Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats
by joseph cirincione, jon wolfsthal, and miriam rajkumar
Washington, D.C., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005. 490 pages
Second Edition, Revised and Expanded
Paperback: US $29.95
The first edition of Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats appeared in 2002, and this revised second edition is set to confirm the title as a classic reference work in the field. The book is about twenty-five pages longer than its predecessor and has had a considerable and much needed update. Unsurprisingly, most of the new material covers Iraq, Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The structure of the book is very similar to that of the first edition. However, one section in the original work, called “states of some concern”, has been removed. Much of the material in that section has been transferred elsewhere (e.g., the discussion on Libya is now in a section called “non-proliferation successes”), while Algeria seems to have almost dropped off the proliferation radar screen. There are also fewer appendices, which some readers might miss.
Another difference between the two editions is the subtitle. In the first edition this was Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction; the move away from this terminology is both telling and welcome, especially given the way the WMD label was exploited and manipulated in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Explaining why they now eschew the term, the authors say that it “conflates very different threats from weapons that differ greatly in lethality, consequence of use, and the availability of measures that can protect against them”. Moreover, failure to differentiate these threats “can lead to seriously flawed policy”:
For example, the repeated use of the term “weapons of mass destruction” to describe the potential threat from Iraq before the 2003 war merged the danger that it still had anthrax-filled shells, which was possible, with the danger that it had nuclear bombs, which was highly unlikely … The term also blurs the possible responses to threats, justifying for some the use of nuclear weapons to prevent a potential chemical weapons attack. (P. 3)
Nevertheless, I expect that analytically lazy or cynical politicians, as well as some conservative commentators with particular ideological or geopolitical agendas, will continue to use WMD terminology for their own purposes (although it is to be hoped that after the Iraq mess invoking WMD will prove less effective as a propaganda device).
Like the first edition, this version is a measured study. Its balance and judicious weighing of evidence are qualities independent analysts and students will welcome all the more following Washington’s Iraq fiasco, which showed up much “expert analysis” as little more than recycled misinformation, war-mongering rhetoric, and cliché-ridden guesswork.
The book is also logically structured. It starts with a global overview of the problem. It then outlines the nature of the non-proliferation regime, centred on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Biological Weapons Convention, and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The character of the weapons under discussion is then described. Following this, a series of chapters examines the “legitimate” nuclear-weapon states (those which acquired the weapons before the NPT came into force—Russia, China, France, Britain, and the United States); the non-NPT nuclear-weapon states (India, Pakistan and Israel); “hard cases” that either have, or are moving towards acquiring, nuclear weapons (North Korea and Iran); and states which have either been dragged back from nuclear-weapons programmes or have relinquished them voluntarily (Libya, Iraq, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa). The appendices cover the key non-proliferation treaties.
The book apparently went to press before the May 2005 NPT conference, an event which was a depressing failure. Here some of the key players, such as the United States and Iran, dropped the non-proliferation ball. They let a mixture of self-interest and dogma get in the way of sound long-term policy and the common good. If there is a weakness in the book, it is perhaps its failure to confront head-on these sorts of ideological challenge to the non-proliferation regime. However, to be fair to the authors, this reluctance to engage in ideological battles is one way of maintaining a sense of even-handedness and clinical detachment, which many readers will deem necessary in a work such as this.
The book helps readers to get to grips with several major flaws and challenges afflicting the non-proliferation regime, each of which fuels controversy.
First, the regime cannot prevent some degree of “virtual” or “latent” proliferation. This is an especially live issue as regards the NPT because the treaty allows, even encourages, states to acquire and utilise basic nuclear know-how for non-military purposes; however, it fails to draw the line clearly on how much nuclear research and development is permitted. Consequently, states prepared to act in bad faith can exploit the NPT to provide cover for establishing some key nuclear-weapons capabilities.
Second, states have a right to leave the NPT. In other words, theoretically they can legally approach nuclear-weapons capability while being non-nuclear-weapons members of the NPT; then they can legally withdraw and quickly produce a “legal” weapon. All eyes here are on Iran, which some suspect is following just such a cynically manipulative course.
Third, aspects of the non-proliferation regime could do with a tighter system of inspections. One glaring hole here concerns the Biological Weapons Convention. Unfortunately, the United States has undermined multilateral efforts to provide the convention with fully integrated verification measures. It has done this for a mix of pragmatic, self-interested, and ideological reasons.
Fourth, the regime lacks a systematic and comprehensive approach to enforcement. Most responses to alleged breaches have been ad hoc. This can be seen by the rather different international responses to allegations of cheating against Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
Fifth, although membership of the regime is very broadly based, it is not universal. In particular, India, Israel and Pakistan have refused to join the NPT, and North Korea has walked out of the treaty.
Sixth, the regime lets the established nuclear club of Moscow, Beijing, London, Washington and Paris off the hook. Although club members signed an in-principle agreement to get rid of their nuclear weapons eventually, none signed in good faith, and no club member has any intention of meeting the goal. Indeed, some give every indication of wishing to cement their nuclear forces into place for all time.
The outstanding example here is Washington. While it advocates tough-minded pursuit of the non-proliferation agenda, it simultaneously and persistently argues that its option (i.e., threat) to use nuclear weapons is, and will continue to be, an anchor for both its national security and world order. Moreover, it goes further. It says that its nuclear weapons are not simply deterrents to prevent others from using theirs, but that Washington has the right to use its nuclear weapons first (i.e., that Washington has the right to start a nuclear war). This might all be regarded as an understandable, if regrettable, example of national pride and posturing by a nuclear-armed state (in the manner of France, for example) were it not for other aspects of US policy—aspects like starting a war in the Middle East on the basis of fictional Iraqi WMD. Or like Washington’s deplorable stance on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This treaty has been seen by all other members of the NPT as central to the evolution of the non-proliferation regime. However, after signing the CTBT, Washington walked away from it. The unintended consequence of Washington’s ideologically driven stance is to signal that members of the NPT who act in good faith are dupes, and are missing out on a vital national instrument.
Seventh, the enormous WMD stockpile accumulated during the Cold War has not yet been fully dealt with. This is an especially daunting problem in the case of Russia, with reports saying (a) that it still has significant stocks left over from its old (and illegal) biological-weapons programme, (b) that it is unable to dispose properly of its massive holdings of chemical weapons, and (c) that it has failed to secure adequately both its nuclear infrastructure and large amounts of nuclear material.
Eighth, the regime is only just adapting to the need to deal with non-state players on the proliferation stage. This type of player is exemplified by the Pakistan-based network run by A. Q. Khan. Khan’s activities came to light in 2003. His team—an assortment of individuals that sometimes acted as agents for semi-official policy, and sometimes resembled crooks made respectable by their establishment associations—offered an enterprising range of sensitive nuclear technology and know-how to a variety of shady customers. Khan was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in February 2004. As the authors say, it is not clear if his network “has shut down or merely gone further underground” (p. 21). When the non-proliferation regime was established, the overwhelming focus was on inter-state relations; now relatively greater attention must be paid to intra-state and trans-state activities.
While this book does not have all the answers to the challenges just described, it does equip the reader to understand them better. This edition not only maintains the high standard of its predecessor but builds upon it. The work provides a worthy basis for any analysis of the challenges posed by nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.