The only thing worse
than one nuclear-armed rogue nation is two. But Iran is well on its
way to joining North Korea as the world's newest nuclear
This is hardly shocking. President Bush didn't dub Tehran a charter
member of the Axis of Evil by chance.
The international community's response to the threat? The
U.N.'s nuclear weapons watchdog, the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), has called upon Tehran, "to promptly and
unconditionally conclude and implement an additional protocol to
its Safeguards Agreement, in order to enhance the agency's ability
to provide credible assurances regarding the peaceful nature of
Iran's nuclear activities."
It took the 35-member IAEA board of governors three days of
intense debate to hammer out that conclusion. The mullahs must be
shaking in their robes.
Actually, considering the IAEA's record with the nuclear
programs of North Korea (couldn't stop it) and Iraq pre-Gulf War I
(couldn't find it), Iran's clerics most likely didn't even shift in
their seats on hearing the IAEA's verdict.
The sad truth is that existing, U.N.-centered agreements on
preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), are
proving ineffective. The danger is spreading.
The 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is instructive. The
NPT, which bans nuclear programs for other than peaceful purposes,
is essentially a gentleman's agreement-with no enforcement
provisions. Nations routinely ignore its principles if they
conflict with the country's perception of its national
- Iran, an NPT signatory, insists it is in compliance but is
secretly pursuing nukes, while thwarting IAEA
- North Korea admitted to a U.S. diplomat last year that it
had nuclear weapons while still a member of the NPT. (It has since
- India and Pakistan, which joined the nuclear club in 1998,
never signed the treaty. Neither did --
- Israel, a suspected nuclear power.
- Libya and Syria, both signatories, still flirt with nuclear
Bottom line: Neither the NPT, nor any other current U.N.
arms-control treaty, such as the Biological Weapons or Chemical
Weapons Conventions, can stop a determined nation from pursuing
Even more frightening is the prospect of WMD in the clutches of
shadowy terrorists. Yet North Korea has threatened to transfer
nukes to others. Tehran, for its part, is in bed with the likes of
Hamas, Hezbollah and possibly al-Qaeda -- a very dangerous
At the recent G-8 summit in Evian, France, world leaders agreed
that the spread of unconventional weapons and international
terrorism are "the pre-eminent threat to international
Thankfully, the Bush administration is actually doing something
about it. Last month in Krakow, the president unveiled the
Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an effort to get
like-minded nations to work together outside the flagging U.N.
The proposal would allow the interception of ships and aircraft
carrying WMD, missiles or enabling technology and materiel in a
cooperative country's territorial seas, airspace, and land.
"Over time, we will extend this partnership as broadly as possible
to keep the world's most destructive weapons away from our shores
and out of the hands of our enemies," John Bolton, undersecretary
of State for Arms Control and International Security, told Congress
earlier this month.
Not wasting any time, 12 nations (the United States, Canada,
Britain, Italy, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Poland,
Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain) met in Madrid this month to
begin discussions on the PSI. The Aussies, Brits, Spaniards and
Poles are reportedly already on board.
The PSI would require beefed-up intelligence and law-enforcement
cooperation, improved export-control efforts, creative use of
national sovereignty and multilateral agreement on the definition
of contraband. This will require adjustments to international law
-- which, for example, does not now ban the transfer of
That means missiles found in international waters can't be legally
seized as contraband. This is why the North Korean SCUD missiles,
seized by the Spanish en route to Yemen on a Cambodian-flagged ship
last year, were ultimately released.
The PSI is also likely to ruffle the feathers of the Chinese and
the Russians, who are considered key suppliers of WMD and missile
technology and know-how to North Korea and Iran. But systems that
rely on self-restraint won't stop countries that don't want to
The United Nations' honorable efforts to curb the proliferation of
WMD fall short because they are toothless -- and therefore
We should be eager to work with other concerned nations to stop the
spread of WMD. The PSI is not a substitute for diplomacy. But a
more vigorous, enforceable nonproliferation policy, which includes
the concept of interdiction, is needed. The PSI is a long overdue
and a much-needed move in the right direction.
Peter Brookes, a former
deputy assistant secretary of defense, is a senior fellow for
national security affairs at The Heritage Foundation.