War is no answer to a WMD threat
Description: Weapons of mass destruction constitute the greatest threat to global peace and security today. Hans Blix and Wade Huntley write that the problem of WMD proliferation among states is even more acute than the headline-grabbing prospect o
Date: 10 November 2004
Author: Hans Blix and Wade Huntley
Source: The Globe and Mail
Weapons of mass destruction constitute the greatest threat to global peace and security today. How is the world to meet this threat? The international Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, meeting in Vancouver this week, aims to offer realistic and creative answers to this question.
The problem is twofold: the threat of WMD coming into the possession of terrorist groups, and the threat of WMD proliferation among states. But these aspects are linked. Terrorists do not live on clouds -- they must have their feet on the territory of states. The international community has a right to expect that governments will prevent use of their territory as a base for terrorists to develop WMD capabilities or launch attacks.
Revelations of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear-technology trafficking have spurred international co-operation to prevent such trafficking. But more needs to be done to ensure the safekeeping of WMD materials.
Using military means against terrorism, however, is like deploying cannon against mosquitoes. The occupation of Iraq is stimulating further terrorism and driving large numbers of civilians to support such extremism. Iraq is now more useful to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups than it was under Saddam Hussein.
The lesson is that the battle against Islamic jihadists must not be pursued in ways that strengthen anti-American and anti-Western attitudes among Islamic moderates. Military pressures have their place, but non-military measures to reduce incentives to terrorism must be on the agenda.
Although the fear of terrorist threats generates the most headlines, an even more acute threat is the proliferation of WMD, especially nuclear weapons, among states. The non-proliferation regime, with the Non-Proliferation Treaty as the centrepiece, has had a good deal of success. The de facto proliferation to non-NPT parties Israel, India and Pakistan, and experiences with NPT parties North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya, indicate the need to strengthen this regime, not replace it.
Iran and North Korea pose the starkest challenges. Both have disregarded their safeguard obligations, and North Korea says it is ready to develop nuclear capabilities. Either state's acquisition of nuclear weapons could spur domino effects. But North Korea has also said it is ready to "scrap" nuclear capacity if some conditions, including security guarantees, are fulfilled. Iran says it intends only to exercise its right to enrich uranium to fuel its reactors. Both seem ready to negotiate solutions.
The U.S. action in Iraq was a costly way to eliminate WMD threats, and is surely not a model to follow. The United Nations-verified eradication of Iraq's WMD was meant to be a step toward making the region a WMD-free zone. Such a zone cannot be negotiated in a time of high tension, underscoring the imperative for progress in solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. A new initiative for Middle East peace should start all the region's states on a path toward a WMD-free zone of co-operation. Similar concepts for the Korean peninsula could reinforce security assurances to North Korea as part of the six-party talks process under way.
Global efforts to eliminate WMD have reached a fork in the road. The Bush administration has followed a dangerous path that may encourage others to pursue available weapons options. In its second term, the administration should return the United States to the kind of leadership it used to exercise in arms control and disarmament: the "lead wolf" that only in truly exceptional circumstances acts as a "lone wolf."
U.S. ratification of a comprehensive test ban treaty and energetic promotion of a verified fissile material production cut-off would be met with enthusiasm throughout the world. Such initiatives would be responsive to the reality of WMD threats today -- not the virtual reality of politics.
Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. He wrote this article with Wade Huntley, program director at the Simons Centre for Disarmament and Nonproliferation Research at the Liu Institute for Global Issues.