- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

Starting this week, the United Nations will engage in an activity that has caused the organization to fall into disrepute and prompted the Bush administration to insist on its systemic reform: the quintennial review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

If past practice is any guide, the conferees will refuse to acknowledge, let alone address, the obvious: The NPT is failing to stop nuclear wannabes from getting The Bomb. They will once again studiously try to ignore that the treaty itself has helped enable such proliferation. Its central bargain — which President Bush has charitably called a “loophole” — is that if manifestly untrustworthy states like North Korea and Iran promise not to pursue nuclear weapons, the industrialized world will provide all the technology and know-how needed to acquire such weapons under the guise of cooperation on “peaceful” uses of nuclear energy.

Instead of correcting this fatal flaw and taking to task those who have exploited it, the RevCon’s participants will likely use the occasion to rail against the United States for its alleged failure to disarm fast enough to suit its enemies and other critics. They will press for fresh commitments from Washington that would make it still harder for the U.S. to maintain, let alone update, its aging nuclear arsenal.

Recent events underscore the absurdity of such a conclave and its topsy-turvy agenda. Consider the following:

(1) North Korea has withdrawn from the NPT and is moving forward with a now-acknowledged nuclear weapons program. A few weeks ago, Pyongyang shut down another reactor and apparently has begun mining its plutonium to build more bombs. There are indications it may soon test a nuclear device. And Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, revealed last week that Pyongyang has the capacity to mate nuclear warheads on its ballistic missiles — one of which was flown near Japan on Sunday. The DIA assesses that some of these are already capable of reaching parts of the United States.

(2) Iran has not yet formally followed North Korea out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty but is clearly preparing to do so. For nearly 20 years, Tehran has concealed from international inspectors the full scope and character of its nuclear program, parts of which have been conducted in a large number of dispersed facilities, a number of them covert sites buried deep underground in hardened shelters.

The mullahs skillfully use the techniques of the bazaar to buy time to complete their weapons program. Negotiations that are going nowhere though three European states — France, Germany and Britain — hope they will induce Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for political, economic and technological concessions. But varied Iranian spokesmen keep saying nothing will stop the regime from realizing its “right” to nuclear power under the NPT. Only the most naive or self-deluded believe the “power” the mullahs want is purely civilian.

Worse yet, evidence continues to accumulate that both North Korea and Iran are interested in a nuclear-weapons application that poses a particular and extraordinary danger to the United States: a ballistic missile-delivered warhead that would cause an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) capable of inflicting what a blue-ribbon commission recently called “catastrophic” damage to the electric grid and electronic systems across the country.

Former Soviet experts in EMP effects are said to be in North Korea, where they may be advising not only Kim Jong-il’s regime but prospective terrorist clients about how such an attack might be accomplished.

Not to be outdone, Iran has, according to testimony before Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl’s Terrorism Subcommittee in March, performed midair detonations over the Caspian Sea using ship-launched ballistic missiles — a flight profile consistent with an EMP attack. Worse yet, WorldNetDaily reports an Iranian military journal has published an article titled “Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars” that “explains how an EMP attack on America’s electronic infrastructure, caused by the detonation of a nuclear weapon high above the U.S., would bring the country to its knees.”

Incredibly, in the face of these emerging threats, the United States continues to neglect its nuclear deterrent. Unlike North Korea (and probably Iran), it has no active production line for manufacturing modern nuclear weapons. Unlike North Korea, it could not conduct an underground nuclear test anytime soon.

America’s thermonuclear arsenal is relatively large but obsolescent, having been subjected to more tan a decade of malign neglect that has rendered our deterrent less safe, reliable and credible than it can and needs to be.

The appalling state of the U.S. nuclear weapons program makes all the more absurd the harsh criticism to which it and this country will be subjected by the NPT conference. The United States is well on its way — through a process the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Floyd Spence, once called “erosion by design” — of systematically eviscerating its deterrent. It is dissipating the talented work force and eliminating the industrial infrastructure needed to ensure its viability and compounding our vulnerability to electromagnetic pulse attacks by failing to conduct tests needed to understand the threat and our vulnerabilities to it.

America is a legal nuclear power under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Review Conference needs to be told we intend to do what we must to remain one, including develop and test the sorts of nuclear weapons needed to deter nations who have exploited a broken treaty to threaten us.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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