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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Remarks > 2003

American Policy: Future Priorities -- Reinforcing Efforts to Prevent Nuclear Proliferation

John S. Wolf, Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation
Remarks to Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs
Washington, DC
January 29, 2003

Today I want to talk about U.S. efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It's a core issue in U.S. national security policy, and an issue that affects each of us. I'll start with a focus on nuclear proliferation, look at the changing international scene, and then at the tools we use to combat the challenges of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the means of their delivery.

During the first 40 years following World War II, we and our allies used deterrence and tight export controls to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. Looking back, things seemed more manageable -- perhaps because the Soviet threat superceded all others. However, since the end of the Cold War, our challenges have multiplied in many worrisome ways.

In the early days, we promoted the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It was and remains the cornerstone of U.S. nonproliferation policies. We sought to forge international consensus on holding the line at five nuclear powers, and establishing controls over sensitive technologies.

Today, while we worry about a growing list of nuclear wannabees, we can take satisfaction in a number of "success" stories. There are 188 countries inside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- still counting North Korea. There are only three countries outside. Most of the 188 have made irrevocable decisions to forego the nuclear option, and states like South Africa, Brazil and Argentina turned back. States of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, chose not to try to maintain the nuclear weapons that were left on their territories following the Soviet Union's collapse.

A few, notably Iraq, North Korea and Iran, but also several others in the Middle East and North Africa, seem determined to cheat on their obligations, seem determined to acquire nuclear weapons. They are the active target of our nonproliferation policies today. We need to get this right. Failure to stop nuclear proliferation would profoundly change U.S. and allied defense policies.

A signal setback for global nonproliferation policies was the decision by India and Pakistan to acquire and, in 1998, test nuclear weapons. Far from promoting stability in South Asia, these weapons raise the stakes enormously. The direct threats this poses to over one billion people in South Asia is serious. Even more worrisome would be the risk that the technologies or fissile materials were compromised, and we have had active discussions with both countries concerning the importance of effective chains of custody, and secure storage of sensitive materials and facilities.

Globally, the proliferation threat is real, and it's getting worse.

 Looking at weapons of mass destruction, our focus today is on both supply and demand. We concentrate particularly on the emergence of rogue regimes that disregard international norms, whose governments are hostile to our allies and us. We know they actively seek nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction. And we are increasingly conscious that their threat is compounded by their active support for international terrorist groups who would use mass weapons not just against our allies or us -- but also against civilian targets around the world.

With globalization, there are more potential suppliers -- and countries that previously were only recipients of supply are now selling it. Part of the difficulty of curbing supply is the ambivalent approach of many governments in Europe and elsewhere. While combating proliferation is for us a central focusing national security issue, in many other countries, for the public and for many officials, the spread of WMD appears to be just one of many issues to balance and trade off.

We clearly see a threat -- from real countries, with real names, and real capabilities, which pose real security problems for the U.S. and our allies and friends -- but also for the world. Iraq, as the President has said, is a unique threat; and one the President is determined to see ended. Since his brutal rise to power, Saddam Hussein has proven himself a menace to the region and to the people of Iraq.

For twelve years, he has defied the international community:

  • By the UN's reckoning, he has failed to account for materials that he procured in order to make biological weapons -- in enormous quantities, sufficient to kill millions -- and he has failed to show any evidence that these materials have been destroyed.

  • Defectors have told us that he built several mobile biological weapons labs, designed to hide production from inspectors. He has never disclosed these labs and shown no evidence that they have been destroyed.

  • He has also failed to account for large numbers of chemical munitions, which Iraq admitted to having made.

  • We know, based on international inspections, that Iraq had a design for a nuclear weapon and was pursuing several routes to produce material for bombs. Since the departure of inspectors, we have seen ominous procurement activities by Iraq that indicate Saddam's quest for a nuclear bomb has continued. Iraq has offered no credible explanation for these activities.

