Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lack of U.S. Leadership Slows Nuclear Disarmament, Report Says

by Warren Hoge
The New York Times
June 2, 2006

Hans Blix, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector, said Thursday that American unwillingness to cooperate in international arms agreements was undermining efforts to curb nuclear weapons.

Mr. Blix said it was essential that Washington act to end what he called the stagnation of arms limitation. "If it takes the lead, the world is likely to follow," he said. "If it does not take the lead, there could be more nuclear tests and new nuclear arms races."

Mr. Blix, who left his arms inspection post in 2003 shortly after the invasion of Iraq, made his comments in the introduction to a 225-page report by an international commission financed by Sweden. The report was delivered Thursday to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The panel, with Mr. Blix as chairman and members from more than a dozen countries, listed 60 recommendations for nuclear disarmament.

It concluded that treaty-based disarmament was being set back by "an increased U.S. skepticism regarding the effectiveness of international institutions and instruments, coupled with a drive for freedom of action to maintain an absolute global superiority in weaponry and means of their delivery."

Mr. Blix, 77, a Swedish constitutional lawyer and the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997, was disparaged by the Bush administration for failing to turn up unconventional weapons during the three years he was chief of the United Nations inspection team in Iraq.

The report drew a direct link between the rise of individual action and the decline of cooperation. "Over the past decade, there has been a serious and dangerous loss of momentum and direction in disarmament and nonproliferation efforts," it said. "Treaty-making and implementation have stalled, and, as a new wave of proliferation has threatened, unilateral enforcement action has been increasingly advocated."

The commission urged all countries to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and called on nuclear states to reduce their arsenals and stop producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for more nuclear weapons.

The United States has not ratified the test ban treaty, and in 2002 it withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

"While the reaction of most states to the treaty violations was to strengthen and develop the existing treaties and institutions," Mr. Blix said, "the U.S., the sole superpower, has looked more to its own military power for remedies."

One result, he said, was that "the nuclear weapons states no longer seem to take their commitment to nuclear disarmament seriously."

The commission said there were 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with 12,000 of them deployed.

Mr. Blix said he feared that the number would rise because of efforts to develop more sophisticated new weapons and place them in space. He said he also feared that a missile shield proposed by the United States would lead to countermeasures by Russia and China.

The commission said nuclear weapons should be banned the way biological and chemical weapons have been. "Weapons of mass destruction cannot be uninvented," the report said. "But they can be outlawed, as biological and chemical weapons already have been, and their use made unthinkable."

It identified as "two loud wake-up calls" the breakdown of the United Nations conference a year ago on the future of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the failure of a United Nations summit meeting of heads of state last fall to include mention of unconventional weapons, a lapse Mr. Annan described as a "disgrace."

It said weapons ought to be taken off high-alert status because of the risk of launching by error and called on countries to pledge no first use.

It also called for declaring regions that should be free of unconventional weapons — "particularly and most urgently in the Middle East."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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