- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

The Bush administration spent its first eight months in office disparaging arms control as a failed policy of a bygone era and has said almost nothing about the role arms control can play in the new "war" on terrorism. Yet arms control is vital to preventing individuals, groups, or countries from carrying out future, even deadlier terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

While the Bush administration and Congress are right to strengthen U.S. defenses and emergency responses to terrorist attacks, no civil defense plan or national missile defense system will make the United States immune to chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks. The first line of defense must be to deny, or make as difficult as possible, efforts to buy, build, transfer or steal these weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and deliver them.

Arms control is that first line of defense and it has helped guard U.S. security for more than 30 years. Except North Korea, which might possibly have enough plutonium for one or two nuclear bombs, none of the so-called rogue states, let alone terrorists, possesses nuclear weapons or long-range ballistic missiles to deliver them. But they are trying to get these capabilities, and the Bush administration should expend every effort to make sure they don't succeed.

President George W. Bush should increase, not decrease as currently planned, funding for programs to secure and destroy Russia's nuclear weapons and its more than a thousand metric tons of fissile material that could be used to build an estimated 40,000 additional weapons. An independent, bipartisan panel in January declared that "the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today" is that Russian weapons of mass destruction and weapons-usable material could be "stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation-states."

The Bush administration should also push to get international arms inspectors back into Iraq to help prevent Saddam Hussein from reconstituting his WMD programs and potentially passing these lethal weapons to others. With top Bush officials lobbying for concerted military strikes against Baghdad as part of the war on terrorism, Russia and China should be willing to work with the United States to get inspectors back in the country rather than see a new U.S. military campaign waged against Iraq.

Other measures the Bush administration should consider include reaching a codified agreement with Russia to sharply cut U.S. and Russian Cold War-era nuclear arsenals, intensifying efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its attempts to build long-range ballistic missiles, negotiating an agreement to help enforce global compliance with a treaty banning germ weapons, and pressing Russia and China to cut off all interactions with Iran that could assist its acquisition of nuclear weapons. It would also be wise to maintain, rather than cut, U.S. funding for international nuclear test ban treaty monitoring activities.

Like the war on terrorism, the United States cannot stem global WMD proliferation alone. Washington needs broad international support, particularly from Russia and China, whose cooperation will be essential in shutting off the flow of WMD technology and knowledge to those wishing the United States harm.

Now is the time for the Bush administration to seize upon the emerging unity underlying the international coalition against terrorism to energize and bolster efforts designed to prevent and impede the spread of weapons of mass destruction. As President Bush prepares to host Russian President Vladimir Putin for three days of talks beginning Nov. 13, he must be careful not to undercut support from key countries by pressing ahead with his missile defense plans and unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which Russia and China argue would upset world security and stability.

The Bush administration should not abandon its missile defense plans to appease Moscow and Beijing. Yet the administration should acknowledge that effective and reliable strategic missile defenses are technologically several years, if not decades, away. Therefore, Bush should avoid scrapping the ABM Treaty in his pursuit of missile defenses, which could lead Russia to halt reductions in its nuclear arsenal and compel China to significantly buildup its nuclear forces.

As horrible as the September 11 attacks were, they could have been worse. It is the Bush administration's first responsibility to the American public to do everything in its power to eliminate or minimize the risk of future WMD attacks. Successfully meeting this challenge will require strengthening, not dismantling or neglecting, the international framework of arms control and nonproliferation.

Daryl Kimball is executive director and Wade Boese the senior research analyst of the Arms Control Association.

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