Trump’s Dangerous and Cynical Attack on Syria

Let’s not pretend that Thursday night’s U.S. missile strike on Syria’s Al Shayrat air base has anything to do with concern for the civilian victims of the regime’s apparent April 3 chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Answering Obama’s UN Address

During the Bush administration, I wrote more than a dozen annotated critiques of presidential speeches. I have refrained from doing so under President Barack Obama, however, because – despite a number of disappointments with his administration’s policies — I found his speeches to be relatively reasonable. Although his September 21 address before the UN General Assembly contained a number of positive elements, in many ways it also contained many of the same kind of duplicitous and misleading statements one would have expected from his predecessor.

Below are some excerpts, followed by my comments.

“War and conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilizations. But…the advance of modern weaponry [has] led to death on a staggering scale.”

Very true. Too bad the United States remains the world’s number-one exporter of weapons, ordnance, and delivery systems in the world, most of which are provided to autocratic regimes and other governments which have used these weapons against civilian populations. For example, after more than 800 civilians were killed by U.S.-armed Israeli forces in a three-week assault on crowded civilian neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip in early 2009, the Obama administration rebuffed calls by Amnesty International for an international arms embargo on both the Israeli government and Hamas by actually increasing unconditional military aid to Israel.

“At the end of this year, America’s military operation in Iraq will be over. We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations. That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq — for its government and for its security forces, for its people and for their aspirations.”

The repressive and autocratic Iraqi regime, dominated by sectarian Shi’ite political parties, will continue to be largely dependent on the United States, which maintains a sprawling embassy complex with thousands of employees in the heart of the Iraqi capital. The United States will continue to employ and direct tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries and others throughout the country even after the formal withdrawal of U.S. troops. This hardly constitutes an “equal partnership.”

“One year ago, when we met here in New York, the prospect of a successful referendum in South Sudan was in doubt. But the international community overcame old divisions to support the agreement that had been negotiated to give South Sudan self-determination. And last summer, as a new flag went up in Juba, former soldiers laid down their arms, men and women wept with joy, and children finally knew the promise of looking to a future that they will shape.”

The successful referendum leading to the independence of South Sudan is indeed an impressive and positive achievement. By contrast, the United States (along with France) has blocked the UN from enforcing a series of Security Council resolutions calling for a referendum by the people of Western Sahara for self-determination, illegally occupied by Morocco since its 1975 invasion. This double standard is particularly striking given that the new nation of South Sudan emerged from what was universally recognized as Sudanese territory, whereas the UN recognizes Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory.

The Arab Spring

“One year ago, the hopes of the people of Tunisia were suppressed. But they chose the dignity of peaceful protest over the rule of an iron fist. A vendor lit a spark that took his own life, but he ignited a movement. In a face of a crackdown, students spelled out the word “freedom.” The balance of fear shifted from the ruler to those that he ruled. And now the people of Tunisia are preparing for elections that will move them one step closer to the democracy that they deserve.”

It’s easy to praise a pro-democracy uprising after it has overthrown a dictator, but it should be remembered that the Obama administration was a strong supporter of the autocratic regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali almost to the very end. As the popular, largely nonviolent civil insurrection commenced in December, Congress approved an administration request for $12 million in security assistance to Tunisia, one of only five foreign governments provided direct taxpayer-funded military aid in the appropriations bill. As protests increased in January and the Tunisian regime gunned down pro-democracy protesters, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her concern over the impact of the “unrest and instability” on the “very positive aspects of our relationship with Tunisia” and insisted that the United States was “not taking sides.”

“One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years. But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights. We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.”

Lauding the “moral force of non-violence” in the cause of freedom is significant, particularly coming from the president of a country that Martin Luther King – who led the Selma protests to which Obama referred – identified as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” Indeed, it is significant that a U.S. president would acknowledge the power of strategic nonviolent action, which has for so long been ignored in Washington and serves as a refreshing contrast to the previous administration, which argued that democracy could only be advanced in the Middle East through U.S.-led invasions.

However, it’s important to remember that just one month prior to the Egyptian revolution, Obama and the then-Democratic Congress approved an additional $1.3 billion in security assistance to help prop up Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime. Just days before the dictator’s ouster, Secretary of State Clinton insisted that “the country was stable” and that the Mubarak government was “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” despite the miserable failure of the regime to do so for nearly 30 years in power. Asked whether the United States still supported Mubarak, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Egypt remains a “close and important ally.” As during the Tunisian protests, the Obama administration tried to equate the scattered violence of some pro-democracy protesters with the far greater violence of the dictatorship’s security forces, with Gibbs saying, “We continue to believe first and foremost that all of the parties should refrain from violence.”

In an interview with the BBC
in 2009 just prior to Obama’s visit to Egypt, Justin Webb asked the president, “Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?” Obama’s reply was “No,” insisting that, “I tend not to use labels for folks.” Obama also refused to acknowledge Mubarak’s authoritarianism on the grounds that, “I haven’t met him,” as if the question was in regard to the Egyptian dictator’s personality rather than his well-documented intolerance of dissent. Referring to Mubarak as “a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States,” Obama went on to insist that, “I think he has been a force for stability and good in the region.”When the BBC’s Webb asked Obama how he planned to address the issue of the “thousands of political prisoners in Egypt,” he replied that the United States should not try to impose its human rights values on other countries.

“The measure of our success must be whether people can live in sustained freedom, dignity, and security. And the United Nations and its member states must do their part to support those basic aspirations. And we have more work to do.”

If President Obama really believes this, it makes it difficult to explain why he plans to veto a UN Security Council resolution recognizing the “basic aspirations” of the Palestinians for national self-determination.

“Already, the United States has imposed strong sanctions on Syria’s leaders. We supported a transfer of power that is responsive to the Syrian people. And many of our allies have joined in this effort. But for the sake of Syria — and the peace and security of the world — we must speak with one voice. There’s no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.”

International sanctions against the Syrian dictatorship are indeed appropriate, and Obama is correct in calling for the Security Council to act. Unfortunately, the United States has little credibility in this regard, given its long history of blocking the UN from enforcing sanctions against allied regimes – including Indonesia (during its occupation of East Timor) and South Africa (when the then-apartheid regime was occupying Namibia) – and other countries that have, like the Syrian regime, massacred thousands of unarmed opponents.

“Throughout the region, we will have to respond to the calls for change. In Yemen, men, women, and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system. America supports those aspirations. We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.”

This is a welcome change from Obama’s previous support for the Saleh regime. Indeed, in his first two years of office, U.S. security assistance to the Saleh dictatorship increased five-fold from the Bush administration. Despite suspending U.S. support to the dictator’s repressive security forces, however, Obama has refused to call for international sanctions, as he has with Syria.

“In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability. We’re pleased with that, but more is required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. We believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart. It will be hard, but it is possible.”

It has been Bahrain’s government, controlled by the Sunni minority, not the pro-democracy opposition, which has been playing the sectarian card. And some key members of Obama’s own administration, such as special advisor Dennis Ross, have disingenuously exaggerated Iranian support for the mostly (though not exclusively) Shi’a pro-democracy opposition movement.

Unfortunately, rather than advocating sanctions, as the president has done with Syria, the U.S. Defense Department announced just a week before Obama’s speech a proposed sale of $53 million of weapons and related equipment to Bahrain’s repressive sectarian regime. According to Maria McFarland, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, “This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics. It will be hard for people to take U.S. statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons.”

“We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically. But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this Assembly. Those rights depend on elections that are free and fair; on governance that is transparent and accountable; respect for the rights of women and minorities; justice that is equal and fair. That is what our people deserve. Those are the elements of peace that can last.”

The nature of such universal rights is indeed in their universality. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to have embraced the same double standards of previous administrations in supporting human rights based more on a given government’s relationship with the United States than its actual human rights record.

“Moreover, the United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy — with greater trade and investment — so that freedom is followed by opportunity.”

Unfortunately, increased U.S. trade and investment has frequently taken place under a neo-liberal model that has actually lessened opportunities for small indigenous entrepreneurs and has harmed sustainable development practices. The result has been increased inequality and the enrichment of undemocratic elites at the expense of the poor majority.

“We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press.”

Here and at a number of other points in his speech, Obama – to his credit – has emphasized the agency of ordinary people rather focusing exclusively on the role of states and international organizations. At the same time, his administration’s continued support for autocratic regimes and occupation armies that suppress civil society raises serious questions regarding his commitment.

“We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country. And we’ve sanctioned those who trample on human rights abroad. And we will always serve as a voice for those who’ve been silenced.”

The United States has taken such actions only with human rights abusers from countries that don’t support U.S. policy. The Obama administration has been far more tolerant of human rights abusers from countries with which the United States is allied.

Palestinian Statehood and Middle East Peace

“One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences… It’s well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.”

