Sat, 25 Jan 2003

The world needs a total ban on nuclear arms

Richard Falk and David Krieger Nuclear Age Peace Foundation The Asahi Shimbun Tokyo

War is not a solution to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The only approach with some chance of success depends on a demonstrable political will to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

President George W. Bush has adopted very different policies toward Iraq and North Korea, despite having provocatively labeled both countries part of the "axis of evil," along with Iran. He has repeatedly threatened war if Iraq does not divulge and eliminate its purported weapons of mass destruction, has been moving U.S. troops into the Gulf region to demonstrate the seriousness of his intent, has engaged in threatening practice bombing runs over Iraqi territory and has been illegally arming and inciting opposition forces to initiate a civil war in Iraq.

But, with regard to North Korea, which has now admitted to having a nuclear weapons program and is known to have advanced delivery systems, Bush has made clear that he prefers to rely on diplomacy over military action.

Iraq appears to be cooperating with the UN weapons inspectors, while North Korea has asked them to leave its country and is withdrawing from the Non-proliferation Treaty, as is its legal right, to pursue its nuclear weapons programs free of treaty restraints. Why, then, is war the prospect for Iraq and diplomacy for North Korea?

Bush seeks to justify the distinction by insisting that Iraq poses special dangers because it has invaded neighboring countries in the past and has previously used non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction. This distinction, however, seems dubious, especially given past U.S. policies of support for Iraq, or at most indifference to its tactics, and knowledge of its use of chemical weapons in its war against Iran and against the Kurds.

The two aggressive wars initiated by Iraq during Saddam's era both involve a measure of U.S. complicity. Iraq has not acted aggressively toward neighbors during the past decade. Iraq fully understands that if it were to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction at this point it would face almost certain annihilation, and nothing in Saddam Hussein's career, however brutal, suggests such irrationality. Indeed, the Baghdad regime has always given highest priority to its own survival and to that of the Iraqi state.

The Bush administration has set itself up as the arbiter of who is, and who is not, allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. This is not a strategy likely to succeed without giving American foreign policy a militarist character that includes being constantly prepared to wage war in remote parts of the world.

The Arab world is keenly aware that the United States has adopted very different standards for Iraq and North Korea, and also with respect to Iraq and Israel. There is no acceptable explanation of this double standard other than the strategic opportunism of Washington.

The U.S. government needs to develop a consistent policy on weaponry of mass destruction that applies to all nations. President Bush's pursuit of a diplomatic solution with North Korea seems like the right course of action, especially if compared to its approach to Iraq.

The U.S. government needs to enter into negotiations with North Korea, rather than seeking to isolate it. The U.S. must also be willing to offer security assurances as well as much- needed development assistance to the people in North Korea in exchange for the North Koreans forgoing their nuclear option.

It would be diplomatically constructive for the U.S. to encourage the establishment of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone that covers the two Koreas, Japan, Taiwan, and that portion of Chinese and U.S. nuclear forces deployed in Northeast Asia. It would also be helpful to support reunification discussions between Seoul and Pyongyang.

With regard to Iraq, the Bush administration should also be willing to enter into negotiations. If it has information, as it has repeatedly claimed, that Iraq has violated the U.N. mandate on eliminating its weapons of mass destruction, it has an obligation to provide this information to the U.N. inspectors so that they can carry out their work.

In the event that Iraq is cleared by the inspectors with respect to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction programs, the U.S. should end its sanctions against Iraq and certainly end the bombing of the No-Fly Zones that it established in Iraq more than a decade ago without any authorization by the Security Council.

To be consistent in its efforts to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, the Bush administration should put pressure on Israel to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

The U.S. has wrongly treated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a one-way street for more than 30 years. From the outset the treaty was negotiated as a two-way street. The non- nuclear weapons states gave up their right to acquire or develop nuclear weapons in return for a solemn promise by the nuclear weapons states to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. The U.S., as well as other nuclear weapons states, has not upheld its end of the bargain, which is a material breach of the treaty.

Consistency, although an improvement, is not enough. Nonproliferation is increasingly being revealed as a dead end that is not capable of protecting the peoples of the world against the dire possibility of a nuclear war. If the U.S. really wants to put an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation, it must demonstrate that it has the political will to propose and engage in serious negotiations for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world, including its own, as called for almost 35 years ago in the Nonproliferation Treaty.

War is not a solution to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The only approach with some chance of success depends on a demonstrable political will to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. When the U.S. demonstrates this political will, the inspection procedures and institutional structures to guard against cheating can be established, tested and gradually implemented. Only at that point can the world begin to breathe more easily.