Seances by Candlelight(1)

September 10, 2003

Seances by Candlelight(1)

The long simmering debate over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction reveals deep fissures among policy makers about the best means to both counter the proliferation of such weapons as well as prevent their deployment.

The long simmering debate over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction reveals deep fissures among policy makers about the best means to both counter the proliferation of such weapons as well as prevent their deployment. On one side stand the so-called arms control organizations that push for written legal treaties as the basis for preventing rogue nations from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. The lynch pin of their regime is the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) which was established to regulate the use of civilian nuclear power and ensure that spent fuel was not diverted to the production of nuclear weapons. Given that a number of nations had already deployed nuclear weapons-the United States, Britain, France, China and the former Soviet Union-the NPT made an implicit bargain with those nations not yet nuclear powers to negotiate in good faith to reduce nuclear weapons, end the "arms race", and eventually agree to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. The theology of pace through paper rests on the assumption that if the United States moves toward dramatic reductions in its nuclear weaponry, eliminates nuclear testing and relies almost entirely on its conventional military capability, rogue states such as North Korea and Iran will cease their quest for nuclear weapons and agree to intrusive inspection regimes to verify that nuclear weapons programs are not being undertaken surreptitiously.

The inspection regime established in Iraq after the first Gulf War has become the Holy Grail of arms control. No criticism of its effectiveness can be admitted. The fact that the regime of inspections was only put in place after the U.S.-led coalition used military force to push Iraq out of Kuwait is routinely ignored, as if Iraq had voluntarily and without resistance allowed such inspections to take place. Also, the International Atomic Energy Administration, in concert with the United Nations, was sound asleep while North Korea, Iraq and Iran, all signatories to the NPT, developed clandestine nuclear weapons programs while being given a clean bill of health by the IAEA.

As a result, the question of whether the inspection regime in Iraq between 1991-98 was sufficiently effective to eliminate most, if not all, of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program becomes critical to whether or not such inspection regimes, by themselves, are an adequate non-proliferation or counter-proliferation strategy. This is why the cacophony of criticism of the Bush Administration has come forward about the failure, to date, of the coalition forces to find the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons supposedly hidden by Saddam Hussein and the elements of a nuclear weapons program, including centrifuges and uranium ore.  Also, opponents of military action against Iraq have claimed that military action could only be justified if Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States and its allies, which would of course require a fully constituted weapons program and the means to effectively deliver such weapons against either the continental United States, our forces overseas or our allies. The very fact that the Bush Administration repeatedly noted that such a threat from Iraq was, in fact, not imminent, a point made explicit by the President in at least four separate speeches, appears to have completely befuddled the arms control community, unable as they are to understand that once a threat becomes imminent it is probably too late to deal with it, a point made eloquently by Senator Biden in July 2002, hardly a partisan for this Administration.

On the other side of the arms control ledger stands the Bush Administration and its allies who have sought to expand the tools of counter- and non-proliferation to include active and passive defenses, including missile defense, deterrence, dissuasion, and denial, as well as the traditional tools of arms control, sanctions and export controls, such as the Missile Control Technology Regime.

Ironically, the Bush Administration has tried to move U.S. policy makers away from the standard prism of the "Cold War" in which U.S. policy was firmly rooted for the past half century, towards a more flexible and realistic policy regime that takes into account the new realities of rogue regimes and terrorism. Part of this policy has been the tool of pre-emption, which while too often associated only with the use of military force, also involves diplomacy, law enforcement, counter-terrorism policies, and sanctions.

Left unanswered during the Cold War was the issue of what one does when a nation deliberately seeks to make an end run around an arms control treaty like the NPT to surreptitiously build the very nuclear weapons they have sworn not to deploy. How do you enforce such agreements? The arms control community-misnamed as it is because they are usually more concerned with stopping the U.S. from deploying the arms it needs than stopping the deployment of arms of rogue states-has reacted to this dilemma with a neat rhetorical trick by blaming the United States for such rogue state behavior. It is argued by some that U.S. deployments of missile defenses, for example, are undermining the deterrent capability of North Korea, China or Iran. Or, it is U.S. rhetoric that is to blame - how dare we call regimes "evil" when we compel them to seek security through terrorism.

 When questioned what these nations are deterring the United States from doing, it is grudgingly admitted that while the United States is deterring these terrorists from attacking their neighbors, it is somehow bad form for the United States to deny these nations an unfettered ability to coerce, blackmail or otherwise attack their neighbors, whether the threatened nation is Taiwan, South Korea or Israel.

Given the attacks against the United States by terrorist organizations since at least the takeover of our embassy in Tehran in 1979, the U.S. has faced the problem of these same states and their allied terrorist organizations attacking the U.S. and its interests without warning and with weapons of greater and greater destructive capability. It was one thing to deter the former Soviet Union from invading Western Europe; we could count the Russian units-whether tanks, missiles, or airplanes. We could keep track of Soviet nuclear weapons deployments through satellites, which we could count to ensure compliance with SALT or START.

But following the collapse of the Soviet Union, verifying the new types of threats against the U.S. became far more difficult. Weapons deployments such as missiles did not go through an extensive and visible testing regime that would have given us fair warning of possible future deployments. The Gulf War of 1991 also contained a lesson as Iraq proceeded to bury their key military and command assets deeper and deeper under tons of steel and concrete.

During the 1993-2001 period, the Clinton Administration sought to contain these growing threats through the traditional arms control regimes such as the NPT, the CTBT, the MCTR, in addition to a carrots and carrots diplomacy that "pretended" to curtail weapons programs in North Korea, for example, through food and energy deals that left the business unfinished of how exactly the North Korean nuclear program would be eliminated. The IAEA, for example, would have had to engage in some 4 years of full inspections prior to being able to give the North Koreans a clean bill of health, inspections that would have required the full cooperation of the regime in Pyongyang, which of course was never forthcoming.

Three recent books-Dick Morris's Off With Their Heads, Gerald Posner's Why America Slept and Richard Minister's Losing Bin Laden-all fully document the flawed Clinton Administration policy of relying on traditional and admittedly flimsy arms control deals-"peace through paper"-to deal with the growing threats from rogue states and terrorist webs. The shrill criticisms from the supporters of such a policy now echo in our nation's newspapers and electronic media, not because the exact nature of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has any bearing on whether they would or would not support using military force to further "regime change" but because they are imprisoned in an utopian fantasy that terrorists can be persuaded to change their evil ways with only nice-nice blather, what Tony Snow describes as international séances by candlelight. 


Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a Maryland defense consulting firm. He is Senior Defense Associate at NDUF. He specializes in nuclear weapons, missile defense, terrorism and rogue states. These views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his affiliated organizations.