The Security Council, in Resolution 1441 gave Saddam one last chance to disarm and comply with other requirements of the 16 resolutions that he has ignored. We have worked very closely to support the UN inspections -- I talk to Hans Blix or Dr. El Baradei almost weekly.

The U.S. is providing an abundance of intelligence and other support to the inspectors. And they have found secret nuclear files in a private home, a mustard gas precursor, an extensive prohibited missile program, and abundant proof that Iraq has been smuggling key WMD materials -- and is continuing to do so. With four years to prepare, Baghdad has and is engaging in an elaborate concealment and deception effort. So, although the inspectors have made some important and serious discoveries, they are searching for needles in hidden haystacks in a country the size of California. As the President said last night, it is not their job to do a scavenger hunt. The inspectors are there to verify that Iraq is disarming. Iraq has not cooperated substantively; it has blocked surveillance flights, hidden materials and documents, and stymied the UN's efforts to interview key scientists by threatening to kill their families.

As the President said, Saddam is not disarming; he is deceiving. And he is holding fast to his dreams of conquest, regional domination, and revenge. Though we seek the disarmament of Iraq through peaceful means, backed by the credible threat of force, we are resolved to eliminate Iraq's ability to use WMD to threaten its neighbors, our friends and allies, and our interests. And we are determined not to wait until it is too late.

Lest this all seem abstract, let me try to put the potential danger in more personal terms: I'm not flacking for Tom Clancy's book "The Sum of All Fears," or its vivid movie portrayal, which I imagine many of you have seen. But the imagery of a nuclear device detonating in Ravens Stadium is a gripping illustration of what we are talking about. If a biological weapon agent such as clostridium perfringens toxin were deployed in Fells Point under proper conditions, people in Federal Hill and in Patterson Park could soon develop severe lung damage, leading to pulmonary edema and respiratory failure. Iraq by the way, has declared that it produced some 3,400 liters of this gas, although inspectors have, thus far, been unable to confirm the quantities.

And if a chemical weapon agent such as mustard gas -- Iraq has hundreds of unaccounted-for mustard gas shells -- if such a weapon were set off in Charles Village, Baltimoreans from Highland Town to Camden Yards who inhaled its vapor, would soon develop severe respiratory tract infection, and those who ingest it would experience vomiting, damage to the eyes, mucous membranes, lungs, skin and blood forming organs. It is not pretty, and there is no antidote.

Some ask why disarming Iraq is more urgent than resolving North Korea's nuclear threat. The facts are simply different, and so too should be our policies. But in both cases, our preferred path is peaceful multilateral diplomacy -- this from an Administration so often -- wrongly -- touted as unilateralist. We intend to sustain unity with our allies and friends, we will be patient in working for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We are working quite closely with our South Korean and Japanese allies, with Russia, China and with the EU to seek an end to the North's nuclear weapons program.

Iran is another proliferation problem -- both for its programs and for the risk of onward proliferation. We have worked hard to break Russia's WMD technology supply relationship with Iran, but to date -- discussions, including at the level of Presidents has not managed to close off the technology flow. In particular, Russian nuclear technology that is flowing to Iran risks building a nuclear infrastructure in Iran that is linked to an increasingly visible Iranian drive to produce fissile materials. Previously secret Iranian activities and intentions were unmasked this summer by an Iranian exile group that alleged two secret nuclear facilities in Iran (a heavy water plant and "nuclear fuel production" plant). We understand the IAEA is following-up with Iran regarding these allegations.

In the face of such challenges, what's missing in today's international debate is a sense of outrage: Global standards of acceptable conduct -- established in international law -- are being violated by countries with increasingly threatening capabilities -- capabilities made all the more horrific because of their disdain for these standards, for freedom and human rights, and because of their close ties to terrorist groups. Against this grim backdrop, there is a risk that complacency, inertia, and timidity are preventing the international community from blocking attempted violations, or from reacting decisively to them.

So that's a bit on the problem -- what are we doing about it?

