Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Posts Tagged ‘Obama administration’

NYTimes Sloppy Reporting on The NPT and Israel

Posted by K.E. White on July 4, 2010

Did the Obama administration snub Israel during a nonproliferation summit earlier this summer?  The NYTimes wants you to think so, and—in so doing—offers a master-class in cherry picking facts.

The NYTimes reports on the costs of America negotiating a successful Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference earlier this summer.  Its focus?  The continuing strains plaguing the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The report portrays the United States as conceding to Arab demands “that the final (NPT) document urge Israel to sign the treaty.”  The reward?  President Obama ensured the quincennial conference would reach a final declaration, unlike its 2005 predecessor.

The article suggests this concession has further chilled relations between the United States and Israel.  But in implicitly shaping this clause of the NPT document as a U.S. concession, the article makes three critical omissions.

First, the document “recalls the reaffirmation by the 2000 Review Conference of the importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty,” not what I would describing as ‘urging’ Israel to join the treaty.  (2010 Final Document)

But, more importantly, this reference to Israel is not novel.  Indeed, similar language appears in the conference’s 2000 declaration.  (2000 Final Document Article VII, Paragraph 3)

Admittedly, this request was not repeated in 2005.  But the tumultuous 2005 conference ended without any final declaration.

So Obama’s ‘concession’ merely recognized the status-quo.  Shouldn’t the NYTimes explore why 1) Israel expected such a shift and 2) the benefits-and-drawbacks of the status-quo?

But the NYTimes, latter on in the piece, suggests that it isn’t the reference itself, but rather the singling out of Israel—and not Iran’s nuclear program:

The United States, recognizing that the document would upset the Israelis, sought to distance itself even as it signed it.

In a statement released after the conference ended, the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said, “The United States deplores the decision to single out Israel in the Middle East section of the NPT document.” He said it was “equally deplorable” that the document did not single out Iran for its nuclear ambitions. Any conference on a nuclear-free Middle East, General Jones said, could only come after Israel and its neighbors had made peace.

The United States, American officials said, faced a hard choice: refusing to compromise with the Arab states on Israel would have sunk the entire review conference. Given the emphasis Mr. Obama has placed on nonproliferation, the United States could not accept such an outcome.

But the report omits another two critical facts:  1) Iran has not breached its obligations under the NPT (Iran claims to be pursuing a peaceful nuclear program) and 2) the final document doesn’t single out Israel—it also calls on India, Pakistan and North Korea to join the NPT.  (Paragraphs 108, 109 and 115)

Now was it smart policy for Obama to permit the NPT declaration to mention Israel directly?  I would argue it was his only choice:  if the NPT failed to reach a final declaration in back-to-back meetings, the treaty system would face a legitimacy crisis.

Why does the NPT matter?  It represents the legal basis for 189 countries—including Iran—not to proliferate nuclear weapons.

There are arguments for junking the NPT all-together, a subject the NYTimes article fails to mention.  Instead, the NYTimes settles for swallow reporting and simplistic analysis.

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Containing North Korea: Gordon Chang Calls for Interdiction Now

Posted by K.E. White on July 1, 2009

Today’s Wall Street Journal features Gordon G. Chang’s call for the United States to start interdicting suspected North Korean weapons shipments now. Instead of seeking accommodation with China and obtaining a new U.N. resolution on the matter, Chang argues America already has full authority to stop, inspect and seize North Korean weapons exports.

Yesterday, the North Korean ship Kang Nam–suspected of carrying weapons and thus bringing the interdiction issue to the forefront–turned around. Whether this event reflects the effectiveness of current sanctions, or merely a delaying tactic on the part of North Korea has yet to been seen.

(Backgrounder: The latest UN Security Resolution, passed June 12th after North Korea’s second nuclear test, requires permission of the “flag state” [i.e. the nation that exercises regulatory control of a commercial vessel] for any inspection. Chang gets around this by pointing out that Kim Jong-Il has withdrawn from the Korean War Armistice Agreement on May 29th, returning America and North Korea back to a state of war.)

North Korea is yet again testing the international community’s resolve. Should America go it alone, as Chang suggests? Or is Chinese support required for any North Korean interdiction policy to be effective?

Below is a section of Chang’s editorial, followed by David Sanger’s June 7th New York Times report exploring Obamaland’s weighing of the interdiction option—highlighting China’s thorny middle-ground position of wishing to contain North Korea proliferation, but not destabilizing the North Korean regime.

