Arms Control and the New 'War'

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As President George W. Bush and congressional leaders have correctly suggested, the response to the devastating attacks on New York and the Pentagon requires unprecedented international cooperation to prevent future outbreaks of terrorism. This new "war" will consume attention and resources, but Washington cannot lose sight of the related and equally severe threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Although the carnage wrought by the airliners-turned-flying-bombs is staggering, the toll from biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons could be even greater. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged the importance of "seeing that...weapons of vastly greater power...are not used by the kinds of people that attacked the United States." Nevertheless, the Bush administration has so far failed to present an effective and comprehensive approach.

National, state, and local emergency response and public health systems to help treat the victims of any future attacks must certainly be fortified. But we must recognize that there is no civil defense plan, however robust, that can adequately protect the public against chemical, biological, and especially nuclear attack. The first line of defense is and must be prevention. Success depends on ensuring that the acquisition and delivery of these weapons remains technically challenging and universally unacceptable. This requires a sustained and coordinated international effort to extend and strengthen the multilateral framework of arms control and non-proliferation.

Unfortunately, Bush and his cadre of advisers have spent their first eight months in office dismissing, dismantling, and disavowing proven and promising arms control measures. At times, the Bush team speaks positively about a few treaties, such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, in keeping with its "a la carte" approach, the administration supports only those NPT provisions that constrain the capabilities of others, while it chooses to ignore U.S. non-proliferation and disarmament commitments. To work, this treaty, like so many others, must continue to serve the interests of all treaty partners, not just a few.

It the administration is truly committed to protecting the homeland, it must shed its disdain for multilateral arms control and non-proliferation and build upon the bipartisan mood that has enveloped Capitol Hill. Among other actions, the president should reconsider his rejection of the draft protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention and help achieve, not hinder, agreement on a strengthened text. …