Broaden the effort to rid the world of WMD

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - In the past month, two states long suspected of pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons - Iran and Libya - have been persuaded to allow intrusive international inspections. While some in the Bush administration believe the threat of pre-emptive war forced the issue, the reality behind these important developments is far different and more complex.

Last year, special International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections revealed that Iran has conducted secret nuclear activities with bomb-making potential. The Bush administration and a tough IAEA report kept the matter on the front burner. But it was French, German and British diplomats who ultimately persuaded Iranian leaders to agree to an additional protocol allowing tougher IAEA inspections and to temporarily stop uranium enrichment activities. In return, the Europeans are offering closer technical and economic ties.


The additional protocol is an agreement with the IAEA that allows for more intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities to safeguard against the use of legal nuclear activities for illegal nuclear weapons work.

Libya went even further than Iran. President Muammar el Kadafi announced Dec. 19 that Libya would verifiably dismantle its biological and chemical weapons capabilities. Colonel Kadafi also agreed to eliminate Libya's aging Scud missile force and to halt nuclear weapons-related activities.


Libya's announcement is clearly part of a broader effort to end years of suffocating sanctions for its past support of terrorism and its weapons of mass destruction ambitions. Early last year, Libya finally settled claims concerning its role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, prompting the United Nations to lift sanctions. While British and U.S. officials deserve credit for closing the deal, it was Colonel Kadafi who initially contacted officials in London with the hope that discarding his WMD programs might lead to a new chapter in relations with the United States and Europe.

The Libyan and Iranian decisions demonstrate the power of preventive diplomacy, international nonproliferation treaties and inspections and long-term economic sanctions designed to compel compliance.

If each state demonstrates through its actions that it has chosen to foreswear these dangerous, destabilizing and expensive weapons, the United States should respond with positive measures, including the lifting of remaining WMD-related sanctions. Such a course would make it clearer to other states that compliance with global nonproliferation standards is more beneficial to their security than the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

The Libyan and Iranian cases also make it clear that U.S. policy-makers cannot afford to selectively enforce international laws and standards against WMD and ignore the WMD programs of friends and allies. This is especially true for the three states that are not members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - Israeli, India and Pakistan.

Unfortunately, past and current U.S. and European governments have chosen not to deal with all proliferators with the same vigor. As U.S. Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton boldly said in a Nov. 14 interview with Arms Control Today, "There are unquestionably states that are not within existing treaty regimes that possess weapons of mass destruction legitimately. We're not trying to have a policy that attempts to cover each and every one of those circumstances."

Such an approach is self-defeating. As long as one state continues to possess nuclear weapons, other states will seek to acquire them, and they may get help from other states with nuclear weapons. If Israel maintains its nuclear weapons arsenal, hard-liners in Iran will insist that the government in Tehran maintain the option to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty and transform its nuclear facilities to make nuclear weapons.

The IAEA's investigations will probably show that the Iranian and Libyan nuclear programs received vital technical assistance from other states, including Pakistan. Rather than maintain diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and India to freeze their nuclear activities after their 1998 nuclear tests, the Bush administration has given both countries substantial aid and military cooperation. If the IAEA finds clear evidence that Pakistan provided nuclear weapons-related assistance to Libya or Iran, the United States must reconsider its policy toward Islamabad.

The United States and the international community should build on recent progress in Iran and Libya through energetic diplomatic efforts to reduce and eliminate the WMD programs of all states, not just a few. We must also work harder to achieve a more open, transparent and secure world through tougher chemical, biological, and nuclear inspections everywhere.


By promptly ratifying the IAEA additional protocol, reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its own security policy, and following through with its own disarmament commitments under the nonproliferation treat, the United States can help encourage others to turn away from nuclear weapons.

Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Columnist Steve Chapman will return Tuesday.