Statements on Iraq, North Korea and Nuclear Weapons

Iraq, North Korea and Nuclear Weapons

10 January 2003

Paolo Cotta-Ramusino and Jeffrey Boutwell

As the year 2003 begins, the world is perched precariously on the knife edge of the nuclear dilemma. In the Middle East, the United States is poised to launch a preventive war against Iraq in an action President Bush maintains is necessary to block attempts by Saddam Hussein to acquire nuclear weapons. Half a world away, North Korea has declared its intent to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Regarding Iraq, we do not yet know if war will be the outcome of the Bush administration’s massive mobilization and deployment of US forces into the Gulf area, but there are grave concerns about the motivations, the decision making process and the immediate and long term consequences of such a war, should it come.

While acknowledging the violent nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and less than forthcoming Iraqi disclosure about its weapons of mass destruction, it remains true that the work of UN inspectors has not been obstructed by Iraqi officials and no concrete evidence of Iraqi non-compliance with UN resolutions has thus far been uncovered. Accordingly, there seems little current justification, in terms of UN resolution 1441, for military intervention now against Iraq.

The need for pre-emptive military action against Iraq has also been presented by President Bush as necessary for stopping terrorism and particularly for preventing terrorism with weapons of mass destruction. While connections have been suggested between Saddam Hussein and international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, this connection has been far from proven.

One must ask, moreover, whether regime change justifies a military intervention in Iraq and, just as important, who is entitled to decide such intervention? In principle, international institutions could promote regime change to alleviate the suffering of the population and to improve human rights where these are being grossly violated, such as Iraq. In such cases, a significant international consensus, expressed unequivocally by the United Nations, should be obtained before proceeding to military action aimed at regime change. To be sure, reaching consensus on regime change will be difficult, given the differing priorities, standards, and interests of the international community. All the more reason that such decisions should be reached transparently, encompassing the widest possible consensus. Unfortunately, too often do we hear at present the argument that the most powerful nation on earth has not only a right, but an obligation, to act independently and unilaterally, if need be, when it perceives the international community as lacking the will to act.

If such unilateralism is carried to the extreme, it will render international institutions, and particularly the United Nations, less and less relevant, at the same time concentrating more and more power, and responsibility for world order, into the hands of one nation. The US will find itself, as Michael Ignatieff wrote recently in the New York Times, “laying down the rules America wants (on everything from markets to weapons of mass destructions)”, while “exempting itself from other rules that go against its interest”. Increasingly, the US will face this formidable task with decreasing support from the rest of the world. It is not too difficult to imagine scenarios where conflict and hostility towards the world’s lone superpower increase, fueling additional international terrorism. The likely outcome is that motivations for regime change will focus more on the need for “stability”, as judged by the dominant power, than on the need to improve democracy and human rights.

Returning to the specific situation of Iraq, if regime change is de facto the only remaining motivation for war, then the UN Security Council will face great difficulty in authorizing or supporting a military intervention. Such a war will appear to much of the outside world, including especially the Arab and Muslim countries, as an act of aggression by the US (supported by the UK and perhaps a few other countries), and proof that the ‘West’ is far from being even-handed. Comparison with the support given to Israel and the lack of political will in finding a just solution to the Palestinian problem will contribute to the definition of a picture in which Arabs and Muslims see themselves on the weakest and oppressed side, are denied respect, fairness and are kept in a state of political humiliation. This resentment may be the source of a further deterioration of the international climate, as well as a renewed source of international terrorism.

Military intervention in Iraq could well be more difficult than expected for US forces (see the insightful analysis by Steve Miller in his Pugwash paper for the Como workshop on terrorism, on the Pugwash website), resulting in the widespread death and injury of Iraqi civilians and massive destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure. Post-war reconstruction will be, as elsewhere, a long and expensive process. Iraq will join the queue with the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and other countries recently subjected to military action aimed at regime change that now require tremendous amounts of money for reconstruction. Without going into detail, it is sufficient to say that, even if the western powers have a genuine commitment to reconstruction, multiple, expensive commitments can hardly be sustained, leading as we see now in Afghanistan and Kosovo to mounting disappointment, resentment and the re-emergence of civil strife and human rights violations.

