Rich Lowry

How high are the stakes in the war on terror? We are working to prevent the detonation of a nuclear device in an American city some day. That has made weapons proliferation -- hitherto the obscure province of arms-control experts and international lawyers --an issue of the utmost priority. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton is a Bush administration point man on proliferation, promoting a policy that -- like much else having to do with President Bush -- is under harsh attack.

John Kerry, citing Bush's alleged inability to work with other countries, has pronounced proliferation "one of the most glaring weaknesses in this administration." In reality, Bush has a multilayered strategy, mixing diplomacy, intelligence and force, that has achieved anti-proliferation successes in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. "We are changing the calculations of leaders like Muammar Qaddafi about whether it makes sense to pursue weapons of mass destruction," says Bolton in an interview.

The administration's Proliferation Security Initiative is a partnership with roughly a dozen other countries, including France and Germany, to interdict weapons-of-mass-destruction materials in transit. It scored a success last September when the United States and allies intercepted a shipment of centrifuges headed for Libya on the BBC China. The shipment was part of a Pakistani-run proliferation network that is now being dismantled. "It was really a great intelligence success," says Bolton, "and it ties in directly with the Libyan decision to give up WMD."

The background to Libya's choice was the invasion of Iraq, which demonstrated the consequences of not meeting the international community's disarmament demands. Bolton points out that the Libyans began serious discussions with the United States at the outset of the Iraq War, that they admitted Western experts after the BBC China incident, and that the negotiations were completed the week after Saddam Hussein was pulled from his hole. "That's a pretty clear correlation between external events and Libyan decisions," he says. "It is a classic example of a vindication of the Bush doctrine."

At the upcoming G8 summit at Sea Island in June, the administration hopes to put more multilateral teeth in Bush's anti-proliferation program. It will lobby allies to expand the reach of the PSI, and to close an enormous loophole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows non-nuclear states to tiptoe up to the threshold of bomb-building capabilities. It is hard to argue that Bush isn't taking proliferation seriously, but his critics argue it nonetheless.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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