Bush Proposes Nuclear Nonproliferation Initiatives

WASHINGTON — U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday proposed seven new international initiatives for curbing nuclear proliferation, including a potentially controversial one that would restrict the supply of nuclear fuel-making equipment, even to countries with no weapons programs (see GSN, Feb. 11).

The president’s recommendations, delivered at the National Defense University here, received mixed praise from experts who described them as constructive and ambitious, but also as incomplete.

“It’s a good first step, but it is going to require a great deal of follow up to be more than an exercise in rhetoric,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some experts said the proposals would require an unprecedented amount of diplomatic engagement from the administration, potentially hampering current U.S. nuclear weapons and nonproliferation policies.

The president’s approach is “do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do,” said the Arms Control Association in a statement, noting that the Bush administration has not increased funding for nonproliferation programs, has funded research on new nuclear weapons capabilities, and is reconsidering a proposed international ban on producing nuclear weapons materials that it previously supported.

Bush said the proposals would “strengthen the world’s efforts to stop the spread of deadly weapons.”

“There is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated. Yet this consensus means little unless it is translated into action,” he said.

Curbing Nuclear Fuel Technology

One of Bush’s recommendations is particularly ripe for controversy, experts said. In proposing to block the supply of nuclear material production technology to countries that currently do not have such capability, Bush’s plan could be an effective nonproliferation measure, the experts said.

However, the proposal potentially clashes with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which guarantees access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in exchange for forgoing nuclear weapons, and therefore could be difficult to implement, experts said.

Access to such technology ostensibly for peaceful purposes has allowed some nations to illicitly develop nuclear technology.

The “loophole,” Bush said, has enabled North Korea and Iran to “produce nuclear material that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programs.”

Under Bush’s proposal, the 40-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries with nuclear technologies would refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.

A White House spokesman said in a Web site discussion following the speech that the proposal should not conflict with the NPT bargain.

“The president noted today that activities such as enrichment and            reprocessing are not necessary for a country that only seeks to harness nuclear energy for peaceful reasons,” said deputy national security adviser for communications Jim Wilkinson.

Bush said leading nuclear exporters “should ensure that states have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian reactors.”

Other Proposals

Bush’s other recommendations were:

*         Requiring that all countries sign the Additional Protocol to their International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreements, a measure that would expand the agency’s authority to investigate nuclear activities. Those unsigned by next year would also be barred by the Nuclear Suppliers Group from receiving equipment for their civilian nuclear programs. Bush also encouraged the U.S. Senate to quickly grant its approval of the U.S. Additional Protocol, a step required before Bush can ratify the agreement (see GSN, Jan. 29);

*         Expanding the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led, 11-country effort to intercept suspected WMD cargo shipments. Bush said yesterday that Canada, Singapore and Norway are also joining the effort (see GSN, Dec. 18, 2003);

*         Passing a U.S.-proposed U.N. Security Council resolution requiring that all states criminalize proliferation, enact strict export controls, and secure sensitive materials within their borders. That resolution has been circulating among Security Council members since December and has gone through several revisions by the United States as well as proposed changes by other council members, especially Russia and China. Neither country is supportive of the draft. Earlier this month, the president of the council for February, Ambassador Wang Guangya of China, said he did not expect the council to take up the draft this month (see GSN, Dec. 17, 2003).

*         Expanding the membership and financial commitments of the Group of Eight Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, a group of countries that supports weapons destruction in former Soviet states (see GSN, Nov. 14, 2003).

*         Creating a special international committee on safeguards and verification to improve the IAEA’s ability to monitor and enforce compliance with nuclear nonproliferation obligations; and

*         Prohibiting states under investigation by the IAEA from serving on the agency’s Board of Governors or on the new special committee.

CredibilityJoseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment said many of Bush’s proposals were not new, having been made by other governments, independent experts and the leading Democratic presidential candidates.

“It’s a sign of good leadership that the president has decided to adopt these ideas,” he said.

Robert Einhorn, a senior adviser at CSIS, said nearly all of Bush’s recommendations would depend on winning the support of other countries — a task that he said would require a change in the administration’s attitude toward diplomacy.

“That will require the administration not only to engage in sustained diplomatic heavy lifting, but also to show a readiness to adjust its own positions to meet the requirements of others — something it has often been reluctant to do in the counterproliferation area,” he said.

Experts said Bush may lack credibility regarding his recommendation to expand global nonproliferation aid, citing a decrease in U.S. military fiscal 2005 budget request for nonproliferation activites in former Soviet states.

Molly Pickett of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation said other countries might criticize Bush for seeking nonproliferation measures abroad while refusing to destroy nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal.

“Such a failure of U.S. leadership only leads other nuclear and non-nuclear states alike to pursue advanced weapons technology,” said.

PakistanIn his speech, Bush highlighted U.S. nuclear proliferation concerns by citing recent disclosures of an extensive nuclear proliferation network involving top Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who recently said he supplied nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya without his government’s permission. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf later pardoned Khan (see related GSN story, today).

Khan “led an extensive international network for the proliferation of nuclear technology and know-how,” Bush said, which he characterized as a “criminal enterprise.”

Independent U.S. experts have long suspected Pakistan of trading its nuclear weapons technology for advanced missile capabilities and cash. Carnegie’s Cirincione criticized Bush for not assigning blame to the Pakistani government for the proliferation.

“The president in his speech seemed to portray the international black market as headed up solely by Pakistani individuals, particularly A.Q. Khan. It is inconceivable that Khan operated without the knowledge and support of Pakistan’s military and intelligence officials,” Cirincione said.

Editor’s Note: GSN correspondent Jim Wurst contributed to this report from U.N. headquarters in New York.

February 12, 2004

WASHINGTON — U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday proposed seven new international initiatives for curbing nuclear proliferation, including a potentially controversial one that would restrict the supply of nuclear fuel-making equipment, even to countries with no weapons programs (see GSN, Feb. 11).