Farwell to arms control

Posted: Oct 16, 2001 12:00 AM
In all the millions of words that have been spoken and written in recent days about the threats of bio-terrorism and chemical weapons attacks, two have been curiously absent: Arms control. This is particularly striking since international agreements are in place that purport to ban completely the development, production and stockpiling of all biological and chemical weapons. The complete -- and predicted -- failure of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to prevent the frightening threats we now face may have something of a silver lining, however, provided the United States now makes a significant course correction. Specifically, we must promptly bring to an end the era in which inherently unverifiable agreements, forged with countries that systematically fail to honor their commitments, are fatuously made pillars of our national security. To his credit, George W. Bush had made important strides in this direction even before September 11th. Earlier this year, he declined to join a very costly, yet utterly ineffectual, protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention on the grounds that it would not actually make that unworkable accord more verifiable. Although foreign governments, former Clinton Administration officials and media elites endlessly cited this decision as evidence of what they consider to be President Bush's deplorable "unilateralism" in foreign policy, he was right to reject the BWC Protocol. Its proposed on-site inspection regime would have compromised the intellectual property of legitimate and cutting-edge American biotech and pharmaceutical firms -- without assuring the ability to prove Russian or Iraqi non-compliance, let alone what Osama bin Laden is doing with biological weapons. Interestingly, the BWC Verification Protocol was largely modeled after a similar arrangement crafted during the administration of Mr. Bush's father, as part of "41's" idee fixe about "banning chemical weapons from the face of the earth." It is regrettable that none of those who drafted or subsequently championed the Chemical Weapons Convention have had the good grace to acknowledge the validity of its many critics in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere: Any country and/or sub-national group that wishes to have chemical weapons can have them without fear of being detected, let alone punished, pursuant to the CWC. Another fatally flawed arms control agreement will be in the news this week as President Bush meets with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Shanghai, China. Fortunately, the former has already put the latter on notice: Mr. Bush is determined to use this bilateral meeting to clear the way for the development and prompt deployment of U.S. missile defenses by ending the obstacles imposed to such work by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. President Bush has recently been informed of an immediate example of this problem. The Pentagon has advised him that, due to the constraints of the ABM Treaty, sea-based radars aboard Aegis fleet air defense ships cannot be used to monitor the next test of a ground-based anti-missile system. As a result, all other things being equal, the United States will be denied additional capabilities to garner valuable data from this $100 million experiment. It will also miss an opportunity to move forward with promising sea-based missile defenses. All this in deference to a treaty whose other party, the Soviet Union, was dismantled a decade ago; that was massively violated by the USSR (a practice that continues in Russia today); and that keeps us from having the kind of defense clearly needed in the 21st Century. The Cold War is over, and so should be U.S. adherence to the ABM Treaty. The good news is that President Bush has already embarked upon a course of action that promises to do more for arms control than any number of additional treaties and protocols. The war on global terrorists and their state-sponsors clearly anticipates changing, where necessary, the latters' regimes. As it happens, there is a perfect correlation between the nations that are involved in harboring, training or otherwise supporting terrorist organizations and those who are involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. To the extent that the option of effecting regime change is, in fact, exercised, the effect could be highly salutary both with respect to the fights against terrorism and against the spread of dangerous armaments. Now, it is probably a waste of time to hope that advocates of traditional arms control would recant their cherished illusions about ordering the world through agreements with the likes of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Kim Jong Il's North Korea and the mullahs' Iran. To be sure, the evidence of their mistakes have been much in evidence since the 11th of September. But too many careers have been founded, too much intellectual energy invested and too many institutions built for the purpose of promoting such notions for the present respite from such nonsense to continue indefinitely. Still, President Bush should seize the moment. There will be no time like the present -- when Americans are approving of his presidency to an extent unprecedented in the history of polling and supporting by nearly as overwhelming margins his determination to put terrorists out of business, "dead or alive" -- for him to do two things: 1) Adopt a new, more practical approach to arms control focusing on regime change. And 2) bring formally to an end U.S. fealty to the defective, obsolete ABM Treaty, then realize the earliest possible deployment of effective missile defenses as an essential complement to Mr. Bush's much-needed Homeland Security program.