- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

The appointment of John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is a further indication of the high priority President George W. Bush gives stemming the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

As undersecretary of state for arms Control and international security, Mr. Bolton has distinguished himself by adopting a realistic approach to non-proliferation problems.

Sen. Jon S. Corzine, New Jersey Democrat, claims Mr. Bolton has engaged in “needless confrontations with the rest of the world” and lacks “an appreciation for the value of multilateralism.” Yet, Mr. Bolton led in creating the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a multilateral coalition that originated with Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Singapore, Norway, Canada and Britain joining with the U.S. Since its 2003 formation, the PSI has grown to some 60 countries that combat WMD by sharing intelligence information, tracking suspect cargo and holding joint military exercises to interdict dangerous shipments.

The first PSI achievement broke the nuclear weapons technology ring of Abdul Qadeer Khan, which had links to a number of clandestine programs around the world. It was the seizure of a Khan shipment of centrifuge parts destined for Libya that helped convince dictator Moammar Gadhafi to end his nuclear and chemical weapons programs. With the example of invasion and regime change in Iraq also before him, Col. Gadhafi agreed to allow international inspections. More important, he allowed American and British agents to oversee the actual dismantlement of Libya’s WMD programs, the outcome of negotiations in which Mr. Bolton had a key role

Unfortunately, some define “multilateralism” not in the traditional sense of alliances or coalitions of the willing but as something that can only be done through the United Nations or under some U.N.-approved accord such as the Law of the Sea treaty. This kind of misplaced idealism is a recipe for frustration and likely failure in the real world of contending states.

Iran will test the U.N. on proliferation. If the mediation effort of Britain, Germany and France fails to persuade Iran to scrap its nuclear weapons program, as seems likely, the United States will want to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council. Mr. Bolton will be in a good position to make the case for action.

Yet, it will be an uphill fight. China has a veto on the Security Council and has made clear it opposes U.N. action against Iran. Beijing wants the matter to stay with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has no sanctions power and a very poor record. The IAEA has been so weak Mr. Bolton had advised against a third term for Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.

Another dismal example of how the U.N. works came when the U.S. sought endorsement of the PSI by introducing Security Council Resolution 1540 in late 2003. The Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution in April 2004, but in a modified version that avoided any explicit support of the PSI.

Whenever Resolution 1540 mentions “international cooperation” it quickly adds any cooperation must be “consistent with international law” interpreted as a constraint on action. Cooperation would not be allowed to grow into a coalition that can act unilaterally, but must be kept under U.N. authority. States with an interest in proliferation, again with a major Chinese role, pulled the resolution’s teeth.

Without explicit U.N. approval, critics of the PSI argue that for coalition members to stop, search and seize ships and cargos belonging to non-PSI “state or nonstate actors” in “areas beyond the territorial seas of any other state” would violate the Law of the Sea treaty. Article 23 of the treaty even allows “ships carrying nuclear or other inherently dangerous or noxious substances” innocent passage through territorial seas. Their right to operate on the high seas is uncontested. This is another powerful argument for not ratifying the treaty.

There are other ways to establish new norms of behavior that can evolve into international law. Consider how slave trading was first attacked. From 1815 to 1865, British warships undertook anti-slavery patrols off the West African coast, seizing hundreds of vessels. London signed treaties with a number of European countries giving the Royal Navy the right to search and seize vessels suspected of engaging in the slave trade, much as the PSI is trying to do on WMD trade.

In exchange for British recognition of its independence, Brazil agreed to abolish the slave trade by 1830. But when politically powerful pro-slavery interests in Brazil continued the trade, British warships entered Brazilian ports to seize and burn a number of ships. Confronted with British power, Brazil began enforcing the ban on slave trading.

From the perspective of history, few would criticize London’s “unilateral” actions. Today, the suppression of the slave trade is a duty under international law. Leadership is needed to move international norms of behavior forward. Mr. Bolton’s illustrious career shows he understands what is needed to advance U.S. values and interests in a turbulent world.

William Hawkins is senior fellow in national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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