It's axiomatic that one can't build a nuclear weapon without fissile material. Thus a key part of our nonproliferation efforts relates to securing the hundreds of tons of such materials present mainly in Russia and the Former Soviet Union. We are spending nearly $1 billion to:

  • Improve security at Russia storage facilities;
  • Consolidate stored fissile materials;
  • Stop new production; and
  • Purchase or down-blend former nuclear weapons materials to reduce supply.

The Group of Eight Leaders embraced an initiative to widen European and Japanese support to complement and accelerate this process.

I talked a few minutes ago about the differences we have with Europe. I think we spend too much time debating what I'd call "architecture" -- treaties, arrangements etc., and there's too much premium on “over lawyering” the case -- though I'm not running down lawyers. Agreements like the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and related programs of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, the Australia Group that addresses chemical and biological weapons challenges, the Nuclear Suppliers and Zangger Groups, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Wassenaar Arrangement that controls conventional arms, all of these are important in setting a framework and norms.

An important partner has been the International Atomic Energy Agency. Increasingly, its role is to safeguard civilian nuclear facilities, ferret out covert weapons efforts, and reduce the risk of nuclear and radiological terrorism. What we're not doing enough of though is taking concrete action to make proliferation more costly -- politically, and financially. Yes, we need to work to make the regimes stronger. But while strong regimes are necessary, they are not enough. Most are voluntary agreements, which aren't legally binding. There needs to be stricter enforcement. Proliferators need to know they face isolation and consequences if their efforts continue. Ending the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will send a powerful signal to other proliferators that the world will not stand idly by.

North Korea must not imagine it can blackmail the international community. The world community has spoken on this. As Secretary Powell said, "The United States stands ready to build a different kind of relationship with North Korea, once Pyongyang comes into verifiable compliance with its commitments. The North must be willing to act in a manner that builds trust." I would also note that the United States has been the world's biggest donor of humanitarian assistance to North Korea, and we will continue to contribute to their humanitarian requirements and needs.

Other Tools:
  • Tightening regimes and improved enforcement are part of the answer. Many tell us about their export controls and laws. But what counts is their willingness to enforce the laws, to make clear there is a price for violating the law.


  • Where controls fail interdiction is an option; it's not a panacea, but properly planned and executed, interception of critical technologies en route to dangerous end users lengthens the time that proliferators will need to acquire new weapons capabilities. Procurement efforts are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and our efforts must keep pace.


  • On sanctions, from our vantage point, companies have a choice: sell to proliferators, or sell in the United States, but not both. Where national controls fail, and where companies make the wrong choice, there will be consequences. U.S. law requires it.

Positive Measures:

  • "Sticks" are an inescapable reality in fight against proliferation. So too are carrots.

  • G-8 Leaders' agreement last summer to a new Global Partnership was an important step that reflects the shared view that nonproliferation work remains under funded. The U.S. has so far carried most of the burden. More cooperation is needed from Europe and elsewhere.

  • We also look to the business community, which has key interests in stable foreign partners. The same protection of intellectual property, and controls on illegal exports of technology, that they seek, are important tools in fight vs. proliferation....Good corporate governance, transparency, rule of law...both government and the business community have a shared interest in seeing our partners strengthen the institutions that make the international marketplace transparent and predictable. It is a two-way street -- we want to hear the business world's views and suggestions. Business itself prospers from a secure international setting.

Conclusion -- Nonproliferation is a Team Effort:

We are all partners in the worldwide effort to make the world safer. There are many areas where the interlocking nature of the challenges confronts us all. The President described these challenges in his State of the Union speech last night. Nonproliferation challenges are multiple and multiplying. We need to focus on the meat of the issue, and not lose the forest for the trees. Enhancing nonproliferation dialogue with our worldwide partners is essential to success. But dialogue is no substitute for concrete action, and where dialogue fails we will use other means -- whether multilateral, plurilateral, or unilateral. That was at the heart of President Bush's National Security Strategy, as he reaffirmed last night. There are lots of opportunities to make progress; it's up to us to transform opportunity into reality.

Thank you.

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