage terrorists. The US has pledged aid to developing nations – a real, pro-active means to limit proliferation of chemical weapons or a course for preemptive US military intervention?

While wishing she were back climbing in the Everest region of Nepal, Margaret finds inspiration on the topographically-challenged plains of central Illinois in the amazing people around her. Described by the director of the Sunshine Project as “not suffering fools gladly,” she firmly believes in the need to reclaim science from co-option by corporations “science is NOT property, especially not the property of CEOs, shareholders or corporate executives.”

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