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Le Monde diplomatique


  July 2002


                     The new world disorder

     United States threats to withdraw from peacekeeping in
     Bosnia if denied exemption from prosecution in the new
    International Criminal Court shows how far international
   security has been dismantled. The US now realises what it
  means to be a superpower and its strategists are formulating
    a doctrine to match, undermining all the agreements that
   governed world security and underpinned disarmament in the

                         by PIERRE CONESA and OLIVIER LEPICK *

    The major nuclear weapons treaties were drawn up on the
    basis of a balance of forces and mutually assured
    destruction. Having agreed on arms limitation, the United
    States and former Soviet Union moved towards cutting
    their arsenals. First there were the Salt (Strategic Arms
    Limitation Talks) agreements, then the Start (Strategic
    Arms Reduction Talks) agreements and the ABM
    (anti-ballistic missile) Treaty ensuring "nuclear peace";
    missile defence systems were limited to certain
    predetermined targets (see box).

    Those agreements have gradually been made meaningless.
    President George W Bush expressly denounced the ABM
    Treaty in spring this year. In May the number of warheads
    allowed to each side under the Start agreements was
    drastically revised. The missile defence programme,
    designed for a smaller number of vectors across the
    globe, will be more operational as a result; and since it
    will probably involve Russia, it will maintain that
    country's status as a strategic partner of Washington.

    Congress has still not ratified the Comprehensive Test
    Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed in 1995. The US government wants
    to keep all its options for developing new weapons open
    and reserves the right to conduct real tests, even though
    it has the ability to simulate them. Secondary treaties
    are also being weakened. The "cut off" talks on
    controlling exports of fissile material have been buried
    by US intransigence.

    Even the oldest of the international nuclear limitation
    agreements, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), becomes
    difficult to read in the light of Bush's State of the
    Union address, delivered on 29 January this year, in
    which he accused the "axis of evil", Iraq, Iran and North
    Korea, of developing nuclear weapons and other weapons of
    mass destruction. Although the first two signed the NPT,
    they are considered "bad proliferators"; North Korea,
    which has withdrawn from the treaty, is seen as downright
    demonic. Pakistan, which has signed the NPT, does not
    come in for US criticism. It has recently become an ally
    and must be regarded as a "good proliferator" like India
    and Israel, which had the sense not to sign the treaty.

    In its war on terrorism Washington is being very
    selective in its definition of nuclear proliferation,
    depending on whether or not the countries in question are
    its allies. President Bush's dictum, "either you are with
    us or you are with the terrorists", means the NPT can be

    The picture is no more encouraging when we look at the
    international agreements banning other weapons of mass
    destruction (biological or chemical). The US is one of
    the countries to have filed the legal instruments of the
    Biological Weapons Convention signed in 1972 - the first
    international treaty banning weapons of this kind. It has
    no system of verification, but five-yearly revision
    conferences have brought progress in that direction. At
    the 1991 meeting in Geneva, for example, groups of
    experts were set up to propose improvements; this was an
    initiative by France and a number of other western

    Their 10 years of work came to nothing when, on 25 July
    2000, the US Assistant Secretary of State for
    proliferation rejected all the new proposals on the
    grounds that they were contrary to US commercial and
    security interests (he meant the US programme for defence
    against biological weapons) and said they did not
    guarantee any slowing in the proliferation of such
    weapons. The arguments range from needing to protect
    national industry to such unlikely legal principles as
    fear of malicious prosecution of American citizens
    (fourth and fifth amendments to the constitution) (1).

    The US has accused Libya, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Iraq
    and now Cuba of breaking the agreement. The anthrax scare
    following the 11 September attacks suggests that the
    Americans have pursued a biological weapons programme far
    beyond what defence against such threats requires (2).

    At least the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), signed in
    1993, does have a system of verification. But the US did
    not ratify it until April 1997. And Congress introduced
    new provisions watering down what US negotiators had
    themselves insisted on (3). During the 1996 presidential
    campaign, the Republican candidate, Robert Dole, warned
    against "illusory" arms control deals and President
    Clinton postponed ratification until after the election.

    Finally, Congress introduced into the debate three
    provisions that greatly reduced the convention's scope:
    the president of the US could prevent any inspection
    deemed a threat to national security; samples collected
    in the US could not leave national territory; and the
    number industrial sites having to be declared to the
    Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
    (OPCW), which verifies compliance, was considerably
    reduced by comparison with the spirit of the convention.

    Although in May 2000 the US deposited the declaration all
    signatory countries were required to make, the first
    inspections in the US went badly. The OPCW inspectors saw
    many of their requests frustrated by red tape (4). The
    US, which had demanded transparency from proliferators
    acted like any suspect administration. So it is hardly
    surprising that Iraq, South Korea, Russia and Iran
    adopted, almost verbatim, US reservations about the CWC.

                     Gentleman's agreement

    This year the US forced the resignation of the Brazilian
    director-general of the OPCW, José Bustani, whom
    Washington considered incompetent (see article by Any
    Bourrier); the several weeks' crisis leading up to that
    undermined the OPCW even more. And the Missile Technology
    Control Regime (MTCR) remains a gentleman's agreement;
    Washington experts say 28 nations now have such
    technology. Moreover, since the US' grand national
    missile defence (NMD) programme met with opposition from
    many of its allies, the White House decided to extend the
    umbrella to its main partners, including Russia. That
    will probably be impossible without the transfer of
    sensitive technologies in violation of the MTCR.

