The United States stood by for years as supposed allies helped its enemies obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons, reveals Bill Gertz, defense and national security reporter for The Washington Times, in the new book “Treachery” (Crown Forum).
Last of three excerpts
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s new foreign minister, delivered a memorable address to the United Nations Security Council in New York on Dec. 16, 2003.
Zebari, an Iraqi Kurd, began his remarks by noting the historic capture, three days earlier, of Saddam Hussein. Then, after laying out a plan for Iraq to become a democracy, the foreign minister lowered the boom on the assembled diplomats.
“One year ago,” Zebari said, “this Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wantedto hold him accountable. The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years, and today, we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure.
“The United Nations must not fail the Iraqi people again,” he said.
It was clear to whom Zebari was referring: France, Germany, Russia and China, among others in the world body, fought U.S.-led efforts to end Saddam’s bloody dictatorship.
But the organization’s failure was far more significant than failing the Iraqi people. The United Nations had failed in its founding purpose: to preserve peace and international security.
It appeased Saddam for years before the United States called for decisive action.
And Saddam’s Iraq is just one of many rogue regimes that the United Nations has failed to keep in check. Again and again, dangerous states have built up their militaries and weapons programs right under the world body’s nose, despite sanctions and anti-proliferation agreements.
Three times, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency missed the covert nuclear-arms programs of rogue regimes, allowing those states to build deadly weapons capability under the guise of generating nuclear power.
Disclosures of the nuclear progress of North Korea, Libya and Iran came in rapid succession, within the space of about a year. If the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not detect these programs, one must wonder what purpose the U.N. branch serves.
The United Nations established the IAEA in 1957 to help countries build nuclear facilities for generating electricity. Its initial program, Atoms for Peace, quickly became “Atoms for Bombs.” And not much has changed in the past five decades, except the size of the program.
Today, the IAEA has about 2,200 staff members at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and at four regional offices in Geneva, New York, Toronto and Tokyo. Its budget for 2004 was $268.5 million.
The IAEA’s statutory purpose is to assist in transferring expertise and equipment for the “peaceful” use of nuclear power. The international agency also is charged with making sure that nations do not divert equipment or material for nuclear-energy development into weapons programs.
Specifically, Section 5 of the empowering statute directs the IAEA to “establish and administer safeguards designed to ensure that special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, facilities and information made available by the agency or at its request or under its supervision or control are not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.”
But the IAEA has not administered appropriate safeguards. And as a result, it has been fooled again and again by states such as North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria and Iraq.
The centerpiece of the IAEA’s work has been the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT, which went into effect on March 5, 1970.
Rogue states generally sign international agreements only if doing so is expedient. Nothing better illustrates this point than North Korea.
The NPT provided cover for North Korea’s secret nuclear-weapons programs, allowing Pyongyang to purchase equipment, train technicians and build reactors.
North Korea was one of the agreement’s 188 signatories when, in the fall of 2002, the communist regime of Kim Jong-il revealed that it secretly had been developing nuclear weapons.
The IAEA failed to anticipate or uncover North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. The agency admitted as much last year, when it reported: “The agency has never had the complete picture regarding [North Korean] nuclear activities.”
Pyongyang froze plutonium production as part of a 1994 pact with the United States known as the Agreed Framework. But the CIA noted in 1995, in a classified Special National Intelligence Estimate: “Based on North Korea’s past behavior, the [intelligence] community agrees it would dismantle its known program [only] if it had covertly developed another source of fissile material.”
Sure enough, North Korea’s disclosure in October 2002 of its uranium-enrichment activity confirmed that Pyongyang was trying to build nuclear bombs. In essence, Kim and the North Koreans were announcing that membership in the NPT had been a ruse all along.
Still, the IAEA did not take a hard line with Kim. It responded to the disclosure by sending faxes requesting “clarification.” The North Koreans ignored the request.
The IAEA adopted a resolution calling on Pyongyang to cooperate. The North Koreans responded with a letter saying that they rejected the U.N. agency’s unfair and unilateral approach.
The director of North Korea’s nuclear program, Ri Je-son, stated in a letter dated Dec. 4, 2002, that Pyongyang would resume nuclear work if the United States did not resume oil shipments to North Korea.
