Monday, August 16, 2004

Kristof & Zakaria - getting serious about nuclear proliferation

Nicholas Kristof has lately been doing a good job of forcing people to pay attention to urgent problems that they would rather ignore. In his last few New York Times op-eds, he has moved from Darfur to nuclear proliferation. Nothing he says in the piece below is really news, but that doesn't make it less important.
As I wrote in my last column, there is a general conviction among many experts - though, in fairness, not all - that nuclear terrorism has a better-than-even chance of occurring in the next 10 years. Such an attack could kill 500,000 people.
Yet U.S. politicians have utterly failed to face up to the danger.
"Both Bush administration rhetoric and Kerry rhetoric emphasize keeping W.M.D. out of the hands of terrorists as a No. 1 national security priority," noted Michèlle Flournoy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "And when you look at what could have been done in the last few years, versus what has been done, there's a real gap."
One of the reasons why military action against Saddam Hussein & his regime was necessary, sooner or later, was the need to prevent him from getting away with several decades of blatantly and persistently violating his obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the 1991 cease-fire agreement ending the first Gulf War, and a series of related UN Security Council resolutions.

(Yes, it does appear that by the late 1990s Saddam Hussein's nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs were mostly a gigantic bluff--contrary to the broad consensus of ALL major intelligence services at the time. But the only way to find that out for sure was to first overthrow his regime, and there is absolutely no question that he was contnuously in "material breach" of his obligations to comply with inspection-&-verification procedures during the entire period from 1991-2003. At all events, once the "containment" of Saddam Hussein's Iraq collapsed--which, by 2002, was almost certainly the real-world alternative to military action--there would have been nothing to prevent him from resuming his NBC weapons programs.)

The way that the war actually happened was far from ideal in this respect, and a lot of credibility was burned up needlessly and damagingly. But from the point of view of trying keep the anti-proliferation system from falling apart, a victory for Saddam Hussein & his foreign backers would have been even worse.

=> All that having been said, however, the fact remains that confronting Saddam Hussein's Iraq was only ONE element in the larger problem of trying to prevent the world-wide proliferation of nuclear weapons, including ones that could get into the hands of terrorists and other non-state actors. Overall, as Kristof (correctly) argues, the Bush administration's response to this problem has been dangerously inadequate, complacent, and/or irresponsible. In some ways, the degree of irresponsibility has been simply inexplicable--for example, the administration's failure to actively pursue the Nunn/Lugar program of securing loose nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. Like Kristof, I have long found this mind-boggling:
The Nunn-Lugar program to safeguard the material is one of the best schemes we have to protect ourselves, and it's bipartisan, championed above all by Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican. Yet President Bush has, incredibly, at various times even proposed cutting funds for it. He seems bored by this security effort, perhaps because it doesn't involve blowing anything up.
And the Bush administration's intention to develop a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons--when we should be doing everything we can to maintain the taboo against any use of nuclear weapons--is absolutely inexcusable.

=> On the other hand, as the piece by Fareed Zakaria notes, fecklessness and irresponsibility in confronting the problem of nuclear proliferation has not been confined to US administrations. There is a lot of blame to go around. For example, the systematic efforts from 1991-2002 by the governments of France, Russia, and China (among others) to undermine the containment of Saddam Hussein's Iraq--which helped to create a situation in which war was the only realistic alternative to the collapse of the whole sanctions-&-containment system--can only be described as breathtakingly irresponsible.

Then there is Iran. After the 2003 Iraq war, the European governments (belatedly) got their act together and began to make a real effort to slow down Iran's nuclear weapons program. But now the Iranian government has essentially given them the finger, and they seem to be unable and unwilling to come up with an effective response. And there has been a comprehensive failure (not just by the US government, but by all the governments involved) in dealing with the rather terrifying danger posed by North Korea, which could well turn into a nuclear Wal-Mart for terrorist organizations in the not-too-distant future.

=> There is a desperately urgent need for a serious international response to this problem. At the moment, on the contrary, the whole system designed to contain nuclear proliferation is being allowed to erode. This is madness.

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub

=========================
New York Times
August 14, 2004
OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Nuclear Shadow
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF


