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Setting Bolton loose at UN would provide excitement
Setting Bolton loose at UN would provide excitement
Jonathan Manthorpe
May 16, 2005
For a journalist, the idea of John Bolton as Washington's man at the United Nations holds the prospect of unconfined joy.

Loosing a semi-house-trained polecat to stalk the sylvan pastures of the UN and bite out the throats of the timid woodland creatures that inhabit the place offers the potential for endless tales of primal savagery.

But whatever Bolton's defects as a communal member of the human species -- and these have been voluminously catalogued during his confirmation hearing -- of one thing there is no doubt: He is an extremely talented lawyer.

Even people who find Bolton's personality and politics distasteful -- and who wouldn't offer him kennel space -- agree on that.

One such is Michael Byers, until a year ago a professor of international law at Duke University and now the academic director at the University of B.C.'s Liu Institute for Global Issues.

After the September 2001 attacks on the United States, Bolton has used his imaginative legal talents and his intransigent personality to create a series of international agreements that effectively confront the ability of rogue states or terrorists to transport dangerous weapons and missile technology by sea, Byers said.

Byers was speaking at a a two-day conference on maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region organized by the Canadian navy's Maritime Command Pacific, and held at CFB Esquimalt in Victoria.

"I am a strong critic of most aspects of the [President George W.] Bush foreign policy, but on this the Bush administration has got things right," Byers said. "The transportation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology is something that needs to be dealt with in an effective and cooperative way."

It was after the U.S. discovered in 2002 that it had no right under international law to seize on the high seas merchant vessels suspected of carrying weapons that Bolton was set loose on the problem.

In his hunt for a method of achieving security against weapons proliferation without violating international law, Bolton turned to the 29 agreements the U.S. had made with Caribbean and Latin American countries to try to halt drug trafficking. The treaties give the U.S. pre-approval to stop and search ships and planes carrying the flag of the partner nations.

Bolton has pushed through similar agreements covering weapons and missiles with numerous countries, and, more important in the context of shipping, countries like Liberia, Panama, and the Marshall Islands that sell "flags of convenience."

Byers said it was not only Bolton's prowess as a lawyer that put this network in place. "There is no doubt that the threat of unilateralism [by the U.S.] is what made Bolton so effective. Without the threat, the proliferation security initiative would not be the success it is today."

A similar approach has been used by the U.S. to push its trade partners into instituting systems of security at ports governing container traffic. There are now 34 ports world-wide that are transit points for trade with the U.S. that have put systems in place that meet American security requirements.

It is a simple equation for those countries that need to keep their commerce with the U.S. flowing freely. Canadian ports such as Vancouver have found the answer equally obvious.

"While I am not worried about a missile from North Korea hitting Vancouver, I am worried about some device entering the harbour on a ship and exploding as me and my family sit on Jericho Beach," Byers said.

An indication of the success of the Bolton approach came in September of 2003 when U.S. and British intelligence agencies learned that centrifuges used to make nuclear weapons-grade uranium and plutonium were being taken to Libya on a German ship. At Washington's request the ship was ordered into an Italian port, where the hundreds of containers on board were searched, and three containing centrifuges were discovered.

Faced with incontrovertible evidence of his nuclear weapons program, Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi realized the game was up. He has handed over his entire program to the U.S.

Sun International Affairs Columnist
jmanthorpe@png.canwest.com

 
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