From Chang’s editorial How To Stop North Korea’s Weapons Proliferation:

Furthermore, there has never been a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War. This means the U.S., a combatant in the conflict, as leader of the U.N. Command, is free to use force against Pyongyang. On legal grounds, the U.S. Navy therefore has every right to seize the Kang Nam, treat the crew as prisoners of war, and confiscate its cargo, even if the ship is carrying nothing more dangerous than melons. Because the Navy has the right to torpedo the vessel, which proudly flies the flag of another combatant in the war, it of course has the right to board her.

The lesson of the last few years is that the U.N. is not capable of stopping North Korean proliferation. No nation can stop it except the U.S. Of course, ending North Korea’s sales of dangerous technologies to hostile regimes will anger Pyongyang. This month, for instance, the North said that interception of the Kang Nam would constitute an “act of war.”

Yet, as much as the international community would like to avoid a confrontation, the world cannot let Kim Jong Il continue to proliferate weapons. Moreover, it is unlikely that he will carry through on his blustery threats. The North Koreans did not in fact start a war when, at America’s request, Spain’s special forces intercepted an unflagged North Korean freighter carrying Scud missiles bound for Yemen in December 2002. Even though the Spanish risked lives to board the vessel, Washington soon asked Madrid to release it. At the time, the Bush administration explained there was no legal justification to seize the missiles.

Now, the Obama administration has no such excuse. There is definitely a legal justification to seize the Kang Nam. North Korea, after all, has resumed the Korean War.

And from David Sanger’s June 7th NYTimes report:

In conducting any interdictions, the United States could risk open confrontation with North Korea. That prospect — and the likelihood of escalating conflict if the North resisted an inspection — is why China has balked at American proposals for a resolution by the United Nations Security Council that would explicitly allow interceptions at sea. A previous Security Council resolution, passed after the North’s first nuclear test, in 2006, allowed interdictions “consistent with international law.” But that term was never defined, and few of the provisions were enforced.

North Korea has repeatedly said it would regard any interdiction as an act of war, and officials in Washington have been trying to find ways to stop the shipments without a conflict. Late last week, James B. Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, visited Beijing with a delegation of American officials, seeking ideas from China about sanctions, including financial pressure, that might force North Korea to change direction.

“The Chinese face a dilemma that they have always faced,” a senior administration official said. “They don’t want North Korea to become a full nuclear weapons state. But they don’t want to cause the state to collapse.” They have been walking a fine line, the official said, taking a tough position against the North of late, but unwilling to publicly embrace steps that would put China in America’s camp.

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Torturing Over Torture in Obamaland: What The Pundits Are Missing & The Zelikow Memo

Posted by K.E. White on April 23, 2009

Summary: Members of the Obama administration and the DC punditry should read Philip Zelikow’s recent blog at Foreign Policy magazine. He reminds us that the question over torture isn’t whether Obamaland botched its handling or the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques, but the morality and consequences of prusuing a policy torture. This is not to suggest morality of the day should override laws, but rather when pursuing a policy it may be sometimes best to ask ‘ought we be doing this?’ before asking ‘how can we do this?’. Sometimes seeking out covert justifications for a decision open more troublesome dillemas.

It’s been a tough week for the Obama administration. Pundits have almost universally failing marks to Obamaland’s handling of the torture issue. Either he’s being too soft (not going after the interrogators and failing to fess up to the intelligence gained by Bush era enhanced interrogation techniques) or he’s being too hard (chasing after lawyers who were doing what they could to defend American security).

And the pundits don’t stop there. How President Barack Obama aired the issue has brought stiff rebukes. Only releasing some memos has opened the White House to charges that it’s cherry picking. And it hasn’t helped that in a draft memo CIA Director Dennis Blair admitted enhanced interrogation techniques worked, only to have it deleted upon official release.

So not only are the wing-nuts on both sides unhappy, the press has caught the White House not being transparent on a tier-one issue—analogous to catching a teenager with their pants down at the school dance.

Listening on torture: Philip Zelikow recent Foreign Policy article offers some valuable, if indirect, advice to the administration. Before deciding on how to deal with torture, we must first ask ourselves what moral and practical consequences are there to permitting enhanced interrogation techniques? But in calling for a moral analysis of torture, Zelikow implicitly suggests the value of having a frank and open discussion. While Americans know Obama is against torture, it might be worth reminding why.  Now none of this is surprising: the torture issue is thorny, and there was no ‘perfect’ solution for Obama come to. This becomes painfully obvious when one sees conservatives (read Dick Cheney) sensing the torture issue as the wedge issue to revitalize Republican Party (particularly if there is another terrorist attack on America or its allies).

