Letter to the Editor

 Dear Editor,On October 1, Peter Huessy

 Dear Editor,

On October 1, Peter Huessy responded to my article, "Tool of First Resort" (In the National Interest, Sept 24), rebutting my contention that arms control continues to play an essential role in preventing proliferation.  I write to respond to his attacks on arms control and his defense of the Bush Administration's unilateral counter-proliferation strategy.

In my original article, I explained that arms control makes a unique contribution in controlling proliferation in three ways:  restricting supplies necessary for proliferation; creating non-partisan and internationally legitimate bodies for inspecting possible violations; and expanding the base of international cooperation by giving countries in diverse regions of the world a vested interest in an effective nonproliferation regime.

Huessy's letter to the editor focuses on enforcement problems in arms control agreements.  He argues that, in many instances, these agreements have no practical mechanism to force countries to comply, rendering arms control a mere diplomatic prayer.  In truth, enforcement is the weakest link in the chain of arms control, but it is no Achilles' heal.

Other authors in other places have defended the enforcement record of arms control - it is not my intent to review these arguments.  I will focus on the narrow, yet important, issue of the political importance of arms control inspections and their potential to provide for robust nonproliferation enforcement.  In short, effective inspections enable the political will to enforce U.S. nonproliferation goals; more unilateral or deterrence-based strategies cannot.  As my original article emphasized, the prevention of nuclear proliferation in the next decade will require international support at every level - from supply restrictions to economic and military reprisals.  Only arms control will enable the U.S. to harness these coalitions to prevent the spread of technology and weapons.

The failure to enforce arms control agreements is usually a political failure - parts of the international community cannot be convinced that violations of arms control agreements have occurred and are worth enforcing through economic sanctions or military action.  As Huessy rightly points out, enforcement usually involves breaching the sovereignty of the proliferating state - all countries hesitate before supporting such action.  However, if inspectors are vigilantly supported by the U.S. and the international community, their findings can both verify that a violation has occurred and can provide the much-needed political justification for supporting economic sanctions or military force. 

A quick look at U.S. diplomacy in the run-up to the Iraq war illustrates the political significance of inspectors and their consequent effect on enforcement.  In late 2002 and early 2003, the Bush Administration was unsuccessful in assembling political support in the UN Security Council for a resolution authorizing military action to enforce Iraq's obligations on weapons of mass destruction.  The primary obstacle to getting this support was the opposition of France and Germany.  French and German opposition was almost entirely an outgrowth of massive domestic public opposition to using military force against Iraq.  Despite intense efforts by the Bush Administration to demonstrate the threat from Iraq, German and French public opposition held. 

The Administration's failure to shift global opinion illustrates the incredible importance of an internationally legitimate means of verifying breaches in arms control agreements.  Skeptical publics in Europe and elsewhere were simply unconvinced that the quantity and quality of evidence presented by the U.S. demonstrated violations and a threat.  Had an entity perceived as unbiased and internationally legitimate, such as UNMOVIC or a successor body, come to similar conclusions, the international reaction would have been profoundly different.  While there is no way to speak with absolute certainty, it is extremely unlikely the U.S. would have faced fatal opposition at the UN if its case had been backed - even partially - by international inspectors.  Thus, the intersection between inspectors and enforcement:  in a world with war-averse publics often imposing political straightjackets on European and other US allies - most of whom are democracies - only internationally legitimate verification can generate the political support for enforcing a nonproliferation agenda. 

One last point:  Huessy's attacks on arms control enforcement cut both ways, raising equally troubling questions about Bush's strategy of aggressive counter-proliferation.  Simply put, with or without arms control, the U.S. will still need strong allied support to prevent proliferation.  Nuclear proliferation is an international problem:  supplied by international companies, fuelled by international threats, and enforced only with international solidarity.  Tony Blair's experience with the British public does not bode well for Bush's arms-control-free "coalition of the willing."  Now, more than ever, internationally legitimate proof of proliferation guilt will be essential in convincing skeptical audiences from France to Germany to South Korea.  The question is:  would the U.S. like to try to assemble global support to prevent proliferation with or without the political help of arms control agreements?  In this instance, the freedom in "going it alone" is a liability, not an asset.


Austin Carson