Weapons of Mass Destruction: Restraining the Genie: Kennedy Graham Discusses the Issue of 'Compulsory Disarmament' and Global Legitimacy in Light of the United Nations' Response to the Problem of Iraq and North Korea

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In the NZIR's last issue (vol 28, no 2), I noted that, in the short-term, the political legitimacy of any organisation, including the United Nations, has two dimensions--conformity with the law, and objectivity and consistency of policy. That article applied the criteria to the issue of Iraq and regime change.

In this article I will apply the same criteria to the possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Whilst 'coalition policy' has advanced multiple 'axis-of-evil' reasons for regime change in Baghdad, WMD disarmament was, through resolutions 687 and 1441, the Security Council's only possible reason for mandating such action. The current conflict in Iraq (as at 1 April) is generating confusion over the future role of the United Nations and even the structure of the international order. Once the dust settles and the passions subside, it will be necessary to address the twin problems of destructive weaponry and political mistrust that have adumbrated all global crises of the modern era.

Two fundamental questions are evoked by the existence of weapons of mass destruction: legitimacy of ownership, and legitimacy of enforcement policy. The answers to these reflect a more complicated analysis today than that prevailing only a few years ago. They now depend on whether one's 'world-view' is confined to the traditional realm of sovereign nation-states or whether it encompasses the 'global community' as a whole. The former responds to the logic of statecraft, however cynically prosecuted on occasion. The latter responds to cultural instinct, confronting moreover the spectre of WMD ownership by private groups.

In considering the legitimacy of WMD ownership, two questions are to be addressed:

* Does any state have the 'right' to own weapons of mass destruction?

* If so, is this norm applicable to all states or confined to a few; and if only a few, what criteria are to be used for distinguishing among states?

In considering the legitimacy of enforcement of whatever ownership policy results from the above, two further questions are relevant:

* What legal 'authority' exists for the Security Council to enforce WMD disarmament?

* What standards of objectivity and consistency can reasonably be applied in enforcement policy?

Ownership issue

Can ownership of WMD be justified through normative reasoning or is it simply the raw combination of technology and political determination? For half a century the great powers have been at pains to legitimise their selective nuclear weapon ownership on de jure grounds. Their attempts to do so encounter both logical and practical problems.

International society, underpinned by the UN Charter, is based on the rule of international law buttressed by the contingent application of force. But the Charter is silent on weapons of mass destruction, having been concluded twenty days before the first atomic test explosion. What it envisaged then, and still does, is a 'system for the regulation of armaments' at a level that will maintain international peace and security with the 'least diversion' of the world's human and economic resources. The Security Council is responsible for formulating plans for such a system to be submitted to all member states.

This has never been done and the Council has been derelict in its constitutional duty in this respect, given the importance of the issue and the attention it has given to the question of weaponry over the past decade. Yet in an indirect and ad hoc way the world is groping towards something of the kind. Whether the end result will be to the satisfaction of all remains to be seen.

Through multilateral conventions of 1972 and 1993 the international community has agreed to ban two of the four acknowledged weapons of mass destruction--biological and chemical. Despite imperfections of universality and enforceability there is no deep division within the international community over the legitimacy of these proscriptions. …