Then, on Jan. 10, 2003, North Korea unceremoniously abandoned its partners in the NPT. In a broadcast on Kim’s state radio, government commentator Jong Pong-kil said the decision to pull out was a defensive measure:
“The United States trampled on the NPT and the [North Korean]-U.S. Agreed Framework and is trying to crush us by all means,” Jong declared. “By even mobilizing the IAEA, the United States is compelling us to give up the right of self-defense. Under such conditions, it is clear to everyone that we cannot let the country’s security and the nation’s dignity be infringed upon by remaining in the NPT treaty.”
Jong then added a threat: “If the U.S. imperialists and their following forces challenge our republic’s withdrawal from the NPT with new pressure and sanctions, we will respond with a stronger self-defensive measure.”
In other words, the North Koreans, who already had shown that their membership in the NPT was a ruse, were announcing that they would keep building nuclear arms.
The IAEA’s response to Jong’s announcement was tantamount to appeasement. Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian, said North Korea must return to the NPT.
Then, during a meeting with U.S. senators, ElBaradei said: “If North Korea were to show good behavior, they need to get some assurance as to what to expect in return for good behavior, and I think that’s very important in articulation of what to expect in case of compliance.”
It did not matter that the North Koreans openly admitted defying the IAEA for years; ElBaradei sent the message that the international arms-control agency would impose no penalty.
The matter was sent to the U.N. Security Council, but that body did little more than express “deep concern” for the violations. The United States picked up its diplomatic approach, which produced no results. North Korea continues its drive for nuclear arms.
Iran and Libya
The United Nations also failed to confront the nuclear threat from Iran, which, like North Korea, used the NPT to acquire equipment and materials to make nuclear bombs.
When Iran’s weapons work was discovered, showing that the Iranians knowingly ignored obligations to their treaty partners, the IAEA essentially ignored the violations. The agency sought only an additional “protocol” from Iran as a new safeguard.
“This is a good day for peace, multilateralism and nonproliferation,” ElBaradei declared after Iran signed the protocol. “A good day for peace because the [IAEA] board decided to continue to make every effort to use verification and diplomacy to resolve questions about Iran’s nuclear program.”
But “verification and diplomacy” failed to stop Iran from developing nuclear arms in the first place. Despite pressure from security officials within the Bush administration, ElBaradei refused to cite Iran for breaking its obligations.
Moreover, the IAEA did not keep careful watch over Libya’s nuclear-weapons program, which was further along than both U.S. intelligence or the U.N. agency had known.
When Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi publicly disclosed his weapons program in December 2003, the IAEA knew nothing about it. The agency said Libya should have reported its activities to the IAEA.
The IAEA was happy to report Tripoli’s decision to eliminate “materials, equipment and programs which lead to the production of internationally proscribed weapons.”
But the agency tried to minimize its failure to discover the program. It noted that a Libyan official characterized his nation’s uranium-enrichment program as “at an early stage of development” and that “no industrial-scale facility had been built, nor any enriched uranium produced.”
Algeria long since had launched its own nuclear-arms program in response to the military buildup by neighbor Libya, with which it had tense relations, reflecting how weapons proliferation only breeds further proliferation.
U.S. intelligence agencies in the spring of 1991 detected the first signs that Algeria was developing nuclear weapons with the assistance of China.
The ultimate threat to peace is nuclear weapons in the hands of international terrorists.
There is a real danger that terrorists could use nuclear materials in radiological attacks, or “dirty bombs.” Worse, terrorists would use them in a nuclear blast that could kill thousands or even hundreds of thousands.
To his credit, the IAEA’s ElBaradei has begun to worry about this threat.
“[Nuclear] source security has taken on a new urgency since 9/11,” the U.N. arms agency’s director general said in a speech last year. “There are millions of radiological sources used throughout the world. Most are very weak. What we are focusing on is preventing the theft or loss of control of the powerful radiological sources.”
The fact is, al Qaeda and the world’s other most lethal terrorist organizations are trying to acquire nuclear arms.
The United Nations’ record of failure to detect and halt nuclear threats posed by rogue states, however, casts doubt on its ability to grapple with such arms in the grip of shadowy terrorist groups.
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Part I:French connection armed Saddam
Part II:Libyan sincerity on arms in doubt