During his first year in office, George W. Bush has engaged in three wars. His war against terrorism is widely known and discussed. His resolve to fight against evildoers with America’s military might is said to have defined his presidency.
The president’s other two wars have received far less attention, but they may end up defining his presidency even more than his war against terrorism. These are his war against international law and his war against the international control of armaments.
In the war against international law, the president has shown remarkable boldness in his disdain for the remainder of the international community. He has pulled out of the Kyoto Accords on Global Warming, perhaps the most critical environmental treaty of our time. He has also demonstrated his contempt for the creation of an International Criminal Court that would hold individuals accountable for the types of serious international crimes that were prosecuted by the United States at Nuremberg following World War II.
The president’s war against the international control of armaments, however, has been his most successful undertaking. In one area of arms control after another, he has demonstrated that he plans to chart the course of US unilateralism when it comes to decisions on controlling armaments.
He has made clear that he does not intend to resubmit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to the Senate for ratification. When the CTBT came up at the 2001 United Nations General Assembly, the US was the only country to vote against carrying over an item supporting the treaty to the next session of the General Assembly.
The president has also requested studies from the Pentagon on the possible resumption of nuclear testing. When the parties to the CTBT met last November to discuss ways to bring the Treaty into force more rapidly, the US did not even bother to show up and participate.
Mr. Bush has opposed signing the International Treaty to Ban Landmines, despite the solid international support to ban these weapons that go on killing civilians long after the soldiers have left a war zone. At a UN conference on small arms, the US blocked key provisions to stem the illegal traffic in small arms, those most used in combat. The US also torpedoed a six-year effort to create a Protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention that would allow for verification procedures including on-site inspections.
The president’s boldest act, however, in his war against the international control of armaments was his announcement that the US is withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Despite Russian opposition to taking this step, the president gave his notice of withdrawal on December 13, 2001, starting the six months running for withdrawal under the provisions of the treaty. Withdrawal from the ABM Treaty will give the US the ability to test weapons for use in outer space, leading to their deployment in outer space and the undermining of the Outer Space Treaty as well.
In his November 2001 Crawford Summit with Russian President Putin, Mr. Bush announced his intention to lower the size of the US strategic nuclear arsenal to some 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear weapons over a ten year period. This unilateral action did not even go as far as President Putin had been offering for over a year (reductions to 1,500 strategic weapons or possibly lower). The president’s plan will keep overkill the principal US nuclear strategy for at least the next decade. Further, since it has been unilaterally initiated, it will be subject to unilateral reversal by Mr. Bush himself or a successor to the presidency.
In taking these steps, Mr. Bush has also demonstrated his contempt for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which the US has promised to pursue good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. The International Court of Justice has interpreted this phrase to mean complete nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.
As recently as May 2000, the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty promised to preserve and strengthen the ABM Treaty “as the cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons.” At the same time, the US joined the other parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in promising an “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” The president’s actions have helped convince our allies and treaty partners that US promises are worth very little, but perhaps this is to be expected when a president is engaged in war on so many fronts.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.