Obama’s stated support for the establishment of a Palestinian state based roughly on Israel’s pre-1967 borders is far more explicit than that of any previous president, subjecting him to harsh criticism from both Republicans as well as a number of Congressional Democrats. However, given that the Palestine Authority has already “provided assurances” for Israel’s security by agreeing to, as part of a final peace settlement, an internationally supervised disarming of any and all irregular militias, a demilitarization of their state, and the banning of hostile forces from their territories, only to be met by Netanyahu’s continued refusal to withdraw from the occupied territories, it raises questions as to why Obama implied that both sides needed to “bridge their differences.”

“Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”

The main reason that UN resolutions have failed to resolve the conflict is that the United States has vetoed no less than 42 otherwise unanimous Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to live up to its international legal obligations and has blocked the enforcement of scores of other Security Council resolutions Washington allowed to pass.

“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.”

The UN Charter and international law has always put the impetus on the occupying power, not the country under occupation, in reaching an agreement on issues that divide them. UN Security Council resolution 242, long considered the basis of a peace settlement and cited in a number of subsequent resolutions, reiterates the illegality of any nation expanding its territory by force, yet Obama now insists that the two sides must “reach agreement” on that question. Similarly, UN Security Council resolutions 252, 267, 271, 298, 476, and 478 – passed without U.S. objections during both Democratic and Republican administrations – specifically call on Israel to rescind its annexation of Jerusalem and other efforts to alter the city’s legal status. Yet Obama also now insists that occupied East Jerusalem be subjected to an “agreement” between the occupying power and those under occupation.

“Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied. …And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties.”

Obama puts forward this false symmetry between Israel – by far the strongest military power in the region – and the weak Palestinian Authority, which governs only a tiny series of West Bank enclaves surrounded by Israeli occupation forces. The United States rejected calls for negotiations by Iraq when it occupied Kuwait and never insisted that Kuwaiti statehood could only be reclaimed through “negotiations between the parties.”

“We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.”

In reality, the United States long opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state and did not formally endorse the idea until as recently as 2003. As far back as 1976, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 22 percent of Palestine under Israeli occupation, which included strict security guarantees for Israel. Now Obama is preparing yet another veto to block Palestinian national aspirations.

“But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day…. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth.”

Israel would be far more secure behind internationally recognized and guaranteed borders than an archipelago of illegal settlements and military outposts amid a hostile population. The Palestinian Authority, backed by the entire Arab League, has already pledged security guarantees for, and full diplomatic relations with, Israel in return for its withdrawal from the occupied territories. If the United States really cares about Israeli security, it would force Israel’s right-wing government to accept the reasonable proposals of “land for peace.”

“Each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes. That’s what we should be encouraging. That’s what we should be promoting.”

The legitimate aspirations – for peace, security, and national self-determination – for both Israelis and Palestinians cannot be denied, and Obama is one of the first American presidents to even acknowledge that the Palestinians, and not just the Israelis, have such legitimate aspirations. Indeed, his potential Republican rivals in next year’s presidential election have attacked him for such even-handedness.

However, even if one agrees that both peoples indeed have equal rights to such aspirations, the fact remains that Palestine remains occupied and Israel is the occupier. The Palestine Authority is only asking for 22 percent of historic Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), but the Israelis are insisting that that is too much. The right-wing Israeli government—backed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress—insists on annexing much of the West Bank in a manner that would leave a Palestinian “state” with only a series of tiny, non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel, much like the infamous Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. Obama, then, is putting forward a false symmetry in regard to a very asymmetrical power relationship.

“This body — founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide, dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every single person — must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity. And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.”

Unfortunately, in the more than 20 years since Palestinians and Israelis sat down and started listening to each other in negotiations, Israel has more than doubled the number of colonists in the occupied Palestinian territories in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a series of UN Security Council resolutions, and a landmark 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, all of which call on Israel to unconditionally withdraw from these settlements. The United States has pledged to veto any sanctions or other proposed actions by the United Nations to force Israel to live up to its international legal obligations.

Israel is also violating provisions of the Road Map, the Tenet Plan, the Mitchell Plan, and various other interim peace agreements that call for a freeze in additional settlements. Israel is continuing to expand these illegal settlements despite repeated objections from Washington, but Obama has steadfastly refused to condition any of the billions of dollars of U.S. aid to the rightist Israeli government to encourage them to stop. Given that Netanyahu has pledged to continue building these settlements on the very land the Palestinians need to establish a viable state regardless of negotiations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not surprisingly come to the conclusion that continued talks are pointless.

Obama’s insistence that the UN not recognize a Palestinian state without Israel’s agreement despite its recognition by more than 130 countries also reveals a double standard, given that the United States supported Israel’s application for membership in the UN back in 1948 without demanding that it first sit down with the Palestinians and negotiate borders and other issues. More recently, the United States did not demand that Kosovo negotiate an agreement with the Serbs regarding its independence and has supported its membership in the UN, even though legally Kosovo is a province of Serbia, whereas the UN recognizes the West Bank as a territory under foreign belligerent occupation.

Nuclear Weapons

“America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons and the production of fissile material needed to make them.”

This statement is ironic, given that the United States is one of only a handful of countries that has yet to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was originally adopted more than 15 years ago.

“And so we have begun to move in the right direction [on nuclear proliferation]. And the United States is committed to meeting our obligations. But even as we meet our obligations, we’ve strengthened the treaties and institutions that help stop the spread of these weapons.”

This is hardly the case. For example, as part of a 2006 nuclear cooperation agreement with India – one of only three states to refuse to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) – a bipartisan majority of Congress voted to amend the U.S. Non-Proliferation Act of 2000, which had banned the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to any country that refuses to accept international monitoring of its nuclear facilities. The U.S.-Indian agreement also contravened the rules of the 40-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which had controlled the export of nuclear technology and to which the United States is a signatory. This agreement was itself a violation of the NPT, which had called on existing nuclear powers not to transfer nuclear know-how to non-signatory countries. So Obama is not being honest in claiming that the United States is committed to meeting its obligations or strengthening treaties and institutions to prevent further nuclear proliferation.

“We must continue to hold accountable those nations that flout [non-proliferation treaties and obligations].The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful. It has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power. North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the South. There’s a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations. But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation. That is what our commitment to peace and security demands.”

The United States hardly believes that countries that refuse to meet their international legal obligations regarding nuclear non-proliferation should be “met with greater pressure and obligations.” In addition to its nuclear cooperation treaty with India, the United States has blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing resolution 1172, which calls on India and Pakistan to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and from enforcing resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Commission. The United States has also provided all three countries with nuclear-capable fighter aircraft. This comes despite the fact that although Iran merely “cannot demonstrate that its [nuclear] program is peaceful,” India, Pakistan, and Israel actually possess dangerous nuclear arsenals and sophisticated delivery systems. In Obama’s worldview, enforcement of international legal obligations regarding nuclear non-proliferation should not be universally enforced but instead only applied to governments the United States doesn’t like.

International Norms and Cooperation

“To combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right.”

Ironically, the United States is the only country other than the failed state of Somalia that has refused to ratify the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, designed to protect the economic, social, and cultural rights of children.

“To preserve our planet, we must not put off action that climate change demands. We have to tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce. And together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made.”

This is disingenuous in the extreme. The United States has joined China as the primary roadblock to meaningful action on the most serious threat to the planet today. Indeed, the United States is the only one of the 191 countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol to have failed to ratify it. In addition, according to The Guardian, following the 2009 Copenhagen summit ending with only a non-binding statement by the United States and four other countries, “The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama.” Regarding the subsequent Cancun summit in 2010, John Prescott, former British deputy prime minister and subsequently the Council of Europe’s climate change rapporteur, noted how the United Stated “shared the blame” along with China “for the lack of a legally-binding deal.”

“And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs. No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer.”

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq are ranked by Transparency international as among the four most corrupt on the planet. Not only have thousands of Americans lost their lives and hundreds of billions of U.S. tax dollars been squandered supporting these regimes, they are totally dependent on the United States to stay in power. Given such leverage, it raises the question of whether the Obama administration is at all serious about fighting corruption.

“No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

Obama is the first president to so explicitly defend the rights of sexual minorities before the UN, and this is indeed positive. Unfortunately, the United States continues its close economic and strategic cooperation – including large-scale police and security assistance – with Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and (until recently) Yemen, in which homosexuality is grounds for execution, as well as Pakistan and other countries, where gays and lesbians can be sentenced to life in prison. It’s questionable as to whether the Obama administration would maintain such close strategic relationships with countries that treated religious or ethnic minorities similarly.

“And no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs. This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down the economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. This is what our commitment to human progress demands.”

Also that week, close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia sentenced a woman to a public lashing for driving a car. Indeed, despite Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan remaining perhaps the most misogynist regimes on the planet, the Obama administration apparently has few qualms about close strategic cooperation with their security forces, which enforce such sexist laws.

“Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears. Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.”

One reason peace is so hard to attain is that the United States remains the world’s number one exporter of arms, has vetoed more UN Security Council resolutions over the past 40 years than all other member states combined, has a military budget nearly as large as all the other nations in the world put together, and maintains military forces in over half the countries of the world. Until there is a change in the Obama administration’s policies, the president has little credibility in preaching to the world about the importance of “peace.”

El-Baradei and the IAEA’s Nobel Peace Prize a Mixed Blessing

My reaction to the awarding this past weekend of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director Mohammed El-Baradei was similar to my reaction to the awarding of the 2002 prize to former President Jimmy Carter: while they have pursued a number of policies contrary to the spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize, they have also done much to make the world a safer place.

On the one hand, the IAEA has helped to promote nuclear energy, an extremely dangerous, expensive, and unnecessary means of electrical generation, and has been accused of downplaying the serious health and environmental impact of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and essentially being a shill of the nuclear energy.

On the other hand, the IAEA and Dr. El-Baradei have, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, exemplified the principle that the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation “must be met through the broadest possible international cooperation.” 1 Indeed, the choice of the Norwegian Nobel Committee—like their choice three years earlier—was at least in part meant to challenge the dangerous unilateral policies of the Bush administration.

The Bush administration, backed by a large bipartisan majority of Congress, has long opposed the principle that nuclear non-proliferation should be monitored and enforced by a law-based international body but should instead be at the whim of the U.S. government. The Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties have rejected calls by El-Baradei and others for a nuclear weapons-free zone for Southwest Asia and the Middle East, with the United States blocking a December 2003 UN Security Council resolution to that effect with a threatened veto. Both Republicans and Democrats have asserted that the United States gets to determine which governments can have nuclear weapons and which governments cannot. For example, the United States has blocked enforcement of UN Security Council resolution 478 calling on Israel to place its nuclear program under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency and resolution 1172 calling on Pakistan and India to eliminate their nuclear weapons program while insisting on going to war to enforce resolutions addressing Iraq’s nuclear program (even though Iraq, at the time of the March 2003 U.S. invasion, was already in full compliance).

IAEA Under Fire

Given that the IAEA—as part of the United Nations system—represents such universality, it has been a target of unremitting hostility by the Bush administration and its congressional allies, particularly in regard to Iraq. With President George W. Bush going as far as to claim that the IAEA’s rigorous inspection regime in Iraq was tantamount to “doing nothing,” 2 the Nobel Committee’s finding that its work was “incalculably” important 3 is significant.

While UNSCOM inspectors in charge of locating and destroying Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs were periodically subjected to harassment and evasive actions by the Iraqi government prior to their withdrawal in December 1998, the IAEA had largely been able to engage in rigorous inspections without interference, visiting more than one thousand sites, virtually all without prior notification. Their conclusion, described in a detailed report published that month, was that it appeared that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled. 4

With the strict sanctions against the import of nuclear-related materials—which had held firm since it was first imposed in August of 1990—thereby denying Iraq any access to the necessary materials from France, Russia, and other countries which had made its former nuclear program possible, combined with no evidence from extensive U.S. spy satellites and other surveillance of any nuclear activity, it was no surprise that the 2001 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate unanimously confirmed the IAEA’s assessment that Iraq’s nuclear program had not been resumed.

Iraq, IAEA, and Inspections

Despite this, in an effort to frighten the American public into supporting an invasion and occupation of that oil-rich country, the administration repeatedly claimed in the year leading up to the March 2003 invasion that Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program. They were joined in their fear-mongering by leading Democrats, including John Kerry, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jay Rockefeller, and Harry Reid.

Some supporters of the U.S. invasion of Iraq even went as far as to claim that Iraq had already developed nuclear weapons. Vice President Cheney insisted that “We know [Saddam Hussein has] been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” 5 Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington insisted that the “unique threat” posed by Iraq “will grow increasingly more dangerous as Saddam Hussein increases his … nuclear stockpile.” 6

When IAEA inspections resumed at the end of 2002, Dr. El-Baradei confirmed his assessments. In January 2003, the distinguished Egyptian lawyer reported to the UN Security Council that two months of inspections in Iraq had resulted in absolutely no evidence of prohibited nuclear activities, confirmed by what he referred to as “useful” interviews with Iraqi nuclear scientists. Regarding the aluminum tubes which U.S. officials had claimed were specifically designed for nuclear weapons development, the IAEA director noted that they, “unless modified, would not be suitable for manufacturing centrifuges.” 7

On March 7, in his final report to the Security Council before his inspectors were removed from Iraq in anticipation of the U.S. invasion, he concluded that “the IAEA had found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.” 8 He also reiterated that documents cited by the Bush administration that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger were forged.

In short, in order to frighten the American people into supporting an invasion and occupation of Iraq , the Bush administration and its Congressional supporters were required to ignore or discredit El-Baradei and the IAEA. For example, Vice President Cheney insisted in a nationally-televised interview that “Mr. El-Baradei is frankly wrong.” The vice president then falsely claimed that the IAEA had “consistently underestimated or missed what it was that Saddam Hussein was doing” and insisted that there was no validity to the IAEA’s assessments. 9

In response, the Bush administration launched a concerted effort to deny El-Baradei a third term as IAEA chairman, falsely accusing him of all sorts of fanciful misdeeds, such as covering up for Iranian purchases of beryllium that the Iranian government never succeeded in procuring. As part of its campaign against the IAEA chief, the Bush administration had El-Baradei’s phone wiretapped in an unsuccessful effort to find information to discredit him. The Washington Post reported that “The plan is to keep the spotlight on El-Baradei and raise the heat.” 10 In reality, rather than being soft on Iran and other potential developers of nuclear weapons, the Iranian regime—along with the governments of Pakistan, South Korea, and Brazil (also targets of IAEA investigations)—supported removing El-Baradei for being too tough.

Hostility from the Bush administration and Capitol Hill toward El-Baradei and the IAEA has not been focused solely in regard to Iraq . It has also focused on the agency’s demands that Israel cooperate with the effort to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons as well as its findings that Iran’s nuclear program is not as extensive or dangerous as the United States claims.

Efforts to remove El-Baradei received very little support in the international community, however, even from the Bush administration’s British allies. And now, as a Nobel Prize recipient, U.S. efforts to discredit the IAEA and El-Baradei have become all the more difficult.

Unfortunately, there remains a strong bipartisan consensus in Washington that the United States has the right to determine which countries can develop nuclear weapons and which ones cannot, effectively imposing a kind of nuclear apartheid. Furthermore, both Republicans and Democrats insist that the United States has the authority to determine compliance with the non-proliferation agreements and how such agreements are enforced. According to this view, the IAEA—and the United Nations as a whole—can be useful if its findings and policies support U.S. policy and can be ignored or rejected when they do not. Unless and until that changes, this noble effort by the Nobel committee in honoring El-Baradei and the IAEA will end up meaning very little.

End Notes

[1] Norwegian Nobel Committee, October 7, 2005.

[2] White House Press Office, “ President George Bush Discusses Iraq in National Press Conference,” March 6, 2003.

[3] Norwegian Nobel Committee, op. cit.

[4] International Atomic Energy Agency, Iraq Nuclear Verification Program, December 16, 1998.

[5] NBC, Meet the Press, March 16, 2003.

[6] Maria Cantwell, Remarks on the Senate floor, Congressional Record, Oct. 10, 2002.

[7] IAEA report to UN Security Council, January 27, 2003.

[8] IAEA report to UN Security Council, March 7, 2003.

[9] NBC, op. cit.

[10] Dafna Linzer, “IAEA Leader’s Phone Tapped: U.S. Pores Over Transcripts to Try to Oust Nuclear Chief,” Washington Post, December 12, 2004, p. A01 .

The Release of Mordechai Vanunu and U.S. Complicity in the Development of Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal

The recent release on April 22 of Mordechai Vanunu from an Israeli prison provides an opportunity to challenge the U.S. policy of supporting Israel ’s development of nuclear weapons while threatening war against other Middle Eastern states for simply having the potential for developing such weaponry.

Vanunu, a nuclear technician at Israel ’s Dimona nuclear plant, passed along photographs he had taken inside the plant to the Sunday Times of London in 1986. His evidence demonstrated that Israel had developed up to two hundred nuclear weapons of a highly advanced design, making it the world’s sixth-largest nuclear power. For his efforts, agents from the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, kidnapped him from Rome and brought him to Israel1 to stand before a secret tribunal that convicted him on charges of espionage and treason and sentenced him to eighteen years in prison under solitary confinement.

