Over the past three decades, much of the world has cooperated
in constructing a bulwark of ambitious agreements designed to curb
or eliminate the most deadly weapons ever devised by man.
Together, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the
Biological Weapons Convention, and other pacts are regarded as
building blocks of global stability in the 21st century.
But as the showdown over the United Nations search for Iraq's
illegal arms enters its second month, there's growing concern over
the world's willingness to restrict the spread of weapons of mass
US and UN officials, as well as independent experts, say the
outcome of the Iraq crisis could signal whether the international
community will take tough steps to eliminate the threat.
Its failure to do so, they say, could exacerbate the danger
by encouraging states like Iraq to pursue covert nuclear,
biological, and chemical weapons, even if they are parties to
"Iraq is a test case for something far wider," Richard
Butler, the top UN inspector, said last weekend on NBC. "Are we
going to live in a 21st century in which weapons of mass
destruction are around every corner or ... are we going to live a
more civilized life?"
The deep uncertainty over international cooperation on
counter-proliferation grows out of differences among the world's
most powerful nations over dealing with Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein's challenge to UNSCOM, the UN inspection group.
Eager to reopen trade deals with Baghdad, France and Russia
are seeking to short-circuit UNSCOM to hasten the lifting of UN
sanctions on Iraq. Russia's pledge to seek an end to sanctions led
to an Oct. 22 resumption of UNSCOM operations after a three-week
hiatus triggered by Iraq's expulsion of US experts.
French and Russian advocacy on Iraq's behalf comes despite
evidence that Saddam retains an arsenal of illegal weapons seven
years after UNSCOM began work in the wake of the Gulf War.
This cache is believed to include 6,000 gallons of anthrax, a
deadly toxin, and ingredients to produce as much as 200 tons of the
nerve agent VX, enough to kill everyone on earth. Iraq is also
suspected of concealing dozens of Scud medium-range missiles.
The US and Britain oppose lifting the sanctions until UNSCOM
accounts for the missing materials. The UN, they say, must be
allowed into more than 70 installations, including dozens of
Saddam's palaces, from which it has been blocked. Iraq is refusing
to comply, citing national security and sovereignty issues. …