But this all overlooks a basic point: yes, torture can work. But does that mean only torture works, and how is American society impacted by water-boarding terrorists? By bypassing this valuable discussion (or simply trying to recycle news-cycles), the media has flooded the public with talking points & juvenile discussions over who’s up & who’s down.

Absent in this high-minded prattle has been serious analysis of this vital moral and national security issue.

And that is why Philip Zelikow’s recent blog entry on Foreign Policy is so important. There Zelikow reveals his authorship of a dissenting memo towards the Bush administration’s legal reasoning on enhanced interrogation techniques. Boilded down he brings these crucial points to the debate over torture:

read full article

 

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Susan Burk Returns As U.S. Representative to the High Stakes 2010 NPT Review Conference

Posted by K.E. White on April 23, 2009

Update: Susan Burk’s confirmation is still held up after Sen. DeMint’s May 5th ‘hold’ on her nomination.

Summary: Obama has made it clear he sees the “sound” Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as critical to stemming nuclear weapons proliferation. So what will Obama’s bold nuclear moves-warming up to Russia on a new START treaty, calling for eventual nuclear weapons abolition, and bringing focus back to the NPT-yield? It’s too soon to tell. But the nomination Susan Burk as Special Representative reflects the high aims Obama has for the 2010 meeting. Below is a review of Burk’s testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and discussion of NPT 2010 meeting’s significance to Obamaland foreign policy.

Two key-if little noted-nominees for diplomatic roles in the Obama White House testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.  Ivo Daalder has been tapped for U.S. Representative on the NATO Council, and Sarah Burk has been nominated for U.S. Representative to the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

President Obama’s recently announced commitment[i] to revitalizing the NPT to stem nuclear proliferation brings Burk’s likely role special significance.

Burk, if confirmed, will play a major role in the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Held every five years, these meetings bring together the 188 treaty members to discuss nonproliferation and disarmament issues. With Iran inching closer towards nuclear weapons capability and North Korea reneging on its pledge to disarm, this meeting may be the last chance to exert multinational pressure on these rogue states.

NPT meetings have had a erratic track record. In 1995, with Susan Burk heading up Clinton’s delegation, the NPT treaty was renewed permanently. But the 2000 conference was marked more by what was avoided (fears of collapse in the wake of 1998 nuclear tests of Pakistan and India), and 2005’s has been considered “a near total fiasco.”[ii]

Iran, as a member of the NPT, holds a unique test for the treaty regime. While Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have developed nuclear weapons since the treaty’s ratification, none were members of the NPT (North Korea left the organization before developing its limited nuclear weapons capability). Iran crossing the nuclear line would represent the treaty’s largest failure-and call into question its grand bargain of nonproliferation in return for peaceful nuclear technology sharing and eventual nuclear weapons disarmament.

Susan Burk’s opening statement offers a concise review of the Obama administration nonproliferation policy aims and the challenges it faces as it heads into the 2010 NPT Review Conference. The administration has an ambitious agenda, calling for:

continue reading article

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Echoes From A Cold War

Posted by proliferationpresswm on March 30, 2009

posted by Bob Noziglia

Reports have made clear that the Obama administration will continue military strikes against terrorist sites in Pakistan. This holdover from the Bush administration demands we ask what just is going on in Pakistan and why America has wedged itself into Pakistan internal border disputes. Bob Noziglia explores these questions and Pakistan’s self-defeating liberal tendencies, which demand the continued presence of robust American military support. 

 

It must be a dire situation indeed when Russia, with its own nuclear armament history, to be concerned about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  Let us remember that not too long ago it was Russia, which after the Cold War ended in the disintegration of the Soviet Union, had nuclear submarines rusting in unsecured ports; and a fire-sale on all equipment. 

It is also important to note the silence that, until now, Russia has had towards the operations regarding Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This comes from the haunting memories similar to our Vietnam when they attempted to expand Soviet territory. 

It is then with new eyes we must re-examine Pakistan and Afghanistan while both have their own qualities that make efforts for reconstruction a slow and complicated process, they are linked by more than geographical boundaries. 