Though labeled a spy and a traitor, he was in fact simply a whistle-blower who became “a martyr to the causes of press freedom and nuclear de-escalation.”2 He never received any money for this act of conscience, which he took upon recognizing that Israel ’s nuclear program went well beyond its need for a deterrent and was likely offensive in nature. A former strategic analyst at the Rand Corporation observed that Vanunu’s revelations about Israel ’s nuclear program demonstrated that: “Its scale and nature was clearly designed for threatening and if necessary launching first-use of nuclear weapons against conventional forces.”3 Prior to Vanunu’s revelations, many suspected that Israel ’s nuclear program was limited to tactical nuclear artillery and naval shells.

Israel is one of just four countries–the others being Pakistan, India, and Cuba–that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. UN Security Council resolution 1172 urges all countries to become parties of the treaty.4

It is noteworthy that Israel finds whistle-blowing more threatening than actual spying. None of the half dozen spies convicted in Israel for nuclear espionage served as much time in prison as has Vanunu.5

Vanunu, who has been referred to by Daniel Ellsberg a s “the preeminent hero of the nuclear era,”6 has been awarded the Sean McBride Peace prize, the Right Livelihood Award, and an honorary doctorate from a Norwegian university. He has also been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The European parliament, former President Jimmy Carter, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the Federation of American Scientists, and many other prominent individuals and organizations have long called for Vanunu’s release. By contrast, with few notable exceptions–such as the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota –there has been virtually no support in Congress. The four administrations in office during Vanunu’s confinement have been even less supportive. For example, in response to an inquiry by Tom Campbell, the former Republican Congressman from California , Clinton ’s assistant secretary of State Barbara Larkin claime d that Vanunu had had a fair trial and was doing well in prison.7

This lack of U.S. support for Vanunu is just one part of the longstanding U.S. acquiescence of Israel ’s nuclear program.

Israel has long stated that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, which is a rather disingenuous commitment given that U.S. planes and warships have been bringing nuclear weapons into the region since the 1950s. Israel is generally believed to have become a nuclear power by 1969. The newly elected President Richard Nixon and his chief foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger privately endorsed Israel ’s program that year. They quickly ended the regular U.S. inspections of Israel ’s Dimona nuclear center. This was of little consequence, however, since these “inspections” were pro forma and not taken seriously. (President Lyndon Johnson demonstrated his lack of concern over the prospects of Israel becoming a nuclear power by rejecting calls that one of the early major weapons sales to Israel be conditioned on Israel signing the NPT.) The Nixon administration went to great lengths to keep nuclear issues out of any talks on the Middle East . Information on Israeli nuclear capabilities was routinely suppressed. The United States even supplied Israel with krytrons (nuclear triggers) and supercomputers that were bound for the Israeli nuclear program.8

Under the Carter administration, which took the threat of nuclear proliferation somewhat more seriously than other administrations, the issue of Israel ’s development of nuclear weaponry was not raised publicly. When satellite footage of an aborted nuclear test in South Africa ’s Kalahari Desert gave evidence of a large-scale presence of Israeli personnel at the test site, the Carter administration kept it quiet.9 Two years later, when a U.S. satellite detected a successful joint Israeli-South African atomic bomb test in the Indian Ocean , the Carter administration rushed to squelch initial media reports. According to Joseph Nye, then-Deputy Under Secretary of State, the Carter administration considered the Israel ’s nuclear weapons program a low priority.10

Top officials in the Reagan administration made a conscious effort to keep information on Israel ’s nuclear capability from State Department officials and others who might have concerns over nuclear proliferation issues.11 The senior Bush administration sold at least 1,500 nuclear “dual-use” items to Israel , according to a report by the General Accounting Office, despite requirements under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that the existing nuclear powers like the United States not help another country’s nuclear weapons program “in any way.”12

The Israeli media reported that President Clinton wrote rightist Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in 1998 pledging that the United States would continue to protect Israel ’s nuclear program from international pressure. According to Haaretz, “the United States will preserve Israel ’s strategic deterrence capabilities and ensure that Middle East arms control initiatives will not damage it in the future. The Clinton letter provides written–if secret–backup to the long-standing agreement between Jerusalem and Washington over the preservation of Israel’s nuclear capabilities if Israel maintains its policy of ‘ambiguity’ and does not announce publicly that it has the bomb.”13

Meanwhile, Congress has for many years made it clear to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other responsible parties that it did not want to have anything revealed in an open hearing related to Israel ’s nuclear capability. A major reason is that there are a number of laws that severely restrict U.S. military and technical assistance to countries that develop nuclear weapons. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. arms exports, which are highly profitable for the politically influential arms industry.

Outside of Washington , top Israeli nuclear scientists have had open access to American institutions and many leading American nuclear scientists had extended visits with their counterparts in Israel , in what has been called “informational promiscuity” in the seepage of nuclear intelligence.14

In addition, given the enormous costs of any nuclear program of such magnitude, it would have been very difficult for Israel to develop such a large and advanced arsenal without the tens of billions of dollars in unrestricted American financial support. More than simply employing a double standard of threatening perceived enemies for developing nuclear weapons while tolerating development of such weapons by its allies, the United States has, in effect, subsidized nuclear proliferation in the Middle East .

In order to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq , President George W. Bush, Senator John Kerry, and others argued that Iraq had an ongoing nuclear weapons program in violation of UN Security Council resolution 687. (In reality, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency had determined in 1998 that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled and IAEA inspections in the months immediately prior to the U.S. invasion and exhaustive searches by U.S. forces subsequently have confirmed that assessment.) What both Republican and Democratic leaders have failed to observe, however, is that Israel remains in violation of UN Security Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its facilities at Dimona under IAEA trusteeship. Despite bipartisan efforts in Congress to seek repeal of that resolution, it is still legally binding. Bush and Kerry, however, believe that UN Security Council resolutions, like nuclear non-proliferation, do not apply to U.S. allies.

Within Israel , however, there was much debate among Israeli elites regarding the wisdom of developing nuclear weapons. Some Israeli leaders–ranging from former Labor Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Yigal Allon to former Likud Defense Minister Raful Eitan–argued that a nuclear Israel would increase the possibility of Arab states developing weapons of mass destruction and launching a first strike against Israel .15 Give the country’s small size, Israel might not have a credible second-strike capability. There is also the fact that most of Israel ’s potential nuclear targets are close enough so that a shift in wind could potentially send a radioactive cloud over Israel .

Furthermore, while one could make a case for an Israeli nuclear deterrent up through the mid-1970s, Israel’s qualitative advantage in conventional forces relative to any combination of Arab states developed subsequently–resulting in large part from a prodigious amount of taxpayer-funded arms transfers from the United States–would appear to weaken the case for a nuclear weapons development. Furthermore, Israel has an extensive biological and chemical weapons program that far surpasses those of any potential hostile power and–combined with vastly superior delivery systems–would constitute a more-than-adequate deterrent.

Vanunu was forced to remain in solitary confinement until 1998, when ongoing pressure from human rights groups forced the Israelis to end his segregation, though he was still not allowed to talk with fellow prisoners. Amnesty International, for example, observed that the prolonged isolation of Vanunu constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and violated international human rights law.16 The eleven and a half years in solitary confinement has reportedly taken a psychological toll, raising concerns that he may not be a credible voice in the cause of nuclear non-proliferation upon his release.

It appears, however, that Israel ’s U.S.-backed rightist government may not give him a chance. On March 9, Israeli Attorney General Mordechai Mazuz said that Vanunu’s release from prison “will create a significant danger to state security” and that there will likely be major restrictions placed upon his movements and what he can say without the risk of returning to prison.17 Though the Moroccan-born Vanunu had decided to leave Israel prior to his 1986 kidnapping, he had converted to Christianity during an extended stay in Australia the previous year, and has stated that he would like to emigrate to the United States , the Israeli government will reportedly bar him from leaving the country.18

Like Israel , the United States has acknowledged its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear adversaries. And, like in Israel , there is an obsession with secrecy that allows the government to get away with dangerous and destabilizing nuclear policies that risk a nuclear catastrophe. It is not surprising, then, that the United States has failed to challenge the Israeli government’s policy toward this courageous nuclear whistle-blower.

As Ellsberg has observed, “The cult and culture of secrecy in every nuclear weapons state has endangered and continues to threaten the survival of humanity. Vanunu’s challenge to that wrongful and dangerous secrecy must be joined worldwide.” 19

End Notes

[1] The woman who lured Vanunu was an American working for the Mossad.

[2] The Sunday Times, December 27, 1992.

[3] Daniel Ellsberg, “ Mordechai Vanunu’s Meaning for the Nuclear Age,” Blaetter fuer deutsche und internationale Politik, April 2004.

[4] UN Security Council Resolution 1172 (1998), article 13.

[5] P. R. Kumaraswarmy, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 1999.

[6] Ellsberg, op. cit.


[8] Seymour Hersch, The Sampson Option, New York: Random House, 1991, p. 209-214.

[9] Ibid., p. 268.

