This time, let's listen to Blix on WMD

June 17, 2006


Hans Blix is back, this time with a report on how to reduce dangers posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction worldwide. This time we should listen to him. His call as chief U.N. weapons inspector prior to the invasion of Iraq for continued inspections instead of military action was vindicated by the later failure to find WMD. After the catastrophe of the Iraq war, Americans have much reason to reconsider the policy of preventive war to counter WMD proliferation. A reasonable alternative is articulated by the report: Win the cooperation of other nations in preventing further spread of nuclear weapons by working hard to reduce the role and number of existing weapons.

The Blix-led Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission released its report, Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, earlier this month at the United Nations. It includes distinguished experts from around the world, among them former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry.

The report's timing is excellent. Nuclear weapons have once again taken center stage in world politics. In January, French President Jacques Chirac signaled that nuclear weapons could be used against a state responsible for a large-scale terrorist attack on France. In April, there were credible reports that the Bush administration is giving serious attention to options for use of nuclear weapons to attack buried uranium enrichment facilities in Iran. Recent years have also seen North Korea's claim to have a nuclear deterrent and heightened concern about possible terrorist acquisition of a nuclear bomb.

Taking issue with the message familiar to Americans, that nuclear weapons are unacceptable in the hands of rogue states and terrorists, the Blix report rightly says that these catastrophic devices are dangerous in anyone's hands. It explains that the problems of existing arsenals, potential spread, and potential terrorist use are all linked; and that they can be solved only by a comprehensive approach leading to elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Regarding Iran and North Korea, the Commission makes the common sense observation that they must be given a sense of security by renouncing regime change as a policy, providing guarantees against attack, and moving toward WMD-free zones in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula. It is also important to pay attention to the findings of international inspectors, who were, after all, proved right in the case of Iraq. The United States should take this lesson to heart with respect to Iran, where the International Atomic Energy Agency has extensive on-the-ground experience and so far has not concluded that there is a nuclear weapons program.

In the longer term, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons requires reversing proliferation where it began, in the United States. We led the world into the nuclear age during World War II; now we must lead it out. Unfortunately, since the treaty banning all nuclear test explosions was negotiated in 1996, the United States has abandoned the multilateralism necessary to the exercise of leadership. The Senate rejected ratification of the treaty in 1999. In the 2000s, the Bush administration has repudiated commitments the United States made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work with other nations to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security postures and to pursue verified, irreversible reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals.

The United States needs to take leadership again, by ratifying the test ban treaty and with other countries implementing measures like making deep cuts in U.S. and Russian arsenals and dismantling the reduced warheads; de-alerting nuclear forces by removing warheads from missiles; securing nuclear materials and warheads around the world to prevent terrorist acquisition, and establishing a verified ban on production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Ultimately, what is needed is what the Blix report calls "planning for security without nuclear weapons."

Admittedly, the sort of international policy-speak found in the report has had little influence in American debate. But the Blix Commission nonetheless should be heeded. It is infinitely preferable to get our wake-up call from a Swedish international civil servant than from a nuclear bomb going off in a major city somewhere in the world.

John Burroughs is executive director of the New York-based Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, one of several NGOs offering commentary on the Blix report at

Start Date: 2006-06-20 20:00:00-04

End Date: 2006-06-26 20:00:00-04

Created By: Alan Kinsella