While it was not profoundly mentioned when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated last year, it was during her first tour as Prime Minister of Pakistan that she supported the rise of the Taliban, which was then one of many forces seeking to benefit from the Soviet’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Bhutto felt it was better to have a strict Islamic state next door because it would allow them to concentrate on somehow defeating India for the territory of Kashmir.  This decision combined with the military’s hands off approach regarding the tribal areas however would cause dire consequences, as these are where her assassins most likely came from. 

With an outpouring of support because of the death of his wife, it was “Mr. 10%” Zardari who ascended to the political throne with a promise of political unity with another deposed President due to corruption, Sharrif.  This of course became a political crisis for the same reason that toppled Musharraf’s government, the topic of reinstating judges banned from their duties under dubious charges. 

The failsafe within Pakistan has been that if things were to get too bad, the military would flex political muscle and be able to step in and have confidence with the people of making things right. 

Recent events, however, have eroded the populace’s confidence dramatically.  The recent attacks of fundamentalists against the military near the border regions has left many with the impression that the Military is in fact just as incompetent as their civilian counterparts. 

Combined with the many perceived and real failures of Musharraf in Pakistan, the military credibility is also at its lowest point.  When one also considers new revelations that the military had tangential relations with those behind the attacks in Mumbai, one has a renewed sense of urgency. 

What makes this situation precarious is that many of the leadership in Pakistan are schooled in the West, especially so of their judicial branch.  With this they have come to expect and desire separate but equal branches of government and the fundamental right of law. 

These are qualities to be aspired to no question, but there also needs to be a tradition of legitimacy to that government.  Control over ones borders and checks and balances making sure that no power, however pervasive becomes dominate. 

It is these two qualities-recognized balance between government branches and border integrity-that appear to be lacking in Pakistan.  The tribal regions linking Pakistan and Afghanistan have been left to their own devices for decades.  A definition of a government is to be the ultimate authority of a given territory.  For all intents and purposes Pakistan has been a country divided by its government’s apathy to maintain that authority.  With Fundamentalist having secured a base of operations that the Government of Pakistan is afraid to confront, and jealously uses sovereignty to prevent others from attacking, these fundamentals represent a great threat. 

Should another civilian led government fail, these fundamentals could represent the most cohesive and unified political and military force in the country.  With raised expectations of a government led by a unified government, and the military now placed in a decidedly supportive role, the margin of error razor thin. 

It is then we will see a country run by a fundamentalist government, one which has ties to those responsible for the attacks in 2001 have nuclear capabilities, and the desire to proliferate and use those weapons.  This is something that can not be allowed to happen, and would be a just cause to intervene in the internal politics to make sure such a scenario does not occur. 

Pushing for accountability of Pakistan’s leadership is recognition of the dangerous dynamics that exist.  The United States should take the position of assisting the Pakistani military against those in the tribal regions.  This in conjunction with maintaining a coalition within Pakistan that would seek to maintain Pakistan as a country guided by the Principles of Islam, without the xenophobia or fundamentalist principles that terrorist groups have allowed to corrupt the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. 

Ultimately, this is a problem that can only be defeated by the people of Pakistan.  The United States has historically been a country which held to the principle of self determination, we must offer our assistance to aid Pakistan so that they may be able to live up to the definition of their country; Land of the Pure.

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Obamaland Foreign Policy: Bush Doctrine Dolled Up or Courageous Return to Realism?

Posted by K.E. White on March 16, 2009

With over fifty days in, how has Obamaland defined their approach to foreign policy?

Defining Obama & Co.: What is the adminstration's worldview how has the administration performed on foreign policy? Experts seem split on both fronts.

 

Three different takes on Obama’s first foreign policy moves.

Fareed Zakaria shows support for Obama’s foreign policy moves, and argues that both liberal and (neo)conservative critics share a similar flaw: a “maximalist” and myopic view of American foreign policy. From Zakaria’s Newsweek article:

Consider the gambit with Russia. The Washington establishment is united in the view that Iran’s nuclear program poses the greatest challenge for the new administration. Many were skeptical that Obama would take the problem seriously. But he has done so, maintaining the push for more effective sanctions, seeing if there is anything to be gained by talking to the Iranians, and starting conversations with the Russians. The only outside power that has any significant leverage over Tehran is Russia, which is building Iran’s nuclear reactor and supplying it with uranium. Exploring whether Moscow might press the Iranians would be useful, right?

