Despite the overall success of the global nonproliferation regime, a small number of nuclear and non-nuclear states threaten to undermine the norm against the development, possession, and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The record of Iraq is particularly troublesome, and it remains vital that the United States and the international community firmly, appropriately, and effectively respond to Baghdad's proliferation behavior.
Prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein violated the rules established by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In the decade since, he has resisted United Nations Security Council mandates to allow weapons inspectors to dismantle Iraq's proscribed weapons and missile capabilities.
Despite Iraq's failure to cooperate and the gradual erosion of Security Council consensus on inspections, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) from 1991 to 1998 succeeded in ridding Iraq of most of its WMD capabilities and stockpiles. It has been four years since UN weapons inspectors operated in Iraq, however, and it is now difficult to assess Iraq's capabilities with precision. It is therefore prudent to assume that Iraq has or will soon have biological and chemical weapons and that it may, within a matter of years, acquire nuclear weapons.
It is vital that the response to Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction reinforce the rule of law and the norm against WMD everywhere. The necessary, though difficult, next step is for the United States to secure the Security Council's reaffirmation and Iraq's acceptance of a UN inspections regime under new, more effective rules.
Upon arriving in office, President George W. Bush supported the readmission of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. More recently, top-level Bush administration officials argue that UN inspections are bound to fail and that nothing short of a pre-emptive military invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein will suffice.
Such an approach risks greater instability in the Middle East and would require a longterm U.S. presence in Iraq. It would also increase the likelihood that Iraq might use weapons of mass destruction to lash out at its neighbors and the invading force. This scenario could provoke Israel to launch a pre-emptory or retaliatory strike against Iraq, possibly involving nuclear weapons. The cure could be worse than the disease.
Furthermore, pre-emptive military action-particularly in the absence of Security Council backing-would reinforce the perception and the growing reality of the Bush administration's arrogant and unilateralist approach to foreign affairs. …