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Oliver Thränert

At the Fifty-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer identified nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction as one of the major challenges for the international community in the twenty-first century. Both Clinton and Fischer emphasized that arms control must be an important part of all efforts to cope with this challenge. [ See Remarks by President Clinton to the Fifty-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 21 September 1999, http://www.usia.gov/admin/006/eur203.htm and Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, Address by Joschka Fischer, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany, at the Fifty-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assemby, New York, 22 September 1999, http://www.germany-info.org/UN/un_state_09_22_99.htm] While Clinton’s and Fischer’s speeches seemed to imply that the United States and Germany act in full harmony on the nonproliferation issue, this volume starts with a different assumption: that there is an ever-widening gap between the United States on the one hand and Germany (and many European countries) on the other regarding nonproliferation strategies.

Transatlantic Differences

Germans (and many Europeans) think of arms control first of all as a means to stop proliferation. In the United States, however, arms control is seen at best as one among other instruments such as deterrence, passive and active defenses, and, possibly, preemptive attacks against nuclear, chemical, and biological arsenals in countries hostile to the United States. Many believe that the significance of arms control is decreasing, while military measures are becoming more and more important. In Congress, those who actively promote arms control are in the minority, while those who believe arms control in general is dangerous for the United States and its national interests are more and more vocal. As Brad Roberts argues in this book, the moderate middle that would carefully weight the pros and cons of any given arms control initiative or treaty has almost entirely disappeared. [ See the contribution of Brad Roberts in this book.] Moreover, many members of Congress favor priorities other than arms control, such as the interests of civil industry, which might be affected by international inspections.

What are the ramifications of this? First, the United States does not seem to take arms control seriously enough: existing arms control regimes are not implemented according to the respective treaties, as is the case with the Chemical Weapons Convention. [ See the contribution of Amy E. Smithson in this book.] Nor does the United States show leadership in negotiations to improve existing treaties where effective verification provisions are urgently needed, as is the case with the Biological Weapons Convention. [ See the contribution of Marie Isabelle Chevrier in this book.] Second, it seems the United States is taking a more unilateral stance in that it prefers military preparations to fight in an environment of more and more countries armed with nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) weapons rather than using arms control as a multilateral tool to prevent proliferation.

One indicator of the different views across the Atlantic is the discussion about the terms „counterproliferation" and „nonproliferation". Counterproliferation is a term coined in the United States and is therefore more common in Washington than in Berlin or Paris. But there is no consensus about what counterproliferation means. Counterproliferation implies that

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there is more to do than just arms control. Other measures such as export controls should also help prevent proliferation, but many see it as a fact of life that proliferation already occurs despite multilateral arms control efforts. In fact, the detection of the clandestine Iraqi nuclear program, the assumed nuclear activities of Iran, and North Korea’s attempt to leave the nuclear nonproliferation regime and to choose a nuclear option were decisive factors for the counterproliferation approach, which goes back to an initiative by then U.S. defense minister Les Aspin in 1993. [ See Defense Secretary Les Aspin before the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Policy Information and Texts, No. 124 of 9 December 1993, pp. 10-13.] Therefore, military preparedness to deal with enemies armed with weapons of mass destruction is seen as an important, if not the important part. Such military preparedness measures may range from improved protection for soldiers and the civilian populations to active defenses (missile defenses) to preemptive strikes against NBC storage sites in hostile countries.

Most Europeans agree that arms control cannot be the only political means to prevent proliferation, but they perceive the term counterproliferation as having too exclusive a military or even an offensive connotation. Therefore, they prefer nonproliferation. In fact, this term rather than counterproliferation is used in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) documents, as a rule. [ See Mitchell Reiss and Harald Müller, eds., International Perspectives on Counterproliferation , Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Division of International Studies, Working Paper No. 99, January 1995.]

