Halting the spread of WMD

October 01, 2004|By Bill Gertz

A FRENCH-MADE Roland surface-to-air missile slammed into an A-10 jet flying close air support for U.S. troops near Baghdad on April 8, 2003. The missile nearly killed the pilot and destroyed a $13 million warplane.

The French government would later claim the Rolands fired at U.S. aircraft and found stored in Iraq were sold before the United Nations imposed sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991. But a Pentagon report produced in February disputed that claim. It stated that "while Iraq had Roland missiles before Operation Desert Storm, the serial number on the missile [found in 2003] indicates that transfers occurred after 1991."

The current Iraq war exposed the danger to the United States of allowing rogue states such as North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria to acquire weapons and military supplies that could threaten and kill American troops. But, shockingly, France is not the only nation that has placed greed over principle in arming tyrants such as Mr. Hussein. Other supposed allies and friends such as Germany, Russia and China have been involved in illegal weapons deals. And more European countries have gotten into the illegal arms game as well, including Ukraine and Belarus.

The Pentagon report, produced by the office of John A. "Jack" Shaw, deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, about weapons found in Iraq in 2003 revealed a staggering amount of armaments, nearly all foreign-made. The report reached this stark conclusion: "Foreign munitions were used against coalition forces during the war and continue to be a potential source of explosives for improvised explosive devices still being used to kill U.S. soldiers."

"Over the coming decade, depending on how the world community conducts itself, there could be another five nuclear powers," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told me. "There could be several more countries with chemical and biological programs, and there could be additional countries with the ability to deliver those capabilities long distances. The effect of that to the extent that those countries are not democracies, but rather countries on the terrorist list -- the inevitable effect of that is to make the world a more dangerous place."

The discovery this year of Chinese-language documents in Libya included data on how to design a small nuclear warhead for a missile, illustrating that the danger of nuclear attack is growing. The documents were initially passed by Beijing to Pakistan in the 1980s and then "re-proliferated" covertly by the nuclear supplier network headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, according to Bush administration officials involved in Libya's nuclear disarmament.

The transfer of dangerous weapons and related technology is the most significant threat to U.S. national security for the foreseeable future. The global war against terrorism is making progress at rooting out Islamist and other terrorist groups, and it has also forced some rogue regimes such as Libya to change their approach.

But the arms control regimes and policies of the past will not be able to provide the framework for keeping arms and weapons technologies out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states. Unless new systems are established to deal effectively with the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, the danger will grow and a strike against the United States with these horrendous mass casualty weapons will be inevitable.

The United States must act, including taking military action, when nonproliferation agreements fail.

"The greatest threat to peace is the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," President Bush said in the Proliferation Security Initiative in May 2003 that called for halting arms transfers worldwide. "When weapons of mass destruction or their components are in transit, we must have the means and authority to seize them," he said, noting new pacts are needed to allow authorities to "search planes and ships carrying suspect cargo and to seize illegal weapons or missile technologies."

A partnership with like-minded countries is needed urgently because it has become clear that dangerous regimes and terrorist groups will go to any lengths to get weapons and will find no shortage of willing suppliers.

Preparing for swift military action, continuing to develop advanced weapons technology and improving intelligence capabilities will go a long way toward stopping illicit weapons transfers that make our enemies more dangerous.

The last component of any anti-proliferation program is waging an ideological war against weapons transfers, educating friendly nations about the dangers of proliferation and deterring arms dealers from continuing to sell to rogue states and terrorist groups. The war of words should be nothing less than the kind of ideological effort launched against expansionist communism during the Cold War.

The task of making the world safe from weapons of mass destruction will not be easy. But the likelihood of sustaining an attack from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons has never been higher. The work, therefore, is urgent.

Bill Gertz, a defense reporter for The Washington Times, is author of Treachery: How America's Friends and Foes Are Secretly Arming Our Enemies.

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