Iraq war and disarmament double standards
NEW YORK-- The United States, which has virtually abandoned multilateralism in favour of unilateralism, is also undermining the international disarmament machinery created over the past couple of decades.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) are the only two international agencies legally mandated to declare whether or not Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.
But last week the Bush administration declared that neither of the two agencies would be permitted to go back to US-occupied Iraq.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaredei says his agency continues to be the "sole organisation with legal powers derived both from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and successive Security Council resolutions to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament.''

Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, says it would be advisable for US military forces to forego their search and permit an international team of arms inspectors to verify Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Such an international verification process would also have more credibility -- particularly at a time when there is widespread speculation that the US may "plant" its own weapons and then blame the Iraqis.

Last month US and British intelligence sources produced a letter purportedly sent by Iraq to Niger relating to the purchase of uranium for Iraq's nuclear weapons programme. But the IAEA discovered the letter was a fake.

At the international level, the US has walked away from several disarmament treaties, including the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which it has abrogated.

The US has also said it has no plans to seek ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); is not a party to the anti-landmine convention; and has rejected an inspection and verification programme for the biological weapons treaty.

Jayantha Dhanapala, former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US and currently UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, is disappointed by the growing trend against multilateral diplomacy to achieve disarmament. "There is a general feeling that the disarmament machinery is just not working," he complains.

Dhanapala points out that calls in 1978 for the prevention of outer space being converted into another arena for war are being overtaken by concrete plans today for the weaponisation of outer space and new physical principles in weapons.

Addressing a predominantly American audience, including US congressmen and senators, at the Alan Cranston Peace Award in San Francisco last week, Dhanapala posed the question: "Do we seriously believe we can ensure forever the indefinite possession of weapons of mass destruction to a chosen few while others are denied them selectively by the use of force?"

The world's only five declared nuclear powers are all veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council: the US, Britain, France, Russia and China.

The three countries outside of the Security Council possessing nuclear weapons are India, Pakistan and Israel. For the first time last week, the North Koreans publicly declared that they have successfully developed nuclear weapons, although this has long remained an open secret.

When US President George W. Bush recently enunciated his new military doctrine of "pre-emptive" strikes on countries developing weapons of mass destruction, he specifically warned Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to clean up their acts or face dire consequences.

But he deliberately left out Israel, India and Pakistan from his potential "hit list". With Iraq as the first military casualty of the "pre-emptive" doctrine, there is now a call for an even-handed US policy on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

The first salvo was fired last week when Syria circulated a draft resolution in the 15-member U.N. Security Council calling for the establishment of a "nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East."

There have been three similar regional initiatives - one by Iran in 1974, a second by Egypt in 1985 and a third by Syria in 1989 - all of which never got off the ground. The current draft resolution in the Security Council is implicitly directed at Israel, the only Middle East nation armed with nuclear weapons.

But the current initiative is likely to fail because Washington would block any attempts at disarming Israel, a staunch US ally which is also the recipient of over $3 billion in outright American military and economic grants annually.

For several years now, most of the Arab states have refused to declare their imports and exports of conventional weapons in the UN Arms Register published annually - "until Israel declares its weapons of mass destruction."

Last week, the Washington Post quoted US intelligence sources as saying that Israel may have as many as 300 nuclear weapons and missile warheads. Joseph Cirincione, lead author of "Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction," says that if there is one assumption that will certainly still be true after the Iraq war, it is that the existence and spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons will remain an urgent public concern and policy problem.

The bottom line, he argues, is that "you cannot get rid of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programmes in Arab countries unless you also address the elimination of Israel's nuclear and chemical programmes."

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