These differences should not be overestimated, but it is also true that there are critics in Europe who even go a step further and blame Washington for following a „rogue doctrine", in which the goal is not universal disarmament but differentiation between „good" and „bad" states. While the latter should be disarmed, the first would have the right to defend themselves, even taking into account nuclear weapons. Indeed, like the term counterproliferation, the term „rogue state" is an American label that is much less used in Europe. [ See Gernot Erler, Global Monopoly (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag 1998); Peter Rudolf, „Stigmatisierung bestimmter Staaten", in Internationale Politik, no. 6 (1999): pp. 15-22.]

On the other side of the Atlantic, however, there are those who believe that the Europeans do not prepare themselves appropriately for contingencies in which NATO would be confronted with adversaries possessing nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. They recognize a widening gap within the Alliance in regard to protection as well as active and passive defenses against NBC weapons that could ultimately cause significant military problems should the Alliance need to fight an adversary armed with so-called weapons of mass destruction.

The difference of views in the United States and Germany regarding the question of how to curb the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is mainly rooted in three factors. They have to do with strategic culture, the role of technical solutions for political challenges, and military experience and expertise.

  • Strategic culture

The United States is a nuclear weapons state and the last remaining superpower after the end of the Cold War, with interests to be defended worldwide. Germany is a non-nuclear medium power, with interests mainly concentrated on the European and transatlantic region. It has developed a foreign policy culture in which multilateralism is deeply rooted. Germany is

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embedded in both the European Union and NATO and against the background of its historical experience does not wish to take a unilateral stance. Nor would its partners and friends appreciate such an approach. The United States, on the other hand, can act on its own if it deems it necessary and in its national interest. It follows that the temptation toward unilateral behavior is much greater in the United States than in Germany. At the same time, Germany concentrates more on multilateral arms control in its nonproliferation approach than the United States does.

  • Technical solutions for political challenges

In the United States, there is traditionally a tendency to search for technical solutions to deal with new political challenges. The „Star Wars" program of the early 1980s is the best-known example of this typical American approach. Current efforts to build up a national missile defense system against proliferators such as North Korea again underscore this tendency. But such a tradition does not exist in Europe. Moreover, as the U.S. economy is in good shape, a budget surplus allows Washington to spend taxpayers’ money for new military projects, especially when such programs lead to better protection for American soldiers as well as the civilian population. In Europe, however, the economic situation is different and does not allow for increased defense budgets. To the contrary, defense budgets are shrinking, leaving no room for extra military projects. As a consequence, the United States can afford to initiate new military projects to respond to the proliferation threat, while Europeans find such projects to be very costly.

  • Military experiences and expertise

The United States not only is a nuclear power, but also conducted a biological weapons program until the late 1960s and a chemical weapons program into the 1980s. Germany gave up all such programs after the defeat of the Third Reich. As a consequence, there is a lot of expertise available in the United States concerning nuclear deterrence or protection and defense against chemical and biological weapons, while in Germany the number of knowledgeable experts is much more limited.

Evaluating the Threat

Against this background, the aim of the conference at which the papers collected in this volume were presented was to contribute to a transatlantic dialogue about what role arms control should and could play in regard to the proliferation issue, and to what extent other measures could also be significant. To start with, Americans and Germans agree that the proliferation of so-called weapons of mass destruction is to be taken very seriously. At the Washington NATO summit of April 1999, the allies approved the Alliance’s Strategic Concept, in which the following is pointed out:

„The proliferation of NBC weapons and their means of delivery remains a matter of serious concern. In spite of welcome progress in strengthening international non-proliferation regimes, major challenges with respect to proliferation remain. The Alliance recognizes that proliferation can occur despite efforts to prevent it and can pose a direct military threat to the Allies’ populations, territories, and forces." [ The Alliance’s Strategic Concept, Approved by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Alliance in Washington, D.C. on 23-24 April 1999, Part II: Strategic Perspectives, Paragraph 22, http://www.nato.int/docu/pr/1999/p99-065e.htm]

When analyzing the proliferation threat, the following factors are of importance:

  • First, some non-Western countries may draw their own conclusions from the war in the Kosovo, where NATO decided to act militarily against the violation of human rights

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    although there was no authorization by the United Nations Security Council to do so. Because the conventional military superiority of the West is so overwhelming, such countries may think that the possession of NBC weapons would be the best way to deter the West from engaging militarily in the respective regions.

