McNair Paper 41, Radical Responses to Radical Regimes: Evaluating Preemptive Counter-Proliferation, May 1995

Institute for National Strategic Studies

McNair Paper Number 41, Radical Responses to Radical Regimes: Evaluating Preemptive Counter-Proliferation, May 1995


Of the 185 states with membership in the United Nations (Note 7), 8 or more have nuclear weapons (Note 8), 20 or more have chemical weapons (Note 9) , 8 to 10 or more possess biological weapons (Note 10), and 18 or more deploy ballistic missiles. (Note 11)

The United States counter-proliferation effort includes multiple tools: nonproliferation agreements, export controls, political persuasion, conventional arms sales, regional security arrangements, economic aid, and alliances. This has helped to slow the spread of WMD, but has not prevented a steady expansion in the number of states developing and, probably, deploying undeclared weapons.

There have been some notable successes in the effort to cap proliferation. (Note 12) For example, there have been significant additions to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories in the past decade. Both France and the People's Republic of China announced their intentions to sign the treaty. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan have signed and ratified the pact. South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan have either scrapped their nuclear weapons altogether or have pledged to do so. Argentina and Brazil have agreed to take steps to implement the Latin American Nuclear Free Zone. Both states also have agreed to allow IAEA inspections and safeguards. Also, in the wake of the Gulf War, Iraq's nuclear facilities have been dismantled and safeguards put in place by the IAEA.

Further, under severe U.S. diplomatic pressure, and given a number of incentives to cooperate, and disincentives if they did not, the North Korean Government agreed to reopen seven nuclear facilities to IAEA inspections. (Note 13) Moreover, Ukraine by agreeing, after lengthy debate, to rid itself of nuclear weapons, no longer blocks the reductions mandated by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). This, in turn, opens the way for U.S. and Russian START II reductions. Efforts to retard nuclear proliferation have been working far better than would have been predicted a decade ago, or even a year ago.

Nevertheless, there are a small number of extremely hostile and dangerous radical regimes who have been actively pursuing WMD and who appear on the threshold of acquiring them.

Several of these radical regimes pose special threats to the United States or its allies. Iraq likely will be a potential threat so long as it is governed by Saddam Hussein. Not only has his regime waged a prolonged war with Iran, invaded KuwaitC threatening Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern oil supplies, and attacked Israel, but Hussein's subordinates also attempted to assassinate former President George Bush on his trip to Kuwait in early 1993. (Note 14)

Hussein's quest for the atomic bomb might be renewed in earnest as soon as the Coalition departs from Iraq unless adequate safeguards are made to limit that program. Some U.S. nuclear experts believe Iraq could have a weapon in a matter of five or six years or less if left to pursue its own independent path. (Note 15) Colonel Muammar Khadafi of Libya is another radical leader who poses a special threat to U.S. allies and interests. His regime is accused of harboring and financing international terrorists, and has engaged in threats and military actions against states in the region. Khadafi has attempted to purchase a nuclear weapon from the Peoples Republic of China and from the black market, so far, it appears, unsuccessfully. (Note 16) Further, he has helped to finance the Pakistan nuclear effort and has contributed yellow cake nuclear fuel for Pakistan reactors in an effort to achieve an Islamic bomb. (Note 17) He had hopes to share in the technology of the Pakistani effort one day even though Libya itself is not close to being able to produce such a weapon from within.

Iran is another hostile radical state that appears to be seeking a nuclear weapons capability. At present there is a perception that this Islamic country is making grudging progress. The CIA in public testimony has estimated Iranian production of a nuclear weapon to be "unlikely before the end of the decade without foreign assistance." (Note 18)

Still another radical proliferation threat is posed by Kim Jong Il's regime in North Korea, another country thought to be either in the possession of atomic bombs or on the threshold of acquiring their own indigenous nuclear weapons. The Pyongyang regime is considered hostile and immediately dangerous to U.S. allies in the region, and could become directly dangerous to the U.S. homeland. (Note 19)

Leaders of these radical regimes (Note 20) may see the world so differently, and desire such immediate large-scale changes in their regions of the world, that they might not be very easily deterred, if at all, from first use of WMD against their perceived enemies. It is not always clear what price such radical leaders might accept for their populations in order to destroy an enemy state. The Western concept of deterrence, applied throughout the Cold War, may not play well against these actors from a far different set of values, culture, historical experience, and world view.

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