U.S. vs. THEM

United States’ go-it-alone attitude on nuclear weapons is not winning friends, particularly in Europe

Upon returning to San Luis from teaching in London, several friends asked me about the mindset of the British on U.S. foreign policy. They wonder if the British (and the rest of the European Union) are concerned about changes in U.S. global policies.

They sought my views because I worked on proliferation policy and on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) for the State Department (under Presidents Carter and Reagan), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (working with George H. Bush on START and on five other treaties) and the National Academy of Sciences (as study director on “Beyond START”).

Our European friends have long been pro-American, even during tough times during the Vietnam War, but this is not true today. There is great anger between Europe and the United States. By a wide majority (about 4 to 1), the British are angry with Tony Blair for joining the United States in the war in Iraq.

At its recent gloomy convention, Labor recognized that Blair will survive as he is faced with weak opposition in the other parties. Labor is unhappy, but it will block Gordon Brown to avoid fratricide. Tory leader Michael Howard was told he could not come to the White House because of his attacks on Tony Blair on the Iraqi war. Of course Howard realized this before he asked to come, but he knew his rejection would score points in Britain.

The danger for the United States is that the Bush policies are so unpopular on the streets that it is difficult for elected officials to support the U.S. If more troops are needed in Iraq, they will not be many more British troops. This is not new news, but I think we should try and understand some of the causes for these feelings.

Rather than give a shopping list of reasons to explain EU mistrust, I will examine just one issue, the coupling between the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the capstone proliferation document and the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Proliferation rogues

The global nonproliferation regime is under attack because of actions by other countries and because of actions of the United States. The axis of evil (Iraq, Iran, North Korea, which were Clinton’s “rogue states”) cheated, but the successes of the NPT far surpass its losses. Thus far, only North Korea has built a couple of viable nuclear weapons, but many other nations started to make weapons and changed their minds (South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Libya, Brazil, Sweden, Belarus/Ukraine/

Kazakhstan and more). India, Israel and Pakistan are not in the NPT.

This is a two-way street, as it is difficult to constrain 185 nations to give up sovereignty to not build nuclear weapons and to allow inspections at all their nuclear power plants. This is something the United States would never do.

Without the NPT, the world would be in trouble because there would not be an international norm on nuclear proliferation. The five nuclear weapon states (China, France, Russia, U.S., U.K.) realized this danger when the NPT was going to expire in 1995.

In order to extend the treaty for all time, the five weapon states agreed to one key condition required by the 185 nonweapon states. These 185 nations said they would not extend the NPT unless all nuclear weapons tests by all NPT members were forbidden for all time.

Because of this, the five nuclear weapon states all agreed to comply, and not test anymore nuclear weapons. Three of the five weapon states (U.K., France, Russia) ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (171 signatories), while China awaits U.S. ratification before it will ratify. The U.S. Senate defeated the CTBT by a 51-48 vote in 2000 along party lines, and President Bush has stated he does not support the CTBT.

Since then, a National Academy of Sciences bipartisan classified study concluded that the CTBT was robust and verifiable to the extent that it matters (I was the technical staff lead).

On Dec. 8, 2003, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution urging all nations to maintain the nuclear-testing moratorium, urging all nations to sign the CTBT and urging all nations that had signed the CTBT to ratify it.

The gap between the United States and the rest of the world could not be more apparent. The vote in the General Assembly was 173 in favor, 1 against (United States) and four abstentions (Columbia, India, Mauritius, Syria) with Iraq and North Korea absent. The important connection between the CTBT and the NPT is not understood by the U.S. populace, as we are unaware of the international diplomatic unhappiness on this issue.

Many NPT parties have privately concluded that the United States is in violation of its NPT commitments. This is based on the fact that we sell nuclear submarine missiles to Britain and nuclear-capable aircraft to Israel. In addition, Britain uses our Nevada test site. Lastly, the United States is developing new nuclear weapons (robust earth-penetrating warheads and mini-nuclear weapons).

For these reasons, the last NPT review conference ended in shambles because the diplomats are aware the United States is acting above the rules. The U.S. public is not aware that these actions undercut the global nonproliferation effort.

Multilateral vs. unilateral

President Bush stated that the United States doesn’t need permission to do what it considers necessary to defend America. This is true, but constraining the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is more complicated since it requires cooperation of essentially all nations. The first serious report on proliferation was written by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment in 1977, with this still relevant conclusion:

“In the long run two general rules apply: (a) Solutions to the proliferation problem will have to be found primarily, though not exclusively, through multilateral actions, and (b) the extent of U.S. influence will vary from country to country.”

The United States is not working with the international community on new arms control treaties that would constrain it and allow inspectors on our soil. The United States is only interested in working on new agreements that constrain other countries.

On July 25, 2001, the United States, acting alone, withdrew from considering the verification protocol to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which has prevented further consideration of international inspections to constrain anthrax and small pox weapons. In addition, the United States rejected the Landmines Treaty, the International Criminal Court and the rejection of verification provisions for the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty.

Make no mistake about it, the citizens of the United Kingdom and Europe are highly critical of America. Europe is concerned that the United States, acting alone in the future, will not always be a benevolent democracy. Europe is concerned that our emphasis on intentions of other nations can be politicized, because we ignore nuclear weapons in the hands of our non-NPT friends (Pakistan and Israel).

Europe is concerned that the United States undercuts multilateral arms control, endangering cohesive world stability. Europe is concerned that the U.S. translates “might” into “right” since the U.S. constrains others and not itself. I will gladly debate these issues in a public forum.

Dave Hafemeister is professor emeritus of physics at Cal Poly. He spent a dozen years working on proliferation and arms control in Washington in the Senate, State Department, Arms Control Agency and the National Academy of Sciences.

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San Luis Obispo Tribune, USA
Oct. 7, 2004
Dave Hafemeijer

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday October 7, 2004.
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