Enforcing Nuclear Disarmament

Enforcing Nuclear Disarmament

Mini Teaser: Nigeria, Kazakhstan, the Congo: What do they have in common? All have nuclear reactors with the blessing of the UN. Is this "counter-proliferation" fit for an age of terror.

by Author(s): Amitai Etzioni

Ever since I was a student in the early 1950s, I have been toldthat world government is a dream of starry-eyed idealists. But aform of world government is coming into being, although not the onethat Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell or the United WorldFederalists envisioned. It is not the vast web of rules and normsembodied by the United Nations and the European Union. It is notbased on shared ideology, race or religion. And it is not abyproduct of the Wilsonian daydream of a world rapidly democratizedby the application of American power.

It is motivated, rather, by realism and specifically by therobust response to terrorism. What began in the 1970s as a largelyregional problem arising from a uniquely volatile set ofcircumstances-namely, Middle Eastern terrorism-has slowly become aglobal phenomenon. International terrorists and those who supportthem are being recognized by most of the world's governments as acollective threat to their national security. These threats-whatPresident Clinton called an "unholy axis of terrorists, drugtraffickers and organized international criminals"-are the impetusfor the formation of what I have termed a Global Safety Authority(GSA). The GSA is maintained by the United States (which providesthe lion's share of the funding and sets the agenda) and itsallies, but it is comprised of most nations of the world, includingother major powers such as China, India and Russia.

The Global Safety Authority is taking shape from the post-9/11ad hoc anti-terrorism coalition, as informal interstate cooperationtakes on a more permanent character. I use the term "authority" toindicate that this coalition is both legitimate and institutional,and therefore lasting rather than temporary or transitional. It canbe described as a global police agency, but unlike typicalintergovernmental organizations, the various individuals who staffthe GSA (though they may be of different nationalities) largelywork directly with one another. In carrying out their work,agencies such as the CIA, MI5 and the Mossad work closely with oneanother, and often do not first consult with their respectiveforeign ministries or more generally with their own governments.The same holds true for various members of special forces,surveillance entities, naval patrols and so on.

The GSA's main division, if you will, is the AntiterrorismDepartment, through which the intelligence and police services ofsome 170 nations now work together quite seamlessly. This is not a"coalition of the willing" defined by nominal participation:Fifty-five nations have changed their domestic laws to accommodatethe global pursuit of terrorists. Military and intelligence unitscooperate in untold corners of the globe. Phone calls and e-mailsaround the world are scanned by computers in the United States, theUnited Kingdom and Australia-and the information gleaned is sharedwith other countries. It pays little mind to national borders inthe fight against terrorism, and it is not subject to anytransnational authority to set boundaries and exerciseoversight.

The most important division of the GSA, however, deals withdeproliferation-the removal, forcibly if necessary, of nucleararms, material and components from those states deemed by theinternational community to be insufficiently stable or reliable;and the replacement of these items with safer technologies oreconomic assets. For as countless politicians, government officialsand analysts have noted, if even a crude nuclear bomb were to besuccessfully detonated in New York City, for example, the deathtoll would range in the hundreds of thousands and the economic costwould be more than one trillion dollars. It is not surprising thatPresident Bush identified stopping the spread of nuclear weapons asAmerica's number-one foreign policy priority.

Deproliferation's goal-to prevent terrorists or rogue statesfrom acquiring either the material from which nuclear arms could bemade or the arms themselves-meets what I term "the triple test" forassessing the soundness of policy. First, it addresses theinterests of the nations most threatened, as well as theirneighbors, and the global community at large. (I start with anappeal to national interests because the recent emphasis on softpower has not paid enough attention to the fact that theinternational "system" is much less normatively driven than aredomestic polities. Hence, having complimentary interests is ofspecial import.) Second, deproliferation has prima facielegitimacy-few anywhere around the globe doubt that the world wouldbe better off if the availability of nuclear bombs and the materialto make them was reduced. Finally, the level of cooperation neededto ensure deproliferation-including the development of newinstitutions and norms-is a major source of community building.

The Bush Administration has not left this vital matter merely inthe hands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), becauseas an arm of the United Nations, it has many of that institution'slimitations. The IAEA also fully allows countries to acquire thematerials from which bombs are made, as long as they promise to usethem only for research, medical treatments or power generationpurposes and allow inspectors to verify that they live up to thesepromises. Deproliferation as defined above requires giving up suchmaterials completely. The United States has instead beenorchestrating a multilateral approach to what it considers the mostdangerous nations, Iran and North Korea. Iran is being pressured bythe European Union, Russia and the United States to live up to itsobligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).Similarly, in sharp contrast to America's largely unilateralapproach to deproliferation in Iraq (which turned out to havenothing to deproliferate), the United States has refused so far toconduct bilateral talks with North Korea. Instead, North Korea mustnegotiate with a five-country coalition including China, Japan,South Korea, Russia and the United States.

