Iraq & North
Meeting the Challenge of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation
by Richard Falk and David Krieger*, January
President Bush has adopted very different policies
toward Iraq and North Korea, despite having provocatively labeled
both countries part of the "Axis of Evil," along with
Iran. He has repeatedly threatened war if Iraq does not divulge
and eliminate its purported weapons of mass destruction, has been
moving US troops into the Gulf region to demonstrate the seriousness
of his intent, has engaged in threatening practice bombing runs
over Iraqi territory, and has been illegally arming and inciting
opposition forces to initiate a civil war in Iraq. But, with regard
to North Korea, which has now admitted to having a nuclear weapons
program and is known to have advanced delivery systems, Bush has
made clear that he prefers to rely on diplomacy over military
Iraq appears to be cooperating with the UN weapons
inspectors, while North Korea has asked the inspectors to leave
its country and has given notice of its intent to withdraw from
the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as is its legal right, in order
to pursue, if it chooses, a nuclear weapons program free from
treaty restraints. Why, then, is war the prospect for Iraq and
diplomacy for North Korea?
Bush seeks to justify the distinction by insisting
that Iraq poses special dangers because it has invaded neighboring
countries in the past and has previously used non-nuclear weapons
of mass destruction. This distinction, however, seems dubious,
especially given past US policies. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 at
the urging of the US, and the US was fully aware of Iraq's use
of chemical weapons in its war against Iran and against the Kurds.
At the time the US was supporting Iraq and even supplying it with
many of the components needed to produce chemical and biological
weaponry. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the US ambassador
at the time sent mixed signals, telling Saddam Hussein that its
dispute with Kuwait was a matter of only regional concern.
The two aggressive wars initiated by Iraq during
Saddam's rule both involve a measure of US complicity. Iraq has
not acted aggressively toward neighbors during the past decade.
Iraq fully understands that if it were to threaten or use weapons
of mass destruction at this point it would face almost certain
annihilation, and nothing in Saddam Hussein's career, however
brutal, suggests such irrationality. Indeed, the Baghdad regime
has always given highest priority to its own survival and to that
of the Iraqi state.
The Bush administration has set itself up as the
arbiter of who is and who is not allowed to possess weapons of
mass destruction. This is not a strategy likely to succeed without
giving American foreign policy a militarist character that includes
being constantly prepared for warfare in remote parts of the world.
In recent years, the US failed to stop India and Pakistan from
developing and possessing nuclear weaponry. Nor did it act to
prevent Israel from developing its own nuclear arsenal, and even
appears to have supported Israel's program in various ways. At
a minimum, the US certainly turned a blind eye toward this dangerous
addition to the nuclear weapons club. Bush has chosen to continue
these policies, which predate his presidency, despite his seeming
preoccupation with nuclear proliferation.
The Arab world is keenly aware that the US has
adopted very different standards for Iraq and North Korea, and
also with respect to Iraq and Israel. There is no acceptable explanation
of this double standard other than the strategic opportunism of
Is the real rationale for the policy that the US
doesn't want unpredictable leaders to develop nuclear arsenals?
Doubtful, because North Korea, Pakistan and Israel each currently
have unpredictable leaders.
Is the policy that the US will only allow its allies
to develop nuclear arsenals? Also doubtful, because North Korea,
India and Pakistan are not properly regarded as allies, although
Pakistan has temporarily shifted its alignment due to pressure
from Washington in the aftermath of September 11th.
Is the policy that the US will use the suspected
development of weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to intervene
in a country that sits on large oil reserves? One cannot help
feeling that oil is a major economic and strategic interest that
helps explain why the Bush administration seems so intent on waging
war against Iraq as a prelude to regime change. There may be other
political and strategic motivations as well, including the desire
to assert regional dominance in the Middle East and eliminate
a troublesome leader.
We believe that the US government needs to develop
a consistent policy on weaponry of mass destruction that applies
to all nations. President Bush's pursuit of a diplomatic solution
with North Korea seems like the right course of action, especially
if compared to its approach to Iraq.
The US Government needs to enter into negotiations
with North Korea, rather than seeking to isolate it. The United
States must also be willing to offer security assurances as well
as much needed development assistance to the people in North Korea
in exchange for the North Koreans forgoing their nuclear option.
It would be diplomatically constructive for the US to encourage
the establishment of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone
that covers the two Koreas, Japan, Taiwan, and that portion of
Chinese and US nuclear forces deployed in Northeast Asia. It would
also be helpful to support reunification discussions between Seoul
With regard to Iraq, the Bush administration should
also be willing to enter into negotiations. The UN inspectors,
after all, have already reportedly visited well over 200 Iraqi
sites, selected on the basis of intelligence leads, and have so
far found no evidence of prohibited weaponry. If the Bush administration
has information, as it repeatedly has claimed, that Iraq has violated
the UN mandate on eliminating its weapons of mass destruction,
it has an obligation to provide this information to the UN inspectors
so that they can carry out their work. In the event that Iraq
is cleared by the UN inspectors with respect to nuclear and other
weapons of mass destruction programs, the US should end its sanctions
against Iraq and certainly end the bombing of the No-Fly Zones
that it established in Iraq more than a decade ago without any
authorization by the Security Council.
To be consistent in its efforts to control the
spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, the
Bush administration should put pressure on Israel to eliminate
its nuclear arsenal. Resolution 687, calling for Iraq's nuclear
disarmament, makes note of the calls to create a Middle East Nuclear
Weapons Free Zone and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone. The
US should seek to realize these goals, and this will not be possible
unless Israel's nuclear arsenal is dismantled. As a major donor
of military aid to Israel, the US is in a position to exert a
benign influence on Israel's policy on these issues that will
be helpful in the pursuit of regional stability and a just peace
throughout the Middle East.
The US has wrongly treated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty as a one-way street for more than 30 years. From the outset
the treaty was negotiated as a two-way street. The non-nuclear
weapons states gave up their right to acquire or develop nuclear
weapons in return for a solemn promise by the nuclear weapons
states to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.
The US, as well as other nuclear weapons states, has not upheld
its part of the bargain, which is a "material breach"
of the treaty. It has also been unacceptable to other countries,
particularly those that feel threatened by US foreign policy.
Consistency, however, is not enough. Non-proliferation
is increasingly being revealed as a dead-end that is not capable
of protecting the peoples of the world against the dire possibility
of a nuclear war. If the US really wants to put an end to the
threat of nuclear proliferation, it must demonstrate that it has
the political will to propose and engage in serious negotiations
for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world,
including its own, as called for almost 35 years ago in the Non-Proliferation
War is not a solution to preventing the proliferation
of nuclear weapons. The only approach with some chance of success
depends on a demonstrable political will to achieve a world free
of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. When
the US demonstrates this political will, the inspection procedures
and institutional structures to guard against cheating can be
established, tested and gradually implemented. Only at that point
can the world begin to breathe more easily.
Moving in this direction will require a sea change
in the strategy of the US Government, but it is the only policy
that will have the consistency and international support needed
to succeed, and is by far the best way to reduce the threat of
nuclear catastrophe. Until the United States is prepared to forego
its own nuclear weapons option, preventing others from doing what
we have been doing for more than half a century will seem like
an extreme version of moral hypocrisy. It is time for Americans
to realize that reliance on nuclear weapons is incompatible with
our most fundamental moral and legal obligations as well as with
preventing and reversing nuclear proliferation.
*Richard Falk, visiting professor, Global Studies, University
of California at Santa Barbara, is chair of the Nuclear Age Peace
Foundation. David Krieger
is a founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.