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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Remarks > 2004

Foreign Policy, Nonproliferation, and the Middle East

John S. Wolf, Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation
Remarks to the Baltimore Jewish Council
Baltimore, MD
June 15, 2004

I am delighted to be here with you today to share some thoughts on the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, nonproliferation, and my experiences last year in the Middle East. Let me start by congratulating Peggy Wolf and the new officers of the Baltimore Jewish Council. This is a good moment for reflection, as I will shortly embark on a new professional course after thirty-four years in the diplomatic corps.

Perhaps I should begin with the Middle East. Last year, while serving as Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation, I was asked by the President to go to the region to help shepherd the parties toward his June 24, 2002, vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My task was to encourage movement on commitments made at the Aqaba Summit in June 2003, as well as measures set out in the first phase of the Roadmap put forward in the spring of 2003 by the United States, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations – the so-called Quartet.

It was exactly a year ago that I arrived in the region. I was struck instantly by the drained and listless mood among both Israelis and Palestinians. The streets of Gaza City were empty; so were the coastal cafes in Tel Aviv and the nightspots of Jerusalem. People seemed almost in a state of suspended animation. We got to work quickly and were able over the course of a couple of weeks to encourage the two sides to reach agreement on a limited transfer of authority to Gaza and for Bethlehem. Certainly it made a difference in the street – where it lifted the cloud of pessimism and life began to return. We pressed for further similar steps on the West Bank; indeed the Israelis were planning to redeploy their forces from four more West Bank towns – plans that were shelved after the August 19 bus bombing.

We also urged both sides to fulfill their commitments across the board – for Palestinians: making progress on security reform, curbing terrorism, ending incitement to violence in their official media; for Israelis: working to improve the Palestinian quality of life, removing outposts and freezing settlements. There was a start on some of these issues, but not enough happened, and the progress made in the weeks after the Gaza agreement could not sustain the process after terrorist attacks against metropolitan Israel six weeks later.

Why did the process falter? That will take a genuine Middle East expert – I’m not – and more reasons than I’d be able to enumerate tonight. Certainly, the question cannot be answered by blaming one side or the other. The Israelis were understandably focused on their security needs and the Palestinians were deeply divided amongst themselves, with Arafat doing all he could to undermine the efforts of the new prime minister to pursue a new path. The Palestinians never made a serious effort to fight terrorism. In the end, both sides spent too much time looking back, and too little imagining and building for a common future. To make the agreement stick, both would have had to venture much farther and risk much more. As exciting as it was to be in Israel, I must admit it was disappointing not to have made more progress. Looking forward, that remains the unanswered question – will both sides look forward, not back, and will both sides make the tough decisions and take the real risks that durable peace will demand?

An equally challenging set of issues awaited me on my return to Washington early this year. As you know, the words “nonproliferation” and “counter proliferation” have become a part of our daily public dialogue. Who would have thought that a subject once deliberated by a tiny group of cognoscenti, and, yes, rocket scientists, would become a household topic, and a genuine world threat?

These issues framed our approach to Iraq, beginning with the first Gulf War and continuing even today. To answer the obvious question, I should note that we drew conclusions about Iraq’s capabilities and intentions based on available evidence. Our conclusions did not differ significantly from the conclusions drawn by many other countries, not just coalition partners.

While our actions took a different course than some would have preferred, our concerns about Iraq’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) ambitions were widely shared. And Iraq’s flagrant violation of a decade of UN resolutions was unambiguous. Personally, I remain convinced that Iraq was procuring, and positioning itself to develop WMD capabilities on the bedrock of previously established programs. Had inspections ceased, the Iraqi government could have moved quickly to develop WMD. I do not rule out the possibility that actual weapons of mass destruction or their key components exist and may still be found.

Do I wish we had better intelligence at the time? Of course. But the reality is that policy decisions must be taken based on existing, and usually imperfect, information. Often, the information we have proves useful over time, though it may not be available at the moment policymakers would prefer. For confirmation of the value of our intelligence, you need look no further than recent revelations on Libyan WMD programs, the AQ Khan nuclear smuggling network, and information uncovered by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections in both Libya and Iran.

But our successes, however encouraging, must not obscure the troubling nature of current proliferation trends. Since the end of the Cold War, WMD challenges have multiplied. During the first 40 years after World War II our allies and we depended on deterrence, sanctions, and export controls to limit the spread of dangerous weapons. Things seemed more manageable then, perhaps because the Soviet threat superceded all others.

In the years since 1970, the number of independent countries in the world has grown from about 127 to 191. The European Union and NATO have enlarged; the Soviet Union has dissolved. China’s economy has been growing by leaps and bounds. South-East Asia has developed a regional identity. India, the world’s largest democracy, is fast changing as well.

These are just some of the factors that augur for a world with expanding economic and political opportunity. Yet, today we also face an increasing risk from countries and international terrorist groups with access to chemical and biological weapons. Of even greater concern is the risk we all face from several states with access to components and technology for making nuclear weapons, and the apparent intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

Make no mistake – like terrorism, weapons proliferation is a real threat to the United States and the international nation state system, as we know it. Globalization and the resulting spread of technology have helped spur proliferation. The nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction constitutes the truly dark side of globalization. Non-state actors are increasingly influential in today’s world, but it is states’ interests that are threatened by the spread of WMD. Collective international action by states to stop proliferation has never been more crucial.