While the world’s attention was focused on Iraq, a serious new crisis erupted in Northeast Asia. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reportedly admitted to secretly pursuing uranium enrichment facilities. Soon after, it removed the IAEA seals and monitoring systems from its nuclear power plants, expelled the IAEA inspectors, and declared its withdrawal from the NPT.

It is a source of serious concern that one member state of NPT withdraws from the treaty and, while we sincerely hope that the DPRK may return to IAEA safeguards and the NPT, several instructive points can be made.

First, the difference in Washington’s attitudes towards Iraq and the DPRK demonstrate clearly that blocking nuclear proliferation is not an absolute priority for US policy, that other factors shape the American management of world affairs, revealing a gap between declaratory policy and actual US decisions.

Second, and more importantly, are the major challenges to the Non Proliferation regime, not just from North Korea’s renunciation of the NPT. Unlike a brief period in the 1990s, nuclear disarmament is no longer a priority for the major nuclear weapons powers, nor are their obligations under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In South Asia, India and Pakistan continue to refine and augment their nuclear weapons capabilities, with little significant reaction from international public opinion and international institutions. Israel continues to get a free ride as an undeclared nuclear weapons state. The nuclear strategy of the US now emphasizes the possibility of using nuclear weapons, not just to retaliate, but perhaps be used pre-emptively, against chemical, biological or nuclear weapons threats. There is little interest in No First Use policies while more and more emphasis is placed on the role of nuclear weapons as an essential component of military forces and doctrine. The oft-stated prophecy that the non-proliferation regime could no longer tolerate prolonged discrimination between the nuclear haves and have-nots is becoming reality. The Pugwash objective since 1957 of eliminating all nuclear weapons is more important than ever before.

Thirdly, the possibility of the DPRK becoming a nuclear power could seriously aggravate the security conditions of Northeast Asia. In this framework it is difficult to understand how the economic development of the DPRK and economic and social cooperation in Northeast Asia can improve. It is thus in the interest of every country in and outside the region that negotiations and talks start as soon as possible with the aim of a total denuclearization process that can open the way to new modes of economic and social cooperation.

Almost sixty years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear danger has again occupied center stage in global politics. Pugwash and the scientific community must seek to mobilize the international community to find the means to reverse this danger in the direction of totally eliminating nuclear weapons.

Paolo Cotta-Ramusino is Secretary General, and Jeffrey Boutwell is Executive Director, of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. This commentary represents their views, and not those of the Pugwash Council or the Pugwash Conferences.


Is it a War on Islam?

The News, Islamabad, 16 January 2003

Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islamabad, Pakistan

Street opinion in Pakistan, and probably most Muslim countries, holds that Islam is the sole target of America’s new wars. Even moderate Muslims are worried. The profiling of Muslims by the INS, the placing of Muslim states on the US register of rogues, and the blanket approval given to Israeli bulldozers as they level Palestinian neighborhoods appear dangerous indicators of a religious war. But Muslims undeservedly award themselves special status and imagine what is not true. America’s goal goes much beyond subjugating inconsequential Muslim states. Instead it seeks to remake the world according to its needs, preference, and convenience. The war on Iraq is but the first step.

Aggressive militarism has been openly endorsed by America’s corporate and political establishment. Mainstream commentators in the US press now argue that, given its awesome military might, American ambition has been insufficient. Max Boot, editor of the Wall Street Journal, writes that “Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets”. The Washington Post calls for an “imperialist revival” and the need for Americans to “impose their own institutions on disorderly ones”. The Atlantic Monthly remarks that American policy makers should learn from the Greek, Roman, and British empires for tips on how to run American foreign policy.

Although many Americans still cling to the belief that their country’s new unilateralism is no more than “injured innocence”, and a natural response of any victim of terror, the Establishment does not suffer from such naivety. Empire has been part of the American way of life for a long time. The difference after 911 – and it is a significant one – is that America no longer sees need to battle for the hearts and minds of those it would dominate; there is no other superpower to whom the weak can turn. In today’s Washington, a US-based diplomat recently confided to me, the United Nations has become a dirty word. International law is on the way to irrelevancy, except when it can be used to further US goals.