[10] Cited in Ibid., p. 283.

[11] Ibid., p. 291.

[12] Jane Hunter, “A Nuclear Affair,” Middle East International, 24 June 1994, pp. 12-13.

[13] Aluf Benn, “A President’s Promise: Israel Can Keep its Nukes,” Ha’aretz, May 14, 2000.

[14] Helena Cobban, “ Israel’s Nuclear Game: The U.S. Stake,” World Policy Journal, Summer 1988, pp. 427-428.

[15] David Twersky, “Is Silence Golden? Vanunu and Nuclear Israel,” Tikkun, (Vol 3, No. 1).

[16] Amnesty International, October 1991.

[17] Gideon Alon, “AG Mazuz: Vanunu significant danger to state security.” Ha’aretz, March 9, 2004 .

[18] Yossi Melman, “Security sources: Vanunu applied for passport,”Ha’aretz, March 10, 2004 .

[19] Ellsberg, op. cit.

The U.S. and Iran: Democracy, Terrorism, and Nuclear Weapons

[ & Foreign Policy In Focus, July 25, 2005; Download PDF] The election of the hard-line Tehran mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, over former President Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani as the new head of Iran is undeniably a setback for those hoping to advance greater social and political freedom in that country. It should not necessarily be seen as a turn to the right by the Iranian electorate, however. The 70-year old Rafsanjani—a cleric and penultimate wheeler-dealer from the political establishment—was portrayed as the more moderate conservative. The fact that he had become a millionaire while in government was apparently seen as less important than his modest reform agenda. By contrast, the young Tehran mayor focused on the plight of the poor and cleaning up corruption. In Iran, real political power rests with unelected military, economic, and right-wing ideologues, and in the June 25 runoff election, Iranian voters were forced to choose between two flawed candidates. The relatively liberal contender came across as an out-of-touch elitist, and his ultraconservative opponent was able to assemble a coalition of rural, less-educated, and fundamentalist voters to conduct a pseudo-populist campaign based on promoting morality and value-centered leadership. Such a political climate should not be unfamiliar to American voters. [ & Foreign Policy In Focus, July 25, 2005; Download PDF]

Bush Administration Stokes Dangerous Arms Race on Indian Subcontinent

For more than two decades, arms control experts have argued that the most likely scenario for the hostile use of nuclear weapons was not between the former Cold War superpower rivals, an act of terrorism by an underground terrorist group, or the periodically threatened unilateral U.S. attack against a “rogue state,” but between India and Pakistan. These two South Asian rivals have fought each other in three major wars—in 1947, 1965, and 1971—and have engaged in frequent border clashes in recent years in the disputed Kashmir region, coming close to another all-out war as recently as 2002.

It is ironic, then, that President George W. Bush—who reiterated in the 2004 presidential campaign that his primary concern was the proliferation of nuclear materials—is actively pursuing policies which will likely increase the risk of a catastrophic nuclear confrontation on the Indian subcontinent.

The United States and India

On July 18, during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Bush announced his intention to provide India access to sensitive nuclear technology and sophisticated nuclear-capable weapons systems. The agreement does not require India to eliminate its nuclear weapons program or its ballistic missile systems, as called upon by a 1998 UN Security Council resolution, or even to cease production of weapons-grade plutonium which enables India to further expand its arsenal of more than three dozen nuclear warheads

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, called the agreement on the transfer of the dangerous technology “the high-water mark of U.S.-India relations” since the country’s independence from Great Britain in 1947. It is demonstrative of the Bush administration’s view of foreign relations that the transfer of such dangerous technology is seen as of greater positive significance than the critical agricultural assistance and food aid the United States provided India in the 1960s, which not only prevented an incipient famine of mass proportions but significantly boosted India’s long-term agricultural production, thereby saving untold millions of lives.

Former U.S. Senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, who helped oversee such foreign aid programs to India when he served as director of the Food for Peace program in the Kennedy administration, called Burns’ statement “a dangerous misunderstanding of how America can best utilize foreign aid in support of economic development and international security.”

In order for the proposed U.S.-Indian agreement to be implemented, the Bush administration will need Congress to amend the U.S. Non-Proliferation Act of 2000, which bans the transfers of sensitive nuclear technology to any country which refuses to accept international monitoring of its nuclear facilities. It will also mean contravening the rules of the 40-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which controls the export of nuclear technology and to which the United States is a signatory. It would also be a violation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which has been signed and ratified by the United States and calls upon existing nuclear powers to not transfer nuclear know-how to countries which have not signed the treaty.

This proposed agreement would actually endanger India’s security by encouraging a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons program that award-winning Indian novelist Arundhati Roy has referred to as “the final act of betrayal by a ruling class that has failed its people.”

The best-case scenario, in which U.S. nuclear assistance was somehow limited solely to peaceful uses, would still be bad for India. Even advanced industrialized countries have found nuclear power to be an extremely dangerous and expensive means to generate electricity. As evidenced by the 1984 accident at a Union Carbide chemical facility in the Indian city of Bhopal, which killed more than 20,000 people, there are serious questions regarding the ability of Indian authorities to adequately safeguard the public from industrial accidents.

India’s interests in procuring additional nuclear technology is ironic, moreover, given that the man who led the country’s freedom struggle from British colonialism, Mohandas Gandhi, was not only a pacifist and an opponent of the partition of his country between India and Pakistan, but also opposed centralized control of basic necessities like energy—whether it be by the state or private corporations. Were he alive today, Gandhi would not only be leading the struggle against the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement, he would be an outspoken advocate of small-scale, locally-controlled renewable energy and other appropriate technologies, such as solar power.

India ranks 118 th out of 164 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index, ranking below even the impoverished nations of Central America. More than 400 million Indians are illiterate, more than 600 million lack even basic sanitation and more than 200 million have no safe drinking water. Surely, if promoting “sustainable development” in India is really the goal, as President Bush claims, there are certainly better ways to do that than by building nuclear power plants.

The United States and Pakistan

The Bush administration’s announcement in March that it intends to sell sophisticated F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan similarly raises serious questions regarding its stated commitment to promote democracy, support non-proliferation, and fight terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Unlike India, which—despite its enormous social and economic inequality and ethnic diversity—has nurtured a longstanding democratic political system, Pakistan has primarily been ruled by a series of military dictatorships.

General Pervaz Musharraf, who overthrew Pakistan’s democratically-elected government in 1999, continues to suppress the established secular political parties while allowing for the development of Islamic political groups that show little regard for individual freedom. Despite this, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had little but kind words for the Musharraf dictatorship when she visited Pakistan in March during her “democracy promotion” world tour. While acknowledging that he has yet to restore constitutional governance, she praised his willingness to consider holding elections some time in 2007.

Under Musharraf’s rule, the Pakistani government’s funding for education has declined to become one of the lowest education budgets relative to GDP than any country on the globe, resulting in the collapse of what was once one of the developing world’s better public school systems. This lack of adequate public education has led to the rise of Saudi-funded Islamic schools, known as madrasahs, many of which have served as recruiting grounds for terrorists. The Congressional Research Service, in a report this past December, noted how—despite promises to the contrary—Musharraf has not cracked down on the more extremist madrasahs. Yet the Bush administration is only offering $67 million in foreign aid for Pakistani education—compared to $3 billion worth of weaponry.

An administration official has claimed that the U.S. fighter-bombers “are vital to Pakistan’s security as President Musharraf prosecutes the war on terror.” However, these jets were originally ordered fifteen years ago, long before the U.S.-led “war on terror” began. They were suspended by the administration of the current president’s father out of concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear program and the Pakistani military’s ties with Islamic terrorist groups. These concerns seem to bother the son not at all. Nor are such sophisticated aircraft particularly effective in attacking a decentralized network of underground terrorist cells located in remote tribal areas of that country, where small-unit counter-insurgency operations would be far more effective.

The other factor the administration and its supporters fail to mention is that, for more than a decade, Pakistan actively supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which provided sanctuary for the al-Qaida network. Osama bin Laden and his senior aides are widely believed to have been living in Pakistan for the past three and a half years.

One of the most disturbing aspects of U.S. support for the Pakistani regime is that Pakistan has been sharing its nuclear materials and know-how with North Korea and other so-called “rogue states.” The Bush administration has chosen to essentially ignore what has been called “the most extravagantly irresponsible nuclear arms bazaar the world has ever seen” and to instead blame others.

For example, even though it was actually Pakistanis who passed on nuclear materials to Libya, the Bush administration instead told U.S. allies that North Korea was responsible, thereby sabotaging negotiations which many had hoped could end North Korea’s nuclear program and resolve that festering crisis. Though it was Pakistan which provided Iran with nuclear centrifuges, the Bush administration is now citing Iran’s possession of such materials as justification for a possible U.S. military attack against that country.