  • Second, regional conflicts may increasingly become a source of proliferation. The best example in that regard is the nuclear rivalry between Pakistan and India, which gained a new dimension after the nuclear explosions conducted by both countries in May 1998.
  • Third, with global trade expanding, access to the information, knowledge, and equipment needed to produce NBC weapons and delivery systems is becoming easier. In particular, chemical and biological weapons programs are based to a large extent on dual-use items, so that export controls can only delay access to respective weapons, but not prevent it.
  • Fourth, trade among countries interested in acquiring NBC weapon technology is increasing, so that again export controls introduced by Western countries are becoming less and less significant.

The nuclear explosions conducted by India and Pakistan in May 1998 underscored that there are countries in addition to the five official nuclear weapons states that deem nuclear weapons necessary for what they define as their national security requirements. As both India and Pakistan are very unlikely to follow the road South Africa took some years ago and unilaterally abandon their respective nuclear programs and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state, it can only be hoped that the presence of nuclear weapons will not destabilize the region. Moreover, it would be very much appreciated if both India and Pakistan would sign and ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, as this is currently the only existing nuclear arms control regime which both states could become part of. [ See Amit Gupta, „Nuclear Forces in South Asia - Prospects for Arms Control", in Security Dialogue 30, no. 3: 319-330.]

Furthermore, it is widely believed that Israel also possesses nuclear weapons. Also, while Iraq’s nuclear program was reportedly destroyed by Operation Desert Storm and the subsequent International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, there is uncertainty about whether Iraq’s nuclear weapons experts could use their skills and knowledge to resume a nuclear program. The fact that there have been no inspections since the end of 1998 is another source of concern. [ See „The Lessons and Legacy of UNSCOM: An Interview With Ambassador Richard Butler", in Arms Control Today, June 1999, pp. 3-9.] Finally, there are a couple of other countries suspected of running hidden nuclear programs, with Iran being the most prominent and often cited in U.S. documents.

Many believe that for the years to come, chemical and particularly biological weapons will be at the core of the proliferation problem rather than nuclear weapons. Chemical and biological programs are much cheaper than nuclear programs, and they are much easier to camouflage. In essence, all the equipment needed is of dual-use character and therefore often available on the open market. In the biological field, this even applies to the pathogens and toxins themselves. [ See Brad Roberts, „Between Panic and Complacency: Calibrating the Chemical and Biological Warfare Problem", in Stuart E. Johnson, ed., The Niche Threat. Deterring the Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1997), pp. 9-41.]

While many in the Western World were of the opinion at least during the Cold War years that chemical and biological weapons were of little if any military utility, this view has never been shared in the former Soviet Union. After its collapse in 1992 all respective programs were officially abandoned, but hundreds of scientists and other experts became available on the

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international job market. [ See Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard. The True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Programme in the World- -Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It (London: Random House, 1999).] To what extent they contributed to chemical and particularly biological weapons programs in third countries is not known. In any event, advances in biotechnology may make biological warfare more likely. [ See British Medical Association, Biotechnology Weapons and Humanity ( Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1999).] It is primarily the biological threat that many military planners in the United States and elsewhere have in mind when they think about scenarios of asymmetric warfare. U.S. government officials speak of more than 25 countries that have developed or may develop chemical and/or biological warfare programs.