If a 10-kiloton terrorist nuclear weapon explodes beside the New York Stock Exchange or the U.S. Capitol, or in Times Square, as many nuclear experts believe is likely in the next decade, then the next 9/11 commission will write a devastating critique of how we allowed that to happen.
As I wrote in my last column, there is a general conviction among many experts - though, in fairness, not all - that nuclear terrorism has a better-than-even chance of occurring in the next 10 years. Such an attack could kill 500,000 people.
Yet U.S. politicians have utterly failed to face up to the danger.
"Both Bush administration rhetoric and Kerry rhetoric emphasize keeping W.M.D. out of the hands of terrorists as a No. 1 national security priority," noted Michèlle Flournoy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "And when you look at what could have been done in the last few years, versus what has been done, there's a real gap."
So what should we be doing? First, it's paramount that we secure uranium and plutonium around the world. That's the idea behind the U.S.-Russian joint program to secure 600 metric tons of Russian nuclear materials. But after 12 years, only 135 tons have been given comprehensive upgrades. Some 340 tons haven't even been touched.
The Nunn-Lugar program to safeguard the material is one of the best schemes we have to protect ourselves, and it's bipartisan, championed above all by Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican. Yet President Bush has, incredibly, at various times even proposed cutting funds for it. He seems bored by this security effort, perhaps because it doesn't involve blowing anything up.
Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment sees the effort against nuclear terrorism as having three components. One is the Pentagon's version of counterproliferation, which includes the war in Iraq and the missile defense system; this component is costing $108 billion a year, mostly because of Iraq. Then there's homeland security, costing about $37 billion a year. Finally, there's nonproliferation itself, like the Nunn-Lugar effort - and this struggles along on just $2 billion a year.
A second step we must take is stopping other countries from joining the nuclear club, although, frankly, it may now be too late. North Korea, Iran and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Brazil all seem determined to go ahead with nuclear programs.
Dennis Ross, the former Middle East peace negotiator, notes that if Iran develops nukes, jittery Saudi Arabia will seek to follow, and then Egypt, which prides itself as the leader of the Arab world. Likewise, anxiety about North Korea is already starting to topple one domino - Japan is moving in the direction of a nuclear capability.
The best hope for stopping Iran and North Korea (and it's a bleak one) is to negotiate a grand bargain in which they give up nuclear aspirations for trade benefits. Mr. Bush's current policy - fist-shaking - feels good but accomplishes nothing.
President Clinton's approach to North Korea wasn't a great success, but at least North Korea didn't add to its nuclear arsenal during his watch. In just the last two years, North Korea appears to have gone to eight nuclear weapons from about two.
A third step is to prevent the smuggling of nuclear weapons into the U.S. Mr. Bush has made a nice start on that with his proliferation security initiative.
A useful addition, pushed by Senator Charles Schumer, would be to develop powerful new radiation detectors and put them on the cranes that lift shipping containers onto American soil. But while Congress approved $35 million to begin the development of these detectors, the administration has spent little or none of it.
Finally, Mr. Bush needs to display moral clarity about nuclear weapons, making them a focus of international opprobrium. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush is pursuing a new generation of nuclear bunker-buster bombs. That approach helps make nukes thinkable, and even a coveted status symbol, and makes us more vulnerable.
At other periods when the U.S. has been under threat, we mustered extraordinary resources to protect ourselves. If Mr. Bush focused on nuclear proliferation with the intensity he focuses on Iraq, then we might secure our world for just a bit longer.
Right now, we're only whistling in the dark.


===============
Newsweek
August 16, 2004
The Stealth Nuclear Threat


Who could have imagined that alliance management would be a hot election issue in America? But it is. John Kerry's repeated pledge to restore relations with America's allies has struck a chord. The trouble is, if he is elected president, Kerry is going to find that promise hard to keep—at least with America's allies in Europe. Most of them would be delighted to see Kerry win, but that doesn't mean they will be more cooperative on policy issues. Terror is understandably on everyone's mind, but there is yet another growing danger over the horizon. Early into a Kerry administration, we could see a familiar sight—a transatlantic crisis—except this time it wouldn't be over Iraq but Iran.
The threat to America from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, if they ever existed, is in the past. Iran, on the other hand, is the problem of the future. Over the last two years, thanks to tips from Iranian opposition groups and investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has become clear that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. In the words of the agency, Iran has "a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle," which leads most experts to believe it is two to three years away from having a nuclear bomb.
European countries were as worried by this development as Washington and, since the United States has no relations with Iran, Europe stepped in last fall and negotiated a deal with Iran. It was an excellent agreement in which Iran pledged to stop developing fissile material (the core ingredient of a nuclear bomb) and to keep its nuclear program transparent. The only problem is, Iran has recently announced that it isn't going to abide by the deal. As the IAEA's investigation got more serious, Tehran got more secretive. One month ago the agency condemned Iran for its failure to cooperate. Tehran responded by announcing that it would resume work in prohibited areas.
That's where things stand now, with the clock ticking fast. If Iran were to go nuclear, it would have dramatic effects. It would place nuclear materials in the hands of a radical regime that has ties to unsavory groups. It would signal to other countries that it's possible to break the nuclear taboo. And it would revolutionize the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Egypt would feel threatened by Iran's bomb and would start their own search for nuclear technology. (Saudi Arabia probably could not make a bomb but it could certainly buy necessary technology from a country like Pakistan. In fact, we don't really know all of the buyers who patronized Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan's nuclear supermarket. It's quite possible Saudi Arabia already has a few elements of such a program.) And then there is Israel, which has long seen Iran as its greatest threat. It is unlikely to sit passively while Iran develops a nuclear bomb. The powerful Iranian politician Ali Rafsanjani has publicly speculated about a nuclear exchange with Israel. If Iran's program went forward, at some point Israel would almost certainly try to destroy it using airstrikes, as it did Iraq's reactor in Osirik. Such an action would, of course, create a massive political crisis in the region.
In the face of these stark dangers, Europe seems remarkably passive. Having burst into action last fall, it does not seem to know what to do now that Iran has rebuffed its efforts. It is urging negotiations again, which is fine. But what will it tell Iran in these negotiations? What is the threat that it is willing to wield?
Last month the Brookings Institution conducted a scenario with mostly former American and European officials. In it, Iran actually acquires fissile material. Even facing the imminent production of a nuclear bomb, Europeans were unwilling to take any robust measures like the use of force or tough sanctions. James Steinberg, a senior Clinton official who organized this workshop, said that he was "deeply frustrated by European attitudes." Madeleine Albright, who regularly convenes a discussion group of former foreign ministers, said that on this topic, "Europeans say they understand the threat but then act as if the real problem is not Iran but the United States."
American policy toward Iran is hardly blameless. Washington refuses even to consider the possibility of direct talks with Iran, let alone actual relations. Europeans could present Washington with a plan. They would go along with a bigger stick if Washington would throw in a bigger carrot: direct engagement with Tehran. This is something Tehran has long sought, and it could be offered in return for renouncing its nuclear ambitions.
But for any of this to happen, Europe must be willing to play an active, assertive role. It must stop viewing itself merely as a critic of American policy, but rather see itself as a partner, jointly acting to reduce the dangers of nuclear proliferation. And it should do this not as a favor to John Kerry but as a responsibility to its own citizens and those of the world.

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