Wrong. The Washington Post reacted by worrying that Obama might be capitulating to Russian power. His sin was to point out in a letter to the Russian president that were Moscow to help in blunting the threat of missile attacks from Tehran, the United States would not feel as pressed to position missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic—since those defenses were meant to protect against Iranian missiles. This is elementary logic. It also strikes me as a very good trade since right now the technology for an effective missile shield against Iran is, in the words of one expert cited by the Financial Times’s Gideon Rachman: “a system that won’t work, against a threat that doesn’t exist, paid for with money that we don’t have.”

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own—Russian demands are by definition unacceptable. The only way to deal with countries is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial policy. And it isn’t likely to work in today’s world.

But Commentary’s Abe Greenwald considers “[t]he Bush Doctrine alive and well” in Obamaland. From his recent article, ‘The Doctrine of Fakism’:

That’s because the most distinguishing feature of the new mushy realism is that it’s shamelessly fake. Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly believe that, “The best way to advance America’s interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions,” because she can’t even explain what that means.  Barack Obama does not believe (at least not now) that Iran can be talked out of the bomb any more than he intends to “end” the Iraq War, and John Kerry doesn’t think, “we have an opportunity to reshape the way the United States does business with the world.” These fakists have settled on a language to use in public and this is it. Global, interconnected, diplomatic, sustainable, endurable, smart, multilateral, non-ideological. You know — Obamese. The biggest change Barack Obama has brought to American politics is linguistic. Leaders are now required to create cuddly, meaningless word salads while continuing the implementation of aggressive policies.

The Bush Doctrine is alive and well.  This is because George W. Bush was not, as Clintonand Kerry imply, too blinded by ideology to be pragmatic. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said of smart power, “This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terence, who was born a slave and rose to become one of the great voices of his time, declared that ‘in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first.’” But she didn’t need to reach back to the second century B.C. to make her point. She could have simply adduced the behavior of the current President. Before attacking Afghanistan, President Bush pleaded both directly and through back channels with the Taliban in hopes that they would hand over Osama bin laden. Before going into Iraq, the President got the UN Security Council to pass a cycle of extra resolutions aimed at getting Saddam to disclose his weapons and weapons programs without having to go the military route. In both cases, Bush doggedly sought UN approval for action – something Hillary Clinton’s husband did not secure before launching operations in Haiti, the Balkans, and Iraq.

The ‘right’/unstatisfying answer: We don’t know. Obamaland’s public moves to date have been devoted to putting out fires from the Bush administration (Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and Pakistan). And, like any astute triage approach calls for, the White House is using what works: (perhaps) pushing back on missile defense to gain Russian support on Iran, while simultaneously going with hard power in Afghanistan. Now how far Obama pushes nonproliferation, how he enlists Russian and Chinese support against terrorism and nuclear weapon-proliferators and crisis management are some of the barometers that will–in time–reveal Obamaland’s foreign policy framework.

And even then Obama could always do a Reaganesque flip.

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International Law & the Obama Presidency: San Francisco Chronicle Tracks Obama’s Treaty Promises

Posted by K.E. White on December 1, 2008

The San Francisco Chronicle offers a brief report on the various international agreements President-Elect Obama pledged to push towards ratification. The report also details the stiff resistance Obama will face on many of the measures: which include women’s rights, a nuclear test-ban, climate change and law of the seas.

Update: The American Society of International Law offers President-Elect Obama’s response to their presidential candidate questionnaire, covering his views on nonproliferation, the International Criminal Court and various other international law topics.

From the San Francisco Chronicle report:

Obama cited three treaties he would concentrate on ratifying: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Last December, Obama cited a fourth treaty that he said he would sign and ask the Senate to ratify, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Missing from his to-do list, at least so far, are the International Criminal Court – which could subject U.S. officials and military personnel to prosecution – and treaties banning land mines and cluster bombs. All three would face Defense Department resistance, and Obama has said he would consult with military commanders before deciding whether to ask the Senate to ratify the International Criminal Court.

Although the treaties Obama has endorsed may be less controversial, “I don’t see any really easy wins on the list,” said K. Russell Lamotte, a former State Department attorney now in private practice in Washington, D.C.

The article also offers this overview of the treaties Obama intends to submit for ratification. A common thread between the treaties: long and bumpy efforts toward American approval, with Congressional opposition the main roadblock.