The Bush administration, despite evidence to the contrary, claims that the Pakistani government was not responsible for exporting such dangerous materials, but that these serious breaches of security were solely the responsibility of a single rogue nuclear scientist name Abdul Qadeer Khan. Unfortunately, the Pakistani military regime has not allowed U.S. intelligence access to Khan, the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, who lives under government protection in Islamabad.

Encouraging a Regional Arms Race

The Bush administration has tried to assuage India’s concerns over the transfer of such military aircraft to Pakistan by promising that India too would be able to receive the nuclear-capable warplanes. It is not unreasonable to expect that, out of a similar interest in “balance,” the Bush administration may support the transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan as well. The result of such policies will almost certainly be a renewed and increasingly dangerous nuclear arms race.

Pakistan and India are among only a handful of states which have refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Though U.S. law had formerly prohibited U.S. arms transfers to these governments, President Bush—with bipartisan Congressional support—successfully had such restrictions overturned in 2001.

In 1998, the UN Security Council—with U.S. support—passed resolution 1172, which called on Pakistan and India to eliminate their nuclear weapons and their ballistic missiles. Among policymakers, however, this resolution seems to have been forgotten.

The Bush administration tried to justify its 2003 decision to invade Iraq on the grounds that the Iraqi government was flouting UN Security Council resolutions requiring the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, WMD programs, and offensive delivery systems. Although the Iraqi government had in fact already done so, and had even allowed UN inspectors unfettered access to verify that it had disarmed as required, the United States proceeded with an invasion to deal with this supposed “threat.”

By contrast, Pakistan and India—unlike Iraq in 2003—not only have active nuclear weapons programs; they have built, tested, and amassed a stockpile of nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable missiles. Pakistan and India, unlike Iraq in 2003, are in open defiance of the UN Security Council’s insistence that they disarm these weapons and delivery systems.

The Bush administration and Congressional leaders, however, appear to believe that nuclear proliferation and violations of UN Security Council resolutions only matter for governments that the U.S. government does not like.

For more than a decade, the U.S. government has forcefully challenged Russia not to provide nuclear technology to Iran, even though the Russian-Iranian nuclear agreements have had more stringent safeguards than the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement. Indeed, unlike India, there is no solid evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, much less nuclear weapons themselves.

Rather than get serious about discouraging proliferation, the Bush administration—with the support of a bipartisan majority in Congress—appears instead to insist upon a kind of nuclear apartheid, where the United States alone gets to decide who can have these dangerous weapons and who cannot.

Any arms control regime based upon such double standards, unilaterally imposed from the outside, is bound to lead to increased efforts by the have-nots to join the ranks of the already-haves. The best hope for genuine peace and security in the region would be a nuclear weapons-free zone for all of South and Southwest Asia, similar to those which already exist in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the South Pacific. Unfortunately, a proposed UN Security Council resolution in December 2003 calling for the establishment of such an additional nuclear-free zone was withdrawn after a threatened U.S. veto.

Maintaining such double standards regarding nuclear proliferation presents incalculable dangers to regional and global peace and security. They are also simply not worthy of a country which asserts the right to global leadership.

Undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—It Didn’t Start With the Bush Administration

Most of the international community and arms control advocates here in the United States have correctly blamed the Bush administration for the failure of the recently completed review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the course of the four-week meeting of representatives of the 188 countries which have signed and ratified the treaty, the United States refused to uphold its previous arms control pledges, blocked consideration of the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, refused to rule out U.S. nuclear attacks against non-nuclear states, and demanded that Iran and North Korea—but not U.S. allies like Israel, Pakistan, and India—be singled out for UN sanctions for their nuclear programs. Thomas Graham, who served as a U.S. envoy to disarmament talks in the Clinton administration noted that the Bush administration’s demands resulted in what appears to be “the most acute failure in the treaty’s history.”1

However, though the Bush administration may have brought U.S. non-proliferation policy to new lows, the seeds of this defeat were planted way back.

Non-proliferation: Some History

The 1954 Atomic Energy Act allowed the United States to engage in the widespread dissemination of nuclear reactors and fuel to other countries, with certain safeguards to supposedly prevent them from being used to make nuclear weapons. Largely a government subsidy for the nuclear power industry, the so-called Atoms for Peace program grossly overestimated the economic benefits of nuclear power and underestimated its environmental dangers as well as the risks of weapons proliferation. In subsequent decades, recipients of American nuclear technology included such nascent nuclear weapons states as Israel, Iran, India, and South Africa. By 1968, these risks were apparent enough that the international community attempted to create a nonproliferation regime through the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

While publicly endorsing the treaty, President Richard Nixon in fact undermined it with National Security Decision Memorandum No. 6, which stated that “there should be no efforts by the United States to pressure other nations … to follow suit. … The government, in its public posture, should reflect a tone of optimism that other countries will sign or ratify, while clearly disassociating itself [in private] from any plan to bring pressure on these countries to sign or ratify.”2

Though the Carter administration showed some initial signs of concern over the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the two Cold War arsenals, it took little concrete action. Under Carter, the U.S. increased its transfer of civilian nuclear technology to Third World countries, despite increased evidence of the lack of adequate safeguards. Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was not an enthusiastic supporter of non-proliferation efforts.3 The administration dramatically increased the development of new American nuclear weapons systems and refused to formally submit the SALT II treaty to the Senate for ratification, allowing Third World countries to correctly observe that the United States was not living up to its own commitment to the NPT as an existing nuclear power to engage in serious efforts to negotiate nuclear disarmament.

The Reagan administration discontinued Carter’s half-hearted non-proliferation efforts, lifting the ban on the export of plutonium, and adding dangerously destabilizing counterforce weapons systems.

The end of the Cold War allowed the senior Bush administration and the Clinton administration to reduce some of the United States’ own nuclear weapons arsenal. At the same time these post-Cold War administrations became focused on the prospects of radical Third World regimes developing their own nuclear weapons and contemplated possible unilateral military actions in response.

U.S. Policy toward Emerging Nuclear Powers

India successfully tested a nuclear device in 1974 and subsequently developed short- and long-range nuclear-capable missile systems. The United States delivered a mild rebuke. But, with the exception of a belated embargo against the Indian Space Research Organization, there was never much pressure until the Clinton administration supported tougher sanctions following a series of nuclear tests in 1998. Those sanctions were repealed by President George W. Bush with bipartisan Congressional support in 2001 when India—along with its historic rival Pakistan—was deemed to be an ally in the “War on Terrorism.” Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan and the senior Bush administrations formally denied that Pakistan was engaging in nuclear weapons development despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In addition, the United States was supplying Pakistan with F-16 aircraft even as nuclear analysts concluded that Pakistan would likely use these fighter planes as its primary delivery system for its nuclear arsenal.4 Publicly acknowledging what virtually every authority on nuclear proliferation knew about Pakistan’s nuclear capability would require the United States to cut off aid to Pakistan, as required by U.S. laws designed to enforce the non-proliferation regime. However, Pakistan was the vehicle through which the United States supplied radical Islamic opponents of the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan, and a cut-off of aid to the Zia al-Huq dictatorship could have jeopardized Reagan’s Afghan policy. The annual certification of Pakistan’s supposed non-nuclear status was halted only in 1990, when the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was finally collapsing. However, the senior Bush administration insisted that the cut-off of aid did not include military sales, so the transfer of spare parts for the nuclear-capable F-16s aircraft to Pakistan continued. President Clinton finally imposed sanctions when Pakistan engaged in a series of nuclear weapons tests in 1998. But that too was repealed by Congress and the Bush administration three years later.

With respect to apartheid South Africa, the Carter administration publicly accepted the regime’s denial that it was planning a nuclear test in the Kalahari Desert when both Soviet and American satellite reconnaissance revealed clear evidence that such a plan was in process in August 1977. The two superpowers did apply strong pressure against South Africa to get the test canceled. When the South Africans did explode a nuclear device over the Indian Ocean in September 1979, the Carter administration scrambled to hide the satellite evidence from the American public, particularly when Israeli involvement became apparent. U.S. law and Carter’s public commitment to non-proliferation would have forced him to impose sanctions against these two pro-Western states, had the evidence become public. Seymour Hersh has quoted a top Carter administration official as saying “There was a very immediate strategic imperative to make this thing go away. Our capturing it fortuitously was an embarrassment, a big political problem, and there were a lot of people who wanted to obscure the event.”5 As a result, when the initial cover-up failed, the Carter administration both denied that such a test had taken place and then formed a commission to complete the whitewash a few months later.