The nexus between deproliferation and the formation of new,robust, transnational security institutions and their relationshipto global antiterrorism institutions is most evident in theformation of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Inaddition to the United States, the PSI has 15 "core participants",including Australia, France, Japan, Portugal and Spain. Thesenations have agreed to share intelligence and to stop all of thenuclear arms and materials shipments that pass through theirterritory, ports or airspace, or on ships flying their flags. Theywill also stop and board ships in international waters that aresuspected of carrying WMD-related materials.

During summer 2003, the countries involved began joint militaryexercises to prepare for a wider implementation of theseunprecedented and robust deproliferation steps. Some interceptionsalready have occurred, including the boarding of a ship deployedfrom a North Korean port. The Bush Administration gave credit tothe PSI for Libya's decision to abandon its nuclear ambitions aftera ship-the BBC China-loaded with nuclear components and headed forLibya, was intercepted. International lawyers question the legalityof boarding ships on the high seas for purposes other than stoppingpiracy and slavery. The BBC China was a German flag ship that waspersuaded to stop in an Italian port to be searched.

International law is not immutable. We have choices beyond justabiding by it or ignoring it. We can work to modify it to recognizefully the right of nations that seek to defend themselves andothers to search ships on the high seas when there is a reasonablesuspicion that they carry nuclear weapons or the materials fromwhich they are made. The same holds true for cargo shipped onplanes. They can be made to land en route and then be searched.

The State Department is careful to refer to the PSI as an"activity" and not as an organization, as this would imply thecreation of a new security architecture outside the United Nationsand the NPT. Whatever it is called, the PSI is a key example of howthe creation of new transnational institutions and enhancingsecurity build on one another. The more nations that find thatdeproliferation serves their interest and the more they view suchaction as legitimate, the stronger the transnational institutionsthese nations are constructing will become and the more theseinstitutions will be able to contribute to deproliferation. Thisstrengthening can be measured in budgets, command of militaryresources and intelligence priorities.

Much of the attention of deproliferation efforts has focused onrogue states, especially the three members of the Axis of Evil.However, terrorists may gain nuclear weapons from those who haveready-made ones, or make them out of highly enriched uranium (HEU)or plutonium. Experts stress that once terrorists have the neededmaterials, producing nuclear arms is a task that they canaccomplish with relative ease. For instance, The 9/11 CommissionReport observed that:

"A nuclear bomb can be built with a relatively small amount ofnuclear material. A trained nuclear engineer with an amount ofhighly enriched uranium or plutonium about the size of a grapefruitor an orange, together with commercially available material, couldfashion a nuclear device that would fit in a van like the one RamziYousef parked in the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993."

There are several reasons why nuclear terrorism is much morechallenging than nuclear attacks from rogue states and hencedeserves much more attention and greater dedication of resourcesthan it currently receives. First of all, the list of rogue statesis small and well known, and their actions can be monitored withrelative ease. The opposite holds true for terrorists. Theirnumbers are large, their identities are often unknown, and theiractions are difficult to track. Second, rogue states are easier todeter from using their nuclear arms than are terrorists, especiallythose willing to commit suicide, a sacrifice which more than a fewhave shown themselves ready to make.

It is true that the leaders of some rogue states are unstable,and they could act irrationally or simply miscalculate,disregarding the fact that their regime-and they personally-wouldnot survive if they employed nuclear weapons against the U.S.mainland or even one of its allies-or if it became known that theyprovided terrorists with such arms. However, miscalculations of themagnitude that would lead a Kim Jong-il or the mullahs of Iran touse nuclear weapons are very rare indeed. In contrast, ifterrorists acquired a nuclear bomb or the material to make one,they would not fear retaliation, and they could not be deterred bya balance of terror. Indeed, terrorists often hold that if theiractions lead to attacks on their own homelands, then support fortheir cause would increase. Moreover, because terrorists are notthe army of one state, it is often difficult to determine againstwhich nation to retaliate, and thus whom to deter and how. Thisdilemma was all too evident when the United States learned after9/11 that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian nationals.

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