Monday, August 18, 2008

Arms Control Quiz

About a year and a half ago I set the following quiz (updated):

What country meets the following criteria:
It has failed to honor the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
It has ratified the Chemical Weapons treaty - but it will miss the deadline for destruction of chemical weapons by eleven years
It has signed the Biological Weapons treaty, but refuses to agree to a verification protocol
It refuses to sign the land mine treaties or discuss a small arms treaty

I can now add the following criteria -- it refuses to even consider a ban against cluster bombs.

And so the answer is ... The United States of America.

The cluster bombs issue was recently discussed in a meeting to draft a convention that would ban their use. What was very disturbing was that the US, along with the other major producers -- Russia, Israel, China, India, and Pakistan -- did not only oppose the ban, but forced through an article which allows cooperation between countries which sign the treaty and those who do not.

To understand the problems with cluster munitions take a look at the recent report by landmine action on the economic impact of the use of cluster bombs by Israel in Lebanon, 2006. As it demonstrates that the costs to the environment, agricultural, and peoples livelihoods can be great.

The US claims that cluster weapons are useful for stopping advancing armies. But as the Lebanon report states "In contrast to the problems caused, no evidence has been provided that this use of cluster munitions achieved a direct military advantage that could justify this civilian cost."

[UPDATE: There are reports that Russia has used cluster munitions in Georgia. See this article.]

The US's position on the landmine issue somewhat parallels its position on cluster weapons. Again the military insists that mines are a useful defense to "protect" areas from invading forces. They often cite the case of North Korea. I would rather look at the case of the Vietnam war, where landmines are still maiming people thirty years after the war.

One of the greatest threats to mankind and the environment is nuclear weapons. The US, Britain, and France warn about terrorists who have "weapons of mass destruction (WMD)". Yet in the US's latest Quadrennial Defense Review (2006), all references to WMD imply foreign countries or organizations; when discussing the US's nuclear force it uses the terms "Nuclear Deterrent" or "Triad".

We often hear in the media that countries that are parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but which do not possess nuclear weapons, must not develop nuclear capabilities. But very seldom do we here that the treaty also requires that the countries which already possessed nuclear weapons at the time of the treaty must attempt to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Article VI states that the Nuclear Weapon States must "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures related to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." (italics mine)

To put it another way, as the Canberra commission stated, "Nuclear weapons are held by a handful of states which insist that these weapons provide unique security benefits and yet reserve uniquely to themselves the right to own them."(quoted here) Or as K. Subrahmanyam mused, "It cannot be legal for some countries to possess a category of weapons it is illegal for others to do so."

As for the US, it is currently undergoing a "modernization" of its nuclear arsenal, including developing newer weapons. In addition, the administration as stated that if they agree (that is, agreement with Russia) to reduce their nuclear missiles, they will store, not destroy any nuclear warheads removed from the missiles. In other words, the US claims to be committed to reducing nuclear arsenals, but has done in fact, the opposite.

One additional note on nuclear weapons. In the media we continue to hear about Iran's failure to live up to its "additional protocol" under the NPT. However, the US, even though signing the additional protocol (which includes unannounced inspections), has not implemented it.

To me another very disturbing attitude of the US is its position on biological weapons. The 1925 Geneva Protocol banned the use of biological weapons, while the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) (1972) banned their possession, development, or production. However, neither provide for a verification procedure.

A protocol for verifying the BWC was close to agreement, when the US suddenly decided it would oppose any verification protocol. As any agreement requires a unanimous approval of all parties to the convention to be approved, this action effectively killed the protocol. It should be noted that only the US is opposed to such a protocol. Their opposition seems to be based on two premises: it could harm national security and that it would could do damage to private industry.

As for harming national security, there is only one argument which I can see that the US government could use -- its biodefense program. Biodefense programs are allowed under the BWC; however, there are many concerns that the US biodefense program actually is in violation of BWC. As an European official said in 2001 "If the U.S. administration had seen such work underway in other countries, then it would be the first to point the finger that this is questionable."