Still, none of this amounts to a war on Islam. Some will disagree. The fanatical hordes spilling out of Pakistan’s madrassas imagine seeing Richard the Lion Hearted bearing down upon them. Sword in hand they pray to Allah to grant war and send the modern Saladin, one who can miraculously dodge cruise missiles and hurl them back to their launchers. On the other side, Christian-Jewish extremists, extending from the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons to the leaders of Israel’s Likud, yearn for yet another crusade. They too are convinced that inter-civilizational religious war is not only inevitable but also desirable. Belief in final victory is, of course, never doubted by the faithful.

But the counter-evidence to a civilizational war is much stronger. Between 1945 and 2000 the US has fought 28 major, and countless minor, wars. Korea, Guatemala, Congo, Laos, Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Yugoslavia, and Iraq are only some of the countries which the US has bombed or invaded. The Vietnam War alone claimed a million lives. By comparison America’s wars on Muslim states have been far less bloody. Iraqi deaths during the Gulf War, and the recent victims of bombing in Afghanistan, amount to fewer than 70 thousand. Even if one throws in casualties from the Israeli-Arab wars of 1967 and 1971 and attributes them to the US, Muslim deaths are only a few percent of the Vietnam War total.

Material self-interest, and not antipathy to Islam, has been the driving force behind US foreign policy. A list of America’s Muslim foes and friends makes this crystal clear. America’s foes during the 1950’s and 1960’s were secular nationalist leaders. Mohammed Mossadeq of Iran, who opposed Standard Oil’s grab at Iran’s oil resources, was removed by a CIA coup. Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia, accused of being a communist, was removed by US intervention and a resulting bloodbath that consumed about eight hundred thousand lives. Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, who had Islamic fundamentalists like Saiyyid Qutb publicly executed, fell foul of the US and Britain after the Suez Crisis. On the other hand, until very recently, America’s friends were the sheikhs of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, all of whom practiced highly conservative forms of Islam but were the darlings of Western oil companies.

Nevertheless, Washington has occasionally misunderstood American self-interests – sometimes fatally so. “Mission myopia”, as the CIA now wanly admits, led to the network of global jihad in the early 1980’s. With William Casey as CIA director, the largest covert operation in history was launched after Reagan signed the “National Security Decision Directive 166”, calling for American efforts to drive Soviet forces from Afghanistan “by all means available”. US counter-insurgency experts worked closely with the Pakistani ISI in bringing men and material from around the Arab world and beyond. All this is well known. Less known is the ideological help provided by US institutions, including universities.

Readers browsing through book bazaars in Rawalpindi and Peshawar can, even today, find textbooks written as part of the series underwritten by a USAID $50 million grant to the University of Nebraska in the 1980’s. These textbooks sought to counterbalance Marxism through creating enthusiasm in Islamic militancy. They exhorted Afghan children to “pluck out the eyes of the Soviet enemy and cut off his legs”. Years after the books were first printed they were approved by the Taliban for use in madrassas – a stamp of their ideological correctness.

The cost of America’s mission myopia has been a staggering one. The network of Islamic militant organizations created primarily out of the need to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan did not disappear after the immediate goal was achieved but, instead, like any good military-industrial complex, grew from strength to strength. Nevertheless, until 11 September, US policy makers were unrepentant, even proud of their winning strategy. It took a cataclysm to bring them down to earth.

But militant organizations have done far greater harm to Muslims, whose causes they claim to promote, than to those who they battle against. Killing tourists and bombing churches is the work of moral cretins and is not just cowardly and inhumane, but also a strategic disaster. Indeed, fanatical acts can sting the American colossus but never seriously hurt it. Though perfectly planned and executed, the 911 operation was a strategic blunder of colossal proportions. It vastly strengthened American militarism, gave Ariel Sharon the license to ethnically cleanse Palestine, and allowed state-sponsored pogroms of Muslims in Gujarat to get by with only a squeak of international condemnation.

The absence of a modern political culture and the weakness of Muslim civil society have long rendered Muslim states inconsequential players on the world stage. An encircled, enfeebled dictator is scarcely a threat to his neighbors as he struggles to save his skin. Tragically, Muslim leaders, out of fear and greed, publicly wring their hands but collude with the US and offer their territory for bases as it now bears down on Iraq. Significantly, no Muslim country has proposed an oil embargo or a serious boycott of American companies.