Not only is there a growing threat of proliferation of NBC weapons, but worse, more and more countries are becoming capable of producing ballistic as well as cruise missiles. As the Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (the so-called Rumsfeld Report) has pointed out, countries such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, India, and Pakistan are well advanced in their respective missile programs and could threaten the American homeland and U.S. allies in a few years. [ See Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Executive Summary, Pursuant to Public Law 201, 104 th Congress, 15 July 1998.] The North Korean missile test of August 1998, undertaken with a Taepo-Dong 1, was a case in point. The missile, which is estimated to have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, flew over Japanese territory and fell into the Pacific about 600 kilometers to the northeast of it.

Cruise missiles, even if based on a much lower technological level than those used by the United States, pose another threat. These weapons are of particular concern because using them to disperse chemical or biological agents can be more effective than using missiles. For instance, most pathogens would not survive the heat of a warhead explosion. But loading them into a spray tank beneath a cruise missile would provide an aggressor with the opportunity to disperse them without risking the lives of bomber pilots.

Not only is the threat of proliferation coming from states and their governments, it is also coming from non-state actors. It is known that the Aum Shinrikyo cult, responsible for the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in March 1995, tried to develop biological weapons in addition to its nerve agent programs. To that end, the group did research and dissemination studies on anthrax, botulinum, and ebola. Fortunately, the damage caused by the groups’ activities was limited, but it cannot be ruled out that future terrorist attacks using chemical or biological weapons would result in more casualties. Access to agents is possible, but effective dissemination of them is more difficult. However, this should not imply that terrorists do not have the means to overcome such technical barriers. While it is debatable whether future terrorist attacks such as the one undertaken by the Aum are likely, Western countries would be well advised to take the threat of chem-bio terrorism seriously. [ See Brad Roberts, ed., Terrorism with Chemical and Biological Weapons, Calibrating Risks and Responses (Alexandria, VA: Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, 1997).]

These developments may result in ever-increasing risks, which can be summed up as follows:

  • Direct military threats to Western countries;
  • Increasing risks for Western forces in the course of out-of-area operations;
  • Regional shifts of power;
  • Regional instabilities;

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  • Erosion of international and regional regimes;
  • Accidents with weapons of mass destruction;
  • Unintended or unauthorized use of weapons of mass destruction;
  • New dimensions of international terrorism. [ See Joachim Krause, Strukturwandel der Nichtverbreitungspolitik (München: R. Oldenbourg Publisher, 1998), p. 119.]

Such developments would have an immense effect on the current world order. It is evident that the United States must be concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But changes of world order resulting in instability would also affect Germany and might change the environment in which German foreign policy has to act.

The Role of Arms Control and Military Measures

It is almost impossible to find West European experts who deny that arms control could and should play at least some role in dealing with the proliferation problem. On the other side of the Atlantic, it is easier to find individuals who are of the belief that arms control is useless in principle and even dangerous to the United States and its national interests. While this indicates a difference between the strategic cultures in the United States on the one hand and its European allies on the other, this has not translated into differences that could not be overcome by U.S. and European governments. On both sides of the Atlantic it is widely accepted that arms control regimes set norms of state behavior, thereby contributing to the goal of nonproliferation.

In fact, arms control regimes to curb proliferation already exist for all three categories of weapons of mass destruction: The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC); and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). However, none of these regimes is perfect in itself or implemented in such a manner that the nonproliferation goal is achieved.

The NPT is seen by many as the cornerstone of international nonproliferation regimes. At its 1995 Review and Extension Conference, the NPT was made permanent by the states parties. This decision has been linked to a strengthened Review Process and the Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. It is this commitment on nuclear disarmament that produces the greatest controversy between nuclear-haves and nuclear have-nots, so that many experts conclude that the whole NPT process could get into dangerous waters. [ See the contributions of Annette Schaper, Heiner Horsten, and Jack Mendelsohn in this book.]

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signed in September 1996, bans all nuclear explosions. In doing so, this treaty is a remarkable step forward. However, its complicated entry-into-force provisions, which include that the 44 listed states that are either nuclear weapon states or that have a civilian nuclear capacity have to ratify the CTBT, have not been met. In particular, there seems to be no willingness on the part of the U.S. Congress to ratify the CTBT. [ See the contribution of Joe Cirincione in this book.]

