The World and WMD: Where We Stand

It was an extraordinarily well-kept secret.

It was an extraordinarily well-kept secret. It is remarkable that British and American officials have been quietly inspecting Libya's nuclear and chemical warfare plants for months, and not a word leaked out. And it striking that the usually garrulous Muammar Qaddafi could hold his tongue for so long about this stunning reversal of policy that sees the Arab world's most inveterate state sponsor of terrorism claiming to have seen the light.

But the real prize for strategic discretion must go to President George W. Bush and, perhaps even more, to Britain's Tony Blair. It must have been so tempting for Blair, with his back against the wall in recent months as the

British opinion polls soured, to tell his tormentors in Parliament that the bad boy of the Middle East was about to turn himself in to the authorities.

Bush and Blair must not continue that silence now. They should stress and stress again that theirs is not simply a policy of military might and precision bombing, but that, while they hold the cruise missiles in one hand, they offer an olive branch in the other.

Countries that play by the rules, even if they have a record of rogue nationhood as long as your arm, will be treated as responsible members of the international system. Regimes that continue to behave like rogues will be firmly dealt with until they see the error of their ways, or until they are replaced.

Those are the rules of the new world order. They are simple. And in a world that has already known one 9/11, and watches a North Korean sociopath selling missiles and nuclear technology to all comers to keep himself in French burgundy and Hollywood movies, the new rules are eminently reasonable.

Nuclear weapons cannot be dis-invented. But they can, with intelligent policies by the great powers, be reserved for grown-ups; that is to say, reserved for nations that are prepared to guard their nuclear arsenals fully, to refrain from brandishing them as routine diplomatic assets and to understand the awesome responsibility that comes with such awesome weaponry.

The five long-standing nuclear powers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China have all long since passed these basic tests. So has Israel, even while its governments try to maintain some shred of strategic ambiguity about their possession. India is heading in the right direction, cooperating with U.S. experts to strengthen their strategic locks and command and control system over the nukes.

After North Korea, Pakistan remains the nearest country to a nuclear-armed rogue, largely because of the frightening readiness of some of its nuclear scientists to share technologies with real rogues. Pakistan's technological fingerprints are all over the Iranian nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Authority's inspectors found that Iran was using Pakistan's basic design and its modifications in the gas centrifuges that were producing Iran's weapon's grade uranium. One of the Pakistani scientists supposedly involved was arrested three weeks ago. It is not clear whether he was guilty, nor if he were, whether the lure was cash or Islamist ideology, or indeed whether he was acting with the quiet approval of his political and military masters.

But the bottom line is clear. Pakistan is not a comforting custodian of nuclear weapons, even under its current regime. And as the failed assassination attempt demonstrated last week, the current government of ex-General Pervez Musharraf is not a reassuringly stable place.

If Osama bin Laden has a coherent strategy, beyond taking the Islamic world back to some 7th century theme park of noble Bedouin warriors sweeping out from the desert to convert a heretic world at the point of a sword, it is to take over two countries. His most prized targets, beyond the American civilians he has already slaughtered, are Saudi Atabia with its oil and Pakistan with its nukes. At once the richest, the most potent and the most charismatic of jihadis, he would become - unless stopped - the most dire strategic menace to civilization since Josef Stalin got the atom bomb.

That is why Bush and Blair have been right to draft and to impose the new rules of the world after 9/11. The combination of terrorism, rogue states and WMD is unconscionable.

And now, in the wake of Libya's strategic surrender, it is plain that the Bush-Blair new world order offers carrots as well as the kind of stick that finally found Saddam Hussein cowering in his rat hole. It is not only Muammar Qaddafi who has been offered the carrot. The Iranian Ayatollahs have agreed, after some impressive diplomacy by the British, French and German foreign ministers, to cooperate with the IAEA and open their research centers to snap inspections.

Iran and Libya are still on probation. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card under the new rules, but a constant monitoring of compliance, with rewards carefully calibrated against performance. It must be so.

But the world is starting to look like a slightly safer place, now that the carrots and sticks of the Bush-Blair rules have demonstrated their usefulness, and now that at least one inveterate rogue has seen and understood the writing on the wall. Any more conversions like Qaddafi's, and even Bush's most appeasement-minded critics and Blair's enemies on the British Left might have to acknowledge that the two men who kept the Libyan secret these past nine months are clearly doing something right.


Martin Walker is the Washington bureau chief for UPI.  This piece is used with permission.