President Bush addresses these deadly threats with deadly seriousness. There are a variety of Presidential decisions and statements outlining U.S. policy in this area. He made a major speech on counter proliferation in February, and the recent G-8 Summit concluded a new action plan to counter proliferation. The United States is building new domestic mechanisms and international partnerships to prevent the worst threats from being realized. We do not intend merely to expand or build new architecture. We intend to take clear action, wherever possible with like-minded states, to counter the threats proliferation poses to our nation and our way of life.

Of all the nonproliferation issues we deal with, the nuclear ones have the most visibility. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) remains the cornerstone of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy. We can take some satisfaction that, of the 188 states currently party to the NPT, most have made irrevocable decisions to forego the nuclear option. States like South Africa, Libya, Brazil and Argentina actually turned back. Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus chose not to maintain the nuclear weapons left on their territories following the Soviet collapse.

Nevertheless, we can no longer say we have held the line at five nuclear-armed states. South Asia has crossed the nuclear threshold. North Korea boasts of its nuclear deterrent. While it proclaims fealty to the NPT, Iran is an active nuclear weapons “wannabe.”

We will have to live for some time, I suppose, with nuclear weapons in South Asia. But we also are determined to do what it takes to turn back other such efforts. Failure to arrest nuclear proliferation would endanger U.S. and allied security interests and threaten global stability.

As part of our active agenda for countering weapons proliferation, we are working with international partners to ensure that Iran and North Korea end conclusively their WMD programs. We aim to strengthen the international system of treaties and regimes by raising standards and enforcing compliance. We are promoting nuclear energy cooperation under the highest standards and working to contain transfers of the enrichment and reprocessing technologies key to making fissile materials. We are working to expand existing international technical cooperation programs that secure nuclear materials, and prevent access to dangerous materials that could be used for terror or war.

The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) envisions eventual denuclearization by the nuclear powers. We support this goal of nuclear disarmament -- and have taken long strides in that direction over the past two decades. The U.S. has just announced further steps that we will take in the decade ahead. And the Nuclear Posture Review that so many pillory actually reviewed ways to decrease rather than increase reliance on nuclear weapons. But we built those weapons for a purpose; defense of the U.S. and our treaty partners. This defense requirement remains, though, admittedly, it has greatly changed in the past decade.

Many governments have economic and political interests that compete with proliferation for priority attention. This seriously complicates our efforts to curb the supply of dangerous materials and technologies, including nuclear technology. While combating proliferation is, for us, a central security issue, too often others trade off proliferation concerns against these other interests.

We recognize that, in the real world, one size does not fit all and we tailor our policies accordingly. For instance, with regard to North Korea, we have been patient and deliberate in working diplomatically for de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We continue to work closely with our South Korean and Japanese allies, and with Russia and China to seek a peaceful, multilateral path to ending the North’s nuclear programs. It’s an important step to get to the negotiating table, but frankly there is a long way to go to reach an agreement that is genuine and verifiable.

I see Iran as the world’s most serious proliferation challenge. Its location, links to terrorism and its own onward proliferation are factors that worry me most. Inspections in Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency have confirmed publicly much of what we have been saying about its heretofore clandestine nuclear activities. Despite Iran’s public protests, we believe it still has work ongoing that it has not declared and that could propel it to weapons-possessor status well within the next decade. All of this has been ongoing for years, in violation of its NPT obligations, under a pretense of adherence to its NPT safeguards obligations. And that’s not all. Iran continues to seek missiles and other weapons of mass destruction that would deepen and intensify the challenge.

We count on the IAEA to be forthright and forceful in identifying problems and safeguards violations. We expect it to insist on prompt action by violators to end their clandestine nuclear weapons programs. But violators are not just an IAEA problem. Its ability to find violations depends heavily on information from member states, and its ability to enforce compliance depends on an international community willing to act in concert.

It is good that the International Atomic Energy Agency is applying a hardheaded investigative eye to Iran’s continuing violations of the Nonproliferation Treaty. But that is not enough. IAEA resolutions must not just engender hand-wringing and a hope that things will get better. States must be prepared to respond decisively. Response does not necessarily mean military action; it includes diplomatic pressure, and economic and political isolation. We should aim for policies that merge the idealism intrinsic to our American experience with the pragmatic, hard-headed approach to security and defense necessary to protect our interests.

The lesson of Iran, North Korea, Libya, and, earlier, Iraq is that our old system of safeguards has been inadequate. There is now a new inspection approach in the IAEA, loosely termed the “Additional Protocol,” that gives the IAEA much greater access and scope to uncover and follow a proliferation trail. The G-8 said earlier this month that states that have not done so should sign and ratify the Additional Protocol, which strengthens the IAEA verification regime. The United States has signed the Protocol, and the Senate overwhelmingly consented to ratification on March 31. Others should follow suit. We also have to curb the spread of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technology – technology that countries like North Korea and Iran are using as part of their weapons programs.