As for the damage to industry, the suggestion by the government is that verification procedures could harm "intellectual property" ( I hate that phrase). So, in other words if a private company creates biological weapons (or their precursors) it is OK. But more to the point, is that profits should not override safety of people, the environment, or human life.

I better news applies to the chemical weapons convention (CWC). The US has signed and ratified it. The CWC required that states to report the number of chemical weapons they have stockpiled. The US reported the second most number of weapons (after Russia). All parties are supposed to have destroyed all their weapons by 2012. However, by the Department of Defense's (DOD) own estimate, they will miss the deadline. The DOD says it will take until 2023. What is ironic about this is that the US is funding other countries destruction programs.

A lesser known arms convention is the "Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons". It is in fact composed of five separate "protocols", of which a country can subscribe to any number of them (even though, a signatory must agree to at least two). The protocols are: I - Non-detectable Fragments (i.e. fragments too small too be seen in an x-ray); II - Landmines, Booby Traps, and other Devices (regulates but does not ban them); III - Incendiary Weapons (use against civilians prohibited); IV - Blinding Lasers; and V - Explosive Remnants of War (i.e. unexploded and abandoned ordinance).

Again here the US has in fact only signed up to two of the protocols - I and II. It must therefore not accept the banning of incendiary weapons or blinding lasers. Protocol III would ban the use napalm and similar weapons as used in Vietnam (when near civilians), a practice the US military probably wants to repeat. But even more worrying is the failure to sign Protocol V. Unexploded ordinance (UXO) is one the major hazards to civilians in former war areas, probably second only to landmines. There are some places which are no go areas thirty years after the fighting stop, because of unexploded ordinance. Not only is the ordinance a direct threat to people, but it can also prevent them from working in the fields, hunting, etc. because the present danger.

The UN has recently been trying to reduce the huge number of small arms. As a secretary-general's report stated "In terms of the carnage they cause, small arms, indeed could well be described as 'weapons of mass destruction'". Yet the US is opposed to all measures to reduce small arms. Indeed, they did not even attend the most recent biennial meeting (July 2008).

Another area where the US is opposed to is a treaty on the arms trade. This is not surprising considering that the US accounts for by far the largest amount of arms traded internationally. It is almost twice the next largest country (Russia) and accounts for 41% of the global arms trade. The US claims to support democracies, but gives large amounts of military aid to major dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. Many of these countries are criticized by the US's own State Department's report on human rights. (Look here for an interesting related report)

And finally there is outer space (the final frontier ... for the military). There is an Outer Space Treaty, but it only refers to weapons of mass destruction. It also does not restrict ballistic missiles, which only passes through outer space, but which may have nuclear warheads.

Russia and China have recently proposed a new outer space treaty, which would address any possible arms race in space. This has been opposed (of course!) by the US. Why? Look no further than last years new Space Policy. It explicitly states the US will not accept any arms control treaty which restricts any control of arms in space. The policy basically says that the US has the right to fully protect its right to using space.

We must now ask the question: why is the US so opposed to arms treaties? I think the reasons are as follows:

There are many, especially among the neo-conservatives, who feel that the US should dominate the world and feel that any arms control measures threaten that domination. Indeed there is a significant number of people in and close to the administration that oppose any arms control legislation.

Militaries world wide always think that they must be able to use whatever means are necessary to stop their enemies. To put it another way, they feel they can do anything as long as it is for "national security". That includes the right to use any type of weapons to achieve their objectives (whatever that maybe). And specifically to nuclear weapons, they are extremely powerful, and therefore the military wants to be able to use the most powerful weapon.

Lastly, is that the US does not want to lose millions of dollars from weapons sales. As mentioned above the size of the US's military sales is staggering. The defense industry is huge and very profitable. Many military officers (including generals and admirals) go to work for the industry soon after leaving the military.

I will conclude with the following question: Why does the US, which claims to be a supporter of human rights and a peaceful country oppose almost every measure which is designed to reduce the threat to human life and the environment?

PS I hope the election in November will change this thinking, but I do not think so.