    Finally, the former Coordinating Committee for
    Multilateral Export Controls (Cocom), which was supposed
    to prevent technology exports to the USSR, has lost the
    teeth it once had. Now known as the Wassenaar
    Arrangement, it has been steadily extended to 33
    countries, many of them outside of Nato. US negotiators
    often use it to prevent sales of non-sensitive
    technologies to "rogue states".

    Conventional weapons are equally worrying. For a variety
    of reasons, the US has not agreed to the International
    Convention on anti-personnel mines, which was signed in
    Ottawa in 1997 and came into force on 1 March 1999. These
    reasons include the protection of its forces along the
    demilitarised zone between the two Koreas and the desire
    to continue exporting combined anti-tank and
    anti-personnel mines. Here Washington is on the same side
    as China, which also exports mines.

    The Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and
    Light Weapons (5) has still not produced any results, It
    took place in New York in July last year under pressure
    from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to stop the
    "slaughter of the poor". It is up against powerful US gun
    lobbies; they invoke constitutional guarantees (fourth
    amendment on the right of US citizens to be secure in
    their persons). The US continues to reject any binding
    legal rule and any ban on transfers to non-state players
    so it can continue supporting pro-American guerrillas

    The White House and much of American public opinion have
    traditionally been suspicious of the United Nations
    Organisation. In 10 years the world has moved from the
    Gulf war to the war in Afghanistan. In the Gulf western
    forces were seen as upholding law and order, represented
    by the UN Security Council. But Washington started the
    war in Afghanistan, against a regime suspected of backing
    terrorist acts, without declaring war and without
    consulting the UN. President Bush's State of the Union
    address this January did not even mention the UN in
    connection with action against the "axis of evil".

    The UN will have to concentrate on conflicts that are of
    no interest to Washington like the Congo or Western
    Sahara. When it comes to international security, all we
    can now expect from it are texts with little binding
    force. Before 11 September the General Assembly had
    adopted more than 11 conventions against terrorism.

    Little by little, the international edifice built in an
    age of two superpowers, balanced forces and mutually
    assured destruction is crumbling. As the US says, the
    existing mechanisms for controlling proliferation have
    all been partly broken. The Pentagon believes that 12
    states now have nuclear weapons, 16 have chemical
    weapons, 13 have biological weapons and 28 the missiles
    to deliver them. That is true; what we dispute is what
    can be done about it. Washington accuses Iran, which has
    ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, of conducting a
    forbidden programme, but is delaying when it comes to
    seeking the inspections the convention allows (6).

    This dismantling did not begin with the present
    Republican administration. The difference between Bush
    and his predecessor lies more in the way he treats his
    main allies. They have in common the primacy of US
    interests. President Bush's national security adviser,
    Condoleezza Rice, often says in her official speeches
    that the country's security must not depend on any
    external constraint.

    There was a similar period after the first world war,
    when the League of Nations was set up, advocated by
    President Woodrow Wilson but rejected by Congress. Then,
    US withdrawal from international security systems was
    justified by the dominant isolationism. Now, the chief
    player in the international order is clearly stating that
    it no longer wants to be bound by mandatory international
    instruments, a sentiment reinforced by 11 September.

    We are entering a period of great uncertainty.
    International security now depends on the unilateral
    stance of a superpower that has progressively shown a
    desire not to be bound by any international treaties or
    by international criminal law. This is evident from US
    refusal to recognise the International Criminal Court and
    from its creation of special courts to try the members of
    the al-Qaida network.

    President Bush is playing international policeman,
    choosing his next targets, not from among the countries
    linked to terrorism, which would have been the logical
    progression from the Afghanistan offensive, but from
    among the proliferating countries. They pose a different
    threat. Despite the Russian-US accord of 26 May on the
    number of nuclear warheads, we are seeing not the end of
    disarmament (7) but a new world disorder.

    * Respectively senior servant and editor of the special
      edition of Revue international et stratégique on illicit
      international relations, Paris, September 2001; and
      research associate at the Fondation pour la recherche
      stratégique, author of Les armes biologiques, Que
      sais-je?, Paris, 2001

    See Treaties and agreements: a check list.

    (1) See Michael Moodie, "The BWC protocol: a critique",
    report of The Chemical and Biological Arms Control
    Institute (CBACI), Washington, June 2001: see

    (2) Olivier Lepick, "Armes biologiques, le jeu trouble
    des Etats Unis", Libération, 7 February 2002; Susan
    Wright, "US: the bacteria option", Le Monde diplomatique,
    English edition, November 2001.

    (3) See speech by George Bush senior at the opening
    session of the Geneva conference, 13 April 1984.

    (4) Amy E Smithson, "US Implementation of the CWC" in
    Jonathan B Tucker, ed.: The Chemical Weapons Convention,
    Implementation, Challenges and Solutions, Monterey
    Institute of International Studies, 2001.

    (5) See Steve Wright, "A legal trade in death" and
    Philippe Rivière, "The problem of proliferation", Le
    Monde diplomatique English edition, January 2001.

    (6) Countries are supposed to get rid of their stocks of
    chemical weapons after 2007. But some, like Russia, lack
    the financial means to do so.

    (7) Pascal Boniface, "Vers la fin du désarmement",
    Libération, 22 April 2002.


                              Translated by Malcolm Greenwood


      ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2002 Le Monde diplomatique

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