What, then, should be the strategy for all those who believe in a just world and are appalled by America’s war on the weak? Vietnam, to my mind, offers the only viable model of resistance. A stern regard for morality, said their strategists, is the best defense of the weak. Even though B-52s were carpet-bombing his country, Ho Chi Minh did not call for hijacking airliners or blowing up buses. On the contrary the Vietnamese reached out to the American people, making a clear distinction between them and their government. By inviting media celebrities like Jane Fonda and Joan Baez, Vietnam generated enormous goodwill. On the other hand, can you imagine the consequences of Vietnam’s leadership being with Osama bin Laden rather than Ho Chi Minh? That country would surely have been a radioactive wasteland, rather than the unique victor against imperialism.

Only a global peace movement that explicitly condemns terrorism against non-combatants can slow, and perhaps halt, George Bush’s madly speeding chariot of war. Massive anti-war demonstrations in Washington, New York, London, Florence, and other western cities have brought out hundreds of thousands at a time. A sense of commitment to human principles and peace – not fear or fanaticism – impelled these demonstrators. But why are the streets of Islamabad, Cairo, Riyadh, Damascus, and Jakarta empty? Why do only fanatics demonstrate in our cities? Let us hang our heads in shame.

The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, and is a member of the Pugwash Council. The views expressed above are those of the author, and not the Pugwash Council or the Pugwash Conferences.


Escaping the War Trap

by Dr. Leonard V. Johnson
President George W. Bush is caught in a trap of his own making. He must either forge ahead and hope to validate his policies by victory against Saddam Hussein, or he must back down and withdraw his forces. His political future is at stake. His opponents are marching in the streets, the vanguard of global people power that alone can render unusable the military power on which Bush has staked his presidency. People everywhere are withdrawing their consent to war.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is likewise in a trap of his making. As a criminal dictator who rules by terror, he has no choice but to hang on and hope that fate will keep him alive a while longer. It’s not likely that he will choose exile to a safe haven over death, for he, like Hitler, is the personification of the state and equates its fate with his own. He will take Iraq down with him. If he has usable weapons of mass destruction he will use them, directly against American forces or by putting them into the hands of terrorists, if, indeed, he has not already done so.

It is a vain hope that a coup will remove Saddam, mostly because the risks are too high, but also because the threat of attack is arguably fostering cohesion under Saddam’s rule.

In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to leave Saddam no space in Security Council Resolution 1441 between disarmament and “severe consequences,” i.e. war. Faced with impending attack, it was not reasonable to expect him to disarm. That feature of the resolution has also caused great and perhaps irreparable harm to the trans-Atlantic alliance, certainly an unintended but inevitable consequence.

The way out for both antagonists is for each to offer the other the means to save face: Saddam by visible disarmament verified by the United Nations, and Bush by assurances that relations with Iraq will be normalized if he does. Credibility could be given to such assurances by softening the anti-Saddam rhetoric, token withdrawals of military forces, and by reducing sanctions in place since the 1990s. A precedent for this is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, resolved by mutual agreement to avoid nuclear war. This time, it could be achieved through a Russian intermediary.

The Chinese military theorist Sun-Tzu said that the aim of strategy is to defeat the enemy without fighting. So it is with terrorists, who will not engage and be defeated by superior American military force. All they need do is to continue with what they have done, which is to sow fear and provoke domestic response. Any future attacks – or even spurious threats — will stoke the fear and be used to justify further encroachments on the liberties we have heretofore enjoyed, enlisting our fear to their cause. In the end, we shall become more like our enemies.

Injustice against the Palestinians is a powerful motive for Islamic terrorism, but nothing is being done to resolve that longstanding issue. If left to the Israelis, the future is bleak because they are also caught in a trap involving the settlements and the dependence of the Israeli government on the support of radical right-wing parties in the Israeli parliament. For their part, the Palestinians are without hope and powerless in the face of Israeli brutality.

Robust American intervention on behalf of the Palestinians would remove some of the fuel from terrorism. It would also allay suspicion – justified or not – that the Americans and Israelis are collaborating to drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank and annex their territory to Israel.

Westport, ON
February 18, 2003.

A former member of the Pugwash Council, Leonard Johnson is a retired Canadian general and former Commandant of the National Defence College at Kingston, Ontario.