For a journalist, the idea of John Bolton as Washington's man at the United Nations holds the prospect of unconfined
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
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
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
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