The most obvious case of American protection of nuclear weapons development by its allies is Israel. Israel has long stated that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, which is technically true, since U.S. planes and warships began bringing nuclear weapons into the region back in the 1950s. Israel is generally believed to have become a nuclear power by 1969. The Israeli nuclear program was privately endorsed by the newly-elected President Nixon and his chief foreign policy adviser, Kissinger. They immediately ended the regular, if inconsequential, U.S. inspections of Israeli’s Dimona nuclear center. (Indeed, President Lyndon Johnson demonstrated his lack of concern over the prospects of Israel becoming a nuclear power by rejecting calls that one of the early major weapons sales to Israel be conditioned on Israel signing the NPT.) The Nixon administration went to great lengths to keep nuclear issues out of any talks on the Middle East. Information on Israeli nuclear capabilities was routinely suppressed; the United States even supplied Israel with krytrons and supercomputers which were bound for the Israeli nuclear program.6

The Carter administration, which took the nuclear proliferation issue somewhat more seriously than the administrations that preceded and followed it, did not publicly raise the issue of Israel’s development of nuclear weaponry, either. Even when satellite footage of the aborted nuclear test in South Africa’s Kalahari desert gave evidence of the large-scale presence of Israeli personnel at the test site, the Carter administration kept it quiet,7 just as they did with the successful test in the Indian Ocean two years later. According to Joseph Nye, Deputy Under Secretary of State, the Carter administration considered the Israeli bomb a low priority.8

The Reagan administration made an effort to keep information on Israel’s nuclear capability from the State Department and other government agencies which might have concerns over nuclear proliferation issues.9 Meanwhile, Congress had made it clear to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other responsible parties that they did not want to have anything revealed in an open hearing related to Israel’s nuclear capability. While most restrictions against foreign aid to new nuclear states had been written so as to exempt Israel, a public acknowledgment might still have jeopardized U.S. economic and military assistance. Outside of Washington, top Israeli nuclear scientists had open access to American institutions and many top American nuclear scientists had extended visits with their counterparts in Israel, in what has been called “informational promiscuity” in the seepage of nuclear intelligence.10 In addition, given the enormous costs of any nuclear program of the magnitude of Israel’s, it would have been very difficult to develop such a large and advanced arsenal (now estimated at up to 200 weapons11 with sophisticated medium-range missiles) without the tens of billions of dollars of direct and unrestricted American financial support to the Israeli government prior to the current administration; in effect, the United States has subsidized nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Support for Unilateral Military Action

The Bush administration has taken the unprecedented step of making the option of preventive war a centerpiece of its national security strategy. Yet the belief that it is legitimate for the United States or an ally to maintain its regional nuclear monopoly through force support pre-dates the current Bush administration. The Israeli attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 was made possible only by the U.S. decision to supply Israel with high-resolution photographs of Iraq from the KH-11 satellite, data to which no other nation was allowed access, as well as through U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter planes. Though the United States publicly condemned the bombing, in private, Seymour Hersh reports that in fact “Reagan was delighted … [and] very satisfied” by the bombing. Publicly, the United States suspended the delivery of four additional F-16s but quietly lifted the suspension two months later.12 By 1992, this support had become public, when a Democratic-majority Congress passed a resolution endorsing the Israeli attack. The irony is that the Osirak reactor was not the focal point of Iraq’s nuclear program and it likely encouraged the Iraqis to take greater efforts to evade detection of their primary nuclear development facilities.13

The 1981 attack by Israel against the Iraqi nuclear facility, however, paled in comparison with the much wider bombing attacks ten years later by the United States, which—like the Israeli bombing—violated both the spirit and the letter of the NPT. This action further undermined law-based approaches to nuclear non-proliferation and lent legitimacy to the notion that regional nuclear powers can launch pre-emptive attacks against potential rivals at will. Tragically, such lawlessness creates the very kind of insecurity which has motivated additional countries to develop their nuclear programs in the first place, and thus is more likely to advance proliferation than retard it.

Opposition to Nuclear-Free Zones

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have been skeptical of efforts to establish nuclear-free zones, since it would require the United States to remove its nuclear weapons from certain strategically important parts of the globe and require allies, such as Israel and Pakistan, to dismantle their nuclear arsenals. Indeed, even where nuclear-free zones have gone into effect, such as in Latin America through the Tlatelolco Treaty, the United States has developed contingency plans to violate the treaties’ provisions.14 The United States routinely has brought nuclear-armed ships and planes to Japan in violation of that country’s anti-nuclear constitution. When New Zealand announced its decision to become nuclear-free and bar the U.S. Navy from bringing nuclear weapons into its ports, the Reagan administration put enormous pressure on its government. The Clinton administration put even greater economic pressure on the Pacific Island nation of Palau to induce the repeal of its nuclear-free constitution. For years, the United States has strongly opposed proposals for nuclear-free zones in Nordic Europe or the Balkans.

In short, even prior to the current administration, U.S. nuclear policy in recent decades has been based on the following principles:

The United States and allied powers must maintain a nuclear monopoly in developing regions.
Any challenge to that monopoly will be vigorously opposed, possibly through military force.
The existing non-proliferation regime will be imposed only selectively to maintain US. dominance.
In other words, U.S. policy has long been, in effect, that it is fine for the United States and its allies to have nuclear weapons in a given region but wrong for any other countries to have nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this simply will not work. Such double standards create widespread sympathy in the developing world for demagogues who can argue that their nuclear programs are simply a defensive reaction to the nuclear threat from the United States, Israel, or other pro-Western countries.

Both Iran and North Korea have endorsed calls for nuclear-free zones in their regions, as have U.S. allies like Japan, Jordan, South Korea, and Egypt. Even if such pronouncements proved less than sincere, U.S. support for the concept would provide the international community with the legitimacy it now lacks to help control the threat of nuclear proliferation. U.S. opposition to a nuclear free-zone in the Middle East is what prompted Iraq’s nuclear program in the first place. Located near Israel and Pakistan, the Iraqis saw their nuclear program as largely defensive, a program they had offered to end even prior to 1991 if they were no longer faced with a potential nuclear threat from hostile neighbors.

At the end of the Korean War, the United States moved nuclear weapons into South Korea in direct violation of the armistice agreement. These were not removed until 1991 when the high-yield precision-targeted conventional weapons used during the Gulf War were actually seen as more effective than the tactical nuclear weapons then stationed in Korea. Nuclear-capable aircraft and ships continue to move in and out of Korea. Clinton’s appointee to the U.S. Strategic Command, General Lee Cutler, announced in February 1993 that strategic nuclear weapons which had been targeted for the Soviet Union were being re-targeted to North Korea. By March, American forces in Korea were engaging in nuclear war games, with B1-B and B-52 bombers from Guam and naval vessels with cruise missiles taking part.15

One basic tenet of the nonproliferation regime is that nuclear nations not threaten nuclear attacks on non-nuclear nations. With the Soviet Union no longer the feared enemy in northeast Asia, and with China still on good—if somewhat cool—relations with the United States, the North Koreans could only assume that this was exactly what was going on. It was only at this point that North Korea first announced it was pulling out of the NPT and the crisis—initially defused in 1994 by former President Carter’s intervention, began in earnest. Following U.S. preparations for the invasion of Iraq and bellicose rhetoric toward North Korea, the regime again renounced its participation in the NPT in January 2003. The former nuclear aspirations of Iraq and the current ones of North Korea can both be interpreted as a defensive response to the U.S. refusal to denuclearize the region.

Spreading Nuclear Technology

Iraq’s nuclear program in the 1980s was made possible through imports from the West of so-called “dual-use” technology, capable of producing nuclear weapons or delivery systems while also having civilian applications. Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, William Perry, argued before Congress that it was a “hopeless task” to control such dual use technology, stating that “it only interferes with a company’s ability to succeed internationally.” This view directly contradicted the United Nations inspection regime in Iraq which called for “strict maintenance of export controls by the industrialized nations” to prevent the Iraqi regime from once again developing its nuclear program. Indeed, the Clinton administration was even more lax than its Republican predecessors on controlling the exports of nuclear-related technology.16

It is noteworthy that the Clinton administration’s Defense Department introduced the term “counter-proliferation” rather than “non-proliferation,” suggesting a new emphasis on high-tech military responses to nuclear proliferation after the fact, rather than export controls or diplomatic measures to control it. Clinton’s assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter put forth proposals in violation of both the NPT and U.S. law regarding the transfers of American nuclear technology to India and Pakistan.17

Similarly, the current Bush administration did not invent the double standard of pushing for stricter inspection of nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency while still denying the right of such inspection of any American facilities. This standard was alive and well during all three previous administrations, as was the withholding of the necessary financial contributions to the United Nations to make such increased and effective IAEA inspections possible anywhere.


The Bush administration has made contempt for international law, international organizations, international treaties, and other multilateral institutions for arms control into a signature of its foreign policy. Littered throughout the history of post-war efforts at arms control, however, are examples of U.S. neglect of comprehensive nuclear arms control, much less disarmament, and rejection of universal standards in favor of selective applications based upon a given government’s relations with the United States.