International accords on Obama’s agenda

Treaties that President-elect Barack Obama has promised to present to the Senate for ratification:

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Would prohibit all nuclear explosive testing. Takes effect only when ratified by all 44 “nuclear-capable” nations, including the United States. Passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996 and signed that year by President Bill Clinton. Rejected by the Senate in 1999.

U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea: Defines nations’ rights in managing their coastal zones and sets rules for commercial use of international waters and resources. Passed by the General Assembly in 1982, took effect in 1994. Signed by Clinton in 1994. Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee most recently in October 2007, but no floor vote.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: Declares equal rights for women “in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field” and requires nations to take “all appropriate measures” to ensure equality. Passed by the General Assembly in 1979, took effect in 1981. Signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, but no floor vote.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Requires nations to abolish legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against the disabled, and to establish policies that promote independent living and full participation in the community. Passed by the General Assembly in 2006, took effect in May 2008. Not yet signed by the United States.

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Congressional WMD & Terrorism Commission Sounds Alarm Bell Amidst Worries Of Unconventional Nuclear & Biological Attacks, Dysfunctional Congressional Oversight

Posted by proliferationpr on December 1, 2008

“Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013…”

 “Congressional oversight is dysfunctional…”

-soon-to-be released report from the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (CPWMD);  executive summary

As noted earlier on Proliferation Press, the CPWMD will be releasing Wednesday what appears to be a dreary look at the WMD proliferation threats facing our country and the world. In the backdrop of last week’s terrorists attacks in India and the likely role some commission members may play in the Obama administration, well-timed leaks to the NYTimes and Washington Post are promising the commission’s report some limelight from policy makers and journalists alike.

A November 30th report in WaPo focused on the threat of biological attack. It highlights a serious gap in American’s security system: that many research labs equipped with dangerous biological materials evade federal regulation since they are private and hold pathogens not on the government watch-list of known biowarfare agents. According to the report, this means there are currently non-regulated labs holding the SARS virus—the virus used in a series of biological attacks in 2001, resulting in 5 deaths.

Not to be left out, the NYTimes today released a report outlining the report’s executive summary.

The Commission recites a typical litany of policy prescriptions: renewed efforts to curtail Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs; improved defenses against bioterrorism; and a new energy in multilateral approaches to containing the threat of WMD proliferation and terrorism—with particular focus on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Yet what is most worrisome is the report’s dismal assessment of Congressional oversight in regards to WMD proliferation and terrorism. After seven years it appears the US Government has failed to lay out and comprehensive and peer-reviewed strategy for combating the gravest threats to American security. Having already ceded most of its war-powers authority, can Congress really afford to be as a impediment to prudent policies that aim to prevent another 9-11?

Before highlighting sections of the NYTimes report, there are topics

  • Discussing/proposing an effective form of Congressional oversight over the gravest threats to American security, or simply pointing how ‘how’ the current Congressional oversight is dysfunctional. Is the key problem a lack of executive-congressional communication? Overlapping committees? Or is it simply a product of the White House running executive agencies, with Congress seen as too much a source of undesired leaks, partisan back-biting and echo-chamber discussion?

  • A system of distinguishing the ‘must-have’ from the ‘wish-list’. Pointing out flaws in the current system is valuable, but only if tied to a frank discussion of American capabilities are and how to best use them toward preventing WMD proliferation and terrorism. For example, how can America work towards both a proliferation-safe Pakistan and the need to safeguard American laboratories with SARS; and let’s not forget the looming threat of a radiological device stored away in a commercial ship’s cargo going off while docked at an American port.  

  • A rubric by which to judge success of failure. While both the WaPo and NYTimes reports suggest critical administration and Congressional failings, how do individual mistakes add-up to a conclusive judgment on US efforts to combat WMD proliferation and terrorism? (And will the general public ever know of covert policy successes?)

From the NYTimes report:

The panel’s 13 recommendations focus on fighting the threat of bioterrorism, including improved bioforensic capabilities, and strengthening international organizations, like the International Atomic Energy Agency, to address the nuclear threat. It also calls for a comprehensive approach for dealing with Pakistan.

Over all, the findings and recommendations seek to serve as a road map for the Obama administration.

The commission urges the Obama administration to work to halt the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, backing up any diplomatic initiatives with “the credible threat of direct action” — code for military action, a commission official said.

Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb.

The commission also criticized the administration and Congress for not organizing themselves more effectively to combat the threat of unconventional weapons. The report recommended a single White House-level office or individual responsible for directing the nation’s policy to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons and their possible use by terrorists.

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