The situation in South Asia deserves special mention as it raises quite different questions. India and Pakistan are distinct countries with which we are pursuing very different relationships. Their possession of nuclear weapons creates a unique situation.

Ongoing tensions in South Asia highlight the need for each country to maintain stringent control over sensitive technologies. We also are mindful of the risk that nuclear weapons could be used, either intentionally or accidentally in a crisis. We discuss these issues regularly with officials of both countries. I have conveyed our concerns and suggested possible solutions whenever I met with my Indian and Pakistani counterparts.

But the news is not totally bleak. Two of this past year’s notable successes involved the public unmasking of a nuclear black market network and Libya’s decision to relinquish its WMD programs. The network, led by the Pakistani, Abdul Qadeer Khan, provided Iran, Libya and North Korea with designs for Pakistan's older centrifuges, as well as designs for more advanced and efficient models. The Khan network also provided these countries with components, and in some cases, with complete centrifuges. At least in the case of Libya, the network also provided a credible nuclear weapons design.

Governments around the world are working closely with us to unravel the Khan network, and to put an end to his criminal enterprise. A. Q. Khan has confessed to some of his crimes, and his top associates are out of business, at least for now. We intend that this interruption be made permanent.

As a result of our penetration of this network, American and British intelligence identified a shipment of advanced centrifuge parts, which we followed to Dubai where they were transferred to a ship called the BBC China, bound for Libya. The shipment was diverted by German and Italian authorities who found on board sophisticated centrifuge parts.

The United States and Britain confronted Libyan officials with evidence of an active and illegal nuclear program. Libya's leader voluntarily agreed to end his nuclear and chemical weapons programs, not to pursue biological weapons, and to permit thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. We're now working in partnership with these organizations and with the UK to help the government of Libya dismantle its WMD-related programs and eliminate all dangerous materials.

These successes show that abandoning the pursuit of illegal weapons can lead to better relations with the United States and other nations. The alternative is political isolation, economic hardship, and other unwelcome consequences.

Another emerging success story is the Proliferation Security Initiative (known as PSI) launched by President Bush, one year ago in Krakow Poland. The U.S. and 10 other countries initially developed the PSI to interdict lethal materials in transit. More than 60 countries have now expressed support for PSI. Many of those are already participating in PSI activities. PSI nations are sharing intelligence information, tracking suspect international cargo, conducting joint military exercises with the objective of stopping shipments of concern, breaking up networks and putting proliferators behind bars. We're prepared to act just as we did in stopping the BBC China. PSI’s worth does not rest simply on the number of countries that endorse its statement of principles. Instead, its worth depends on specific action against proliferators and the networks that supply them.

I have been speaking mainly about the nuclear threat, because one such bomb could kill tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. But there are other very important proliferation threats from chemical and biological weapons and from their means of delivery. Our policy aims to stem the spread of all of these.

In the end, the success of our nonproliferation policy depends on partnering with like-minded states around the world, and our own willingness to act when our national interests are directly threatened. Concrete steps are needed when a rogue state, or worse, a terrorist group seeks to get its hands on a deadly weapon.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts about my 12,363 days in public service. Those, of course, are nowhere near as important as the 432 hours left before I go, but who’s counting?

I remember when I first arrived in Perth, Australia at age 22. One journalist asked me if I would like to die for my country. (Strange introduction to Australia!) I answered that I wasn’t enthusiastic about that prospect, but I was real keen to serve my country – and was prepared to serve in places not as that weren’t as safe as Perth. U.S. diplomats seem to get forgotten when we talk about our men and women serving overseas. But we have hundreds serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and in far-flung capitals in Africa and throughout the Middle East. I have been privileged to serve with many remarkable people the past three decades, never more so than now as Assistant Secretary in a Bureau that handles some of the nation’s most pressing security problems.

The business of diplomacy has changed a lot in thirty- four years, with instant communications, the now ever-present media, factional fights in Congress, frictions in executive-legislative relations, and, of course, the scourge of leaks. These all add to the current challenges.

What about the future? How will those now entering service meet the challenges that are only now becoming clear? I had a chance to interview a number of foreign and civil service candidates recently, some of whom are now working in the Department, a couple in my own Bureau. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their eagerness to make a difference inspiring. I’m inspired by the new crop of Foreign and Civil Service officers. If their talent, diversity and vigor are any guide, U.S. foreign policy has a very bright future. I am confident it will be in good hands for many years to come.

As for me, the future holds an exciting challenge. I look forward to heading the Eisenhower Fellowships in Philadelphia whose mission is to foster international understanding via exchanges of information, ideas and perspectives among young leaders from around the world. The Fellowships sponsor individuals with a zeal for public service, regardless of their field of endeavor. So you see, although my perch may change, I will go right on enjoying and promoting the challenge and allure of service.

Thank you for your warm welcome and the kind attention you have given me today. Congratulations to your new President – that will take a bit of adjustment – the term President Wolf, since I knew her when she had ponytails! I would be delighted to take questions and look forward to hearing your thoughts as well.

Released on June 18, 2004

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