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in April 1997, is the most ambitious arms control treaty ever. It not only bans an entire class of weapons but also includes detailed and intrusive verification provisions that aim at military capabilities and facilities and also include inspections in the private industry. Unfortunately, a number of

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states parties did not come forward with the required declarations or came forward with incomplete ones and thus do not comply fully with the CWC provisions. It is most disappointing that the United States is among these countries. Another important issue is that it is unclear whether Russia will be capable of destroying its chemical warfare arsenal until the year 2007 or 2012 at the latest, as requested by the convention. [ See the contributions of Amy E. Smithson and Alexander Kelle in this book.]

The Biological Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1975, was the first agreement to ban an entire class of weapons but does not include any effective verification provisions. Following a Special Conference of the states parties in 1994, a legally binding protocol to the BWC is now being negotiated in Geneva. The aim is to introduce enhanced compliance provisions to the convention. However, progress is difficult to achieve, particularly in regard to declarations as well as on-site measures. [ See the contributions of Marie Isabelle Chevrier and Volker Beck in this book.]

Despite the existence of these nonproliferation regimes, a lot of problems remain. One main problem is universality because in many cases precisely those countries of concern remain outside of regimes. Another is efficiency of on-site measures. The UNSCOM experience has shown how difficult it is to identify prohibited activities even under very intrusive provisions. Furthermore, as the negotiations in the Ad Hoc Group to the BWC indicate, it is difficult to define verification provisions when private companies of important states parties see their proprietary interests threatened by on-site inspections.

This final aspect is of utmost importance in regard to efforts to prevent proliferation through arms control. For such arms control regimes to be effective, particularly as far as chemical and biological weapons are concerned, an openness on the part of private industry - and the military – is required to an extent that was not conceived when the concept of arms control was created at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. While the CWC includes far-reaching provisions, they have not been sufficiently implemented. What is more, many believe that the CWC is a child of its time, that is, the end of the Cold War, and that such far-reaching provisions would never enter arms control regimes again. If that is the case, and considering that most parts of chemical and biological weapons programs could be of a dual-use character, one may indeed ask to what extent arms control can be an effective tool to prevent proliferation.

Finally, in regard to NBC terrorism, the ability of arms control to prevent it can at best be marginal. States parties may be required through international conventions to introduce improved national legislation to make access to weapon ingredients and equipment more difficult.

While it will be difficult to overcome all these problems, other nonproliferation efforts also do not come without contradictions. Nuclear deterrence against the use of NBC weapons may be strategically useful, but may contradict arms control aims. It may be perceived by non-nuclear states as directed against the nuclear disarmament goals and particularly the negative security assurances agreed upon in the framework of the NPT extension. [ See the contributions of Götz Neuneck and Victor Utgoff in this book.] Protection against chemical and biological weapons may help soldiers to survive such attacks, but it may be costly and at the same time insufficient. Active defenses such as missile defenses may protect both the military and the civilian population, but may be technically difficult to achieve. Moreover, they again may contradict arms control aims just as missile defenses envisaged in

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the United States may violate the ABM treaty, which limits such systems. [ See the contributions of Michael Moodie and Torsten Sohns in this book.] The preemptive destruction of NBC weapons in hostile countries may reduce the proliferation threat, but at the same time violate international law.

In conclusion, the proliferation threat is real and needs to be taken seriously. Arms control measures are helpful, but in no way sufficient. Other measures such as deterrence, protection, and defense may help, but could jeopardize arms control. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss what the relation between arms control on the one hand and these other measures on the other should be. In order to avoid a widening gap between the United States and its allies in the perception of needed nonproliferation efforts, a transatlantic dialogue is urgently needed. The authors of this volume wish to contribute to such a dialogue.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Februar 2000

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