by Gustavo Capdevila
(IPS) GENEVA --
unilateral stance of the United States on arms control, as well as legal gaps in international arms treaties are among the reasons negotiations on the matter have been bogged down and violators go unpunished, say disarmament experts.
Stein Tonnesson, director of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), says the U.S. go-it-alone position "is partly due to the nature of the current administration in the White House and the Pentagon."
Jozef Goldblat, a researcher at the Geneva-based United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), agreed, noting, "In 2000, the U.S. administration formally declared its preference for unilateral action."
He said the United States became the first country to back out of an arms control treaty, when in December 2001, President George W. Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, signed in 1972 with the now-defunct Soviet Union, inherited in 1991 by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine.
Bush argued that the ABM "hindered the U.S. government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks."
Another disarmament expert, Alyson Bailes, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), pointed out that as far as NATO is concerned, "it certainly does not seem that arms control holds the same high priority as it did in the 'good' or the 'bad' old days."
There seems to have been a change as far as ”the value of traditional arms control restraints and regulations,” she said.
"Originally, 'arms control' was meant to denote rules for limiting arms competition (mainly nuclear) rather than reversing it. Today, arms control is often used interchangeably with 'arms regulation,' 'arms limitation,' 'arms reduction' or even 'disarmament.'"
Among the threats to arms control, PRIO's Tonnesson mentioned the risk that states may fall apart, citing Iraq, "in the case that it comes under attack."
Other countries in the same situation, he said, are Indonesia and Pakistan, and "perhaps one could think there is a danger with China, if there are internal conflicts."
"When you think about arms control, you must also consider what happens to the weapons when a state fall apart, and about what needs to be done," Tonnesson said.
And holes in multilateral arms treaties stand in the way of punishing violations, pointed out Goldblat, also using the case of Iraq, which was condemned for invading Kuwait in 1990 but not for its breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Enforcing compliance with the treaties is the most urgent issue in global arms control efforts, he said.
None of the multilateral agreements has "satisfactorily resolved" the matter. "Condemnatory statements or resolutions do not suffice to make the violator rectify his behavior," said Goldblat.
Various arms control agreements establish that, once "a competent body has made a definitive finding that a violation has occurred," the case should be remitted to the United Nations Security Council, which "has the authority to restore international peace that has been broken."
Iraq, which had committed a "material breach" of the NPT, was forced by the UN Security Council "to dismantle or destroy the key elements of its nuclear weapons development program."
But those sanctions were not the result of the NPT violation, says the expert, but a response to "Iraq's aggression against Kuwait in violation of the UN Charter."
Based on the Iraqi precedent, Goldblat proposed that collective enforcement measures against a "culprit state" should be "agreed in advance, and form part and parcel of the obligations contracted by states under each arms control treaty."
The academic, who is also vice-president of the Geneva International Peace Research Institute, warned that treaties should not include military sanctions for violations, as such measures are the solely the terrain of the Security Council.
Goldblat expressed pessimism about the disarmament process saying, "I don't see any prospects for reaching agreements on substantial arms control issues in the course of the next two or even six years."
With the beginning of the new century, efforts aimed at disarmament began to lose momentum, he commented.
This climate is reflected in the stagnant negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament, which entail the most critical issues of weapons control, such as nuclear disarmament, the ban on fissile material used to manufacture nuclear warheads, and the arms race focused on outer space, among others.
The Geneva-based Conference, made up of 66 member states, has not achieved consensus on anything in the last three, not even on its work agenda. Enrique Román-Morey, the secretary of the arms control body, attributes the immobility to the lack of political will, particularly among the leading international actors.
However, Román-Morey expressed hope that the Conference will pick up the pace in its 2003 sessions, slated to begin in January, noting that there are several initiatives aimed at overcoming the obstacles afflicting the negotiations.
But Goldblat believes the entire negotiating machinery should be reformed. His proposal implies that the Conference on Disarmament as an "omnibus body," taking on several arms control measures, should be revamped.
Each one of the arms control issues should be dealt with in a separate, representative, body, he said.
Another area in need of improvement is the compliance verification system, "which should be made more effective without becoming unnecessarily intrusive," said Goldblat.
The UNIDIR researcher cited the need to detect clandestine activities, such as those carried out by Iraq or North Korea. Verification, he stressed, needs to occur "early enough to redress the situation."
The inability to reach consensus for giving the Biological Weapons Convention a verification system undermines confidence in the treaty itself, he said.
Washington said in July 2001 that the draft of the protocol aimed at providing that Convention with verification authority threatened the integrity of U.S. national security.
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