February 20, 2004 | Backgrounder on Missile Defense
Addressing the threats posed by the proliferation of biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them has always required balancing military steps with arms control. In a speech at the National Defense University on February 11, President George W. Bush outlined a non-proliferation program that strikes that balance.1
Specifically, President Bush described a two-pronged approach to strengthening multilateral arms control for stemming proliferation. First, he proposed steps for augmenting the existing treaty-based regime in those areas where the regime faces systemic shortcomings. Second, he proposed steps for strengthening the treaty-based regime where it faces problems that can be addressed by internal reforms.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Administration has taken a number of highly visible military and defensive actions to protect the American people more effectively against the threats they face today. Among these actions are:
In his speech, President Bush also turned his attention to improving the existing multilateral treaty-based regime for controlling proliferation. This treaty-based regime consists of the following multilateral agreements and their affiliated international bureaucracies, as well as lesser agreements and institutions not mentioned here:
In response to these problems, President Bush used his speech to propose two sets of solutions to existing weaknesses in the international arms control regime for stemming proliferation. The first set seeks additional steps outside the regime in order to address inherent shortcomings that are not amenable to internal reforms. The second set seeks to reform the regime in areas where the problems can be remedied.
President Bush is right to turn his attention to strengthening the arms control tool for stemming proliferation. Arms control serves to shrink the universe of threats to American security, which otherwise would have to be addressed through military and defensive measures. By the same token, it is President Bush's determination to take necessary military and defensive actions that give muscle to arms control diplomacy. Libya's recent decision to give up its weapons programs demonstrates this requirement for balance.
While President Bush struck the right balance between force and diplomacy in his speech at the National Defense University, Congress must be careful not to undermine it. It needs to support the President's defense budget request and not obstruct Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's efforts to transform the military and make it more capable of countering the threats that President Bush described in his speech.
Finally, Congress should remain cognizant that the treaty-based non-proliferation regime faces several systemic problems. Internal reform of that regime is not enough. Supplemental arms control activities are necessary and deserve congressional support.
As President Bush pursues arms control diplomacy, some in Congress may be tempted to support a return to the weak consensus-based diplomacy--prominent in the treaty-based regime in the past--that promotes least-common-denominator solutions. Such weakness would not only undermine effective diplomacy, but also jeopardize the security of the American people. Arms control is a means to the ends of national security, not an end in itself. Congress will only compound the risk of catastrophic attack on the American people if it loses sight of this enduring truth.
Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
1. George W. Bush, "President Announces New Measures to Counter the Threat of WMD," remarks at the National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., February 11, 2004, at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/02/20040211-4.html (February 17, 2004).
2. The White House, "Fact Sheet: G-8 Summit--Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction," June 27, 2002, at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/print/20020627-7.html (February 18, 2004).
3. The creation of the PSI was announced in George W. Bush, "Remarks by the President to the People of Poland," May 31, 2003, at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/05/print/20030531-3.html (February 10, 2004).
4. Washington Post reporters Dana Milbank and Peter Slevin implied this argument in their article covering Bush's speech: "Bush, in a speech at the National Defense University, proposed revoking the long-standing bargain in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows countries to develop peaceful atomic energy in return for a verifiable pledge not to build nuclear weapons." Dan Milbank and Peter Slevin, "Bush Details Plan to Curb Nuclear Arms," The Washington Post, February 12, 2004, at www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A34725-2004Feb11 (February 18, 2004).