Since 1981, Israel has been in violation of UN Security Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since 1998, Pakistan and India have been in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1172, which calls on those two South Asian nations to end their nuclear weapons programs and eliminate their long-range missiles. Yet only Iraq was targeted for strict sanctions and military action for its alleged violations of UN Security Council resolutions calling for the elimination of its nuclear programs, even though those programs no longer existed.

Fear of the charge of “weakness” in the post-911 world propelled nearly all members of the U.S. Congress in March 2003 to allow the administration to reject diplomacy and United Nations inspections of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological programs, and invade Iraq. The rationale was that such “diplomatic and other peaceful means alone” would not “adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”18 Similarly, when a protracted British-led diplomatic effort to eliminate Libya’s nascent nuclear program reached a successful conclusion in December 2003, a Congressional majority supported a resolution which declared—in direct contradiction of American diplomats involved in the talks19—that the elimination of Libya’s nuclear program “would not have been possible if not for … the liberation of Iraq by United States and Coalition Forces.”20

More recently, during the final hours of the Nonproliferation Conference in New York at the end of May, Congressional leaders from both parties validated the Bush administration’s double standard of focusing upon Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program while ignoring the already existing nuclear weapons arsenals of U.S. allies like Israel, Pakistan, and India.

Advocates of nuclear disarmament and arms control must recognize that while the successful American effort to derail the recent UN non-proliferation conference is indeed a serious setback in the struggle against the nuclear threat, the problem runs deeper than simply the policies of the current administration. To the extent that the United States attempts to use its nuclear arsenal to pursue its own strategic advantage, and seeks to place the United States and its allies above the law, it does so at the risk of our very survival.

End Notes

1. “UN Nuclear Treaty Review Ending in Failure, Japanese Envoy Says,” Bloomberg News, May 27, 2005.
2. Seymour Hersh, The Sampson Option, New York: Random House, 1991, p. 210.
3. Seymour Hersh, op. cit, p. 273.
4. Zachary Davis, “Nuclear Proliferation and Nonproliferation Policy in the 1990s,” in Michael Klare and Daniel Thomas, World Security: Challenges for a New Century, second edition, New York: St, Martin’s Press, 1994, p. 115.
5. Hersh, op. cit., p. 274.
6. Ibid., p. 209-14.
7. Ibid., p. 268.
8. Cited in Ibid., op. cit., p. 283.
9. Ibid., p. 291.
10. Helena Cobban, “Israel’s Nuclear Game: The U.S. Stake,” World Policy, Summer 1988, pp. 427-8.
11. Arms Control Association, “Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance,” April 2005.
12. Hersch, op. cit., p. 9.
13. Davis, op. cit., p. 112.
14. New York Times, Feb. 13, 1985.
15. Bruce Cumings, “It’s Time to End the 40-Year War,” The Nation, August 23/30, 1993, p. 207.
16. Gary Milhollin, “The Business of Defense Is Defending Business,” Washington Post National, Weekly Edition, Feb. 14-20, p. 23.
17. Ibid.
18. H. Con. Res. 104, 108 th Congress, 1st session, March 21, 2003.
19. Flynt Leverett, “Why Libya Gave Up on the Bomb,” The New York Times, January 23, 2004, p. A23.
20. H. Amdt.601 (A003), 107 th Congress, 2 nd session, June 23, 2004.

Libyan Disarmament a Positive Step, but Threat of Proliferation Remains

In a world seemingly gone mad, it is ironic that one of most sane and reasonable actions to come out of the Middle East recently has emanated from the government of Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator long recognized as an international outlaw.

Libya’s stunning announcement that it is giving up its nascent biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs and accepting international assistance and verification of its disarmament efforts is a small but important positive step in the struggle to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

It would be a big mistake, however, to accept claims by the Bush administration and its supporters that it was the invasion of Iraq and other threatened uses of force against so-called “rogue states” which pursue WMD programs that led to Libya’s decision to end its WMD programs.

While Saddam Hussein was less than cooperative with United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) efforts in the 1990s, it appears that they were successful in ridding the country of its chemical and biological weapons and related facilities. The Iraqi regime was more cooperative during that period with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with the IAEA announcing in 1998 that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled. When IAEA inspectors returned in the fall of 2002 as part of UN Security Council resolution 1441, they reported that no signs that the program had been revived. Iraq also allowed the return of a revived and strengthened inspections regime for chemical and biological weapons systems (known as UNMOVIC) at that time, which also found no evidence of any proscribed weapons or weapons programs.

Despite this, the United States invaded Iraq and overthrew the government. As a result, Libya presumably knows that unilateral disarmament and allowing UN inspectors does not necessarily make you less safe from a possible U.S. invasion.

More likely, Libya simply recognized that they would not get anything worthwhile as a result of continuing with an expensive, dangerous, and complex process of weapons development and would instead continue to face international isolation and difficulty obtaining certain dual-use technologies which could enhance the country’s economic development.

A Triumph of Diplomacy

Indeed, the agreement is a sign of the triumph of American and British diplomacy, not military threats.

That this breakthrough involved some diplomatic initiatives from the U.S. government doesn’t mean that the Bush administration has abandoned its unilateralist agenda. In a dispute which could potentially jeopardize Libya’s bold initiative, the United States is challenging Libya’s assumption that its disarmament process would be under the auspices of the IAEA and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW.). The Bush administration insists that U.S. intelligence officials and experts from the U.S. Defense Department and U.S. Energy Department–along with some British authorities to give it a multilateral veneer–take charge of the disarmament process.

More serious is the position of successive administrations that the United States has the right to impose a kind of WMD apartheid on the Middle East, giving itself the right to say which countries can and cannot have nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

The United States has quietly supported Israel’s extensive chemical and biological weapons programs, as well as Israel’s nuclear program, which is believed to consist of over 300 warheads along with sophisticated medium-range missiles. This comes despite UN Security Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to turn its nuclear facilities over to the trusteeship of the IAEA.

In the post 9/11 era, the U.S. has dropped its opposition to the nuclear programs of India and Pakistan, eliminating sanctions imposed by the Clinton administration after both countries engaged in a series of underground nuclear tests in 1998 and ignoring UN Security Council resolution 1172, which calls on Pakistan and India to dismantle their nuclear programs and ballistic missiles.

To the United States, UN Security Council resolutions calling on the elimination of a given country’s weapons of mass destruction should be enforced only when it comes to countries the U.S. government does not like, such as Iraq. By contrast, the United States has threatened to veto any efforts to enforce such resolutions against its allies.

Such a policy is doing little to enhance U.S. security interests. The evidence now points to Pakistan as the source of the key nuclear technology employed by Libya in its embryonic nuclear program, most of which ended up in Qaddafi’s hands in the two years since the United States relaxed its restrictions on Pakistan’s military government.

The Costs of Domination

The unfortunate reality is that the United States is not interested in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction per se but in preventing a challenge to its military domination in the post-cold war world.

The first country to introduce weapons of mass destruction into the Middle East was the United States, which initially brought in nuclear weapons on its planes and ships as far back as the 1950s. More recently, the Bush administration has explicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and is developing new nuclear weapons for battlefield use.

While demanding that countries that do not yet have nuclear weapons sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)–which includes provisions that would prohibit them from doing so–the United States has refused to abide by other provisions of the NPT that call on already-existing nuclear powers to take serious steps towards complete disarmament.

Concern over the prospects of the horizontal proliferation of weapons of mass destruction also serves as a pretext for the ongoing U.S. military presence in the Middle East and for attacking countries that threaten to challenge this American dominance. Instead of seeing the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons by Third World countries as an inevitable reaction to the American failure to support global nuclear disarmament, the United States–by labeling it as part of the threat from international terrorism–can justify military interventionism.

Nuclear weapons are inherently weapons of terror, given their level of devastation and their non-discriminate nature. Indeed, the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War was often referred to as “the balance of terror.” Many people outside the United States see the atomic bombings by U.S. forces of two Japanese cities in 1945 as among the greatest acts of terrorism in world history. American concerns, however, are not about the ability of the United States to threaten other countries with weapons of mass destruction but how others might threaten the United States. This can make it possible for U.S. administrations to portray acts of war against far-off countries as acts of self-defense.

Countries ranging from U.S. allies like Jordan and Egypt to adversaries like Syria and Iran have all endorsed calls for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone for the entire Middle East, similar to those already existing in Latin America and the South Pacific. Such proposals have been categorically rejected by the United States, however. A UN Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of such a WMD-free zone in the region was introduced last month, but is expected to be vetoed by the United States. In effect, the United States insists that such weapons in the Middle East should be the exclusive domain of itself and Israel.

Other Middle Eastern governments may therefore decide not to risk emulating Libya’s choice of unilateral disarmament. Indeed, such U.S. policies will most likely lead not to greater acquiescence to American will, but to a rush by other nations in the region to counter this perceived American-Israeli threat through the development of their own dangerous arsenals.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus (online at and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (online at