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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Analysis: Non-proliferation and the 'war on terror'
Aerial view of Yongbyon nuclear site
North Korea may already have a nuclear bomb

Halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has become one of the central goals of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

It is the linkage with weapons proliferation that gives the US war against terrorism its peculiar thrust, explaining how a military campaign to topple the Iraqi regime can be linked to a wider struggle against "terrorism with a global reach".


The fear is that President Bush has simply got the balance wrong - America often appears disdainful of the sorts of treaties and multilateral regimes that it recommends to others

It is the spread of weapons of mass destruction to so-called rogue states that has forced the Bush administration to ask fundamental questions about old Cold War doctrines like containment and deterrence.

The three principle countries of US concern - Iraq, Iran and North Korea - have earned for themselves a new label in the Bush diplomatic lexicon - dubbed by the President as an "axis of evil".

These are countries which:

  • Are seen as being dangerous themselves because of their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction
  • Are seen by Washington as being a threat to America's regional interests and allies
  • Represent a broader threat due to their propensity to proliferate or spread their weaponry, technology or know-how to others.

That is the philosophical underpinning of the Bush administration's approach.

Complex issue

But the very different problems posed by Iraq and North Korea underline the inadequacy of seemingly simple characterisations like the "axis of evil".

Iraqi woman with picture of Saddam Hussein
The US has chosen "counter-proliferation" to deal with Iraq
If North Korea has had help with its renewed nuclear weapons programme it has probably come from Pakistan and to some extent from Russia.

Pakistan already has nuclear weapons making its own domestic instability of much greater concern.

And the collapse of the Soviet Union has left many scientists and technicians without adequate employment. A number of US-funded programmes have sought to keep key people in work but most arms control experts believe that much more needs to be done to safeguard the dangerous nuclear, chemical and biological legacy bequeathed by the Soviets.

And as Iraq's indigenous weapons programmes have demonstrated, controlling knowledge and know-how is one of the hardest elements of the non-proliferation puzzle.

Diplomacy option

The Bush team's emphasis on pre-emption - what some have termed "counter proliferation" - may be appropriate in some cases.

It is certainly one way of securing Iraq's disarmament. But this policy could hardly be applied to North Korea which may already have the bomb and which could devastate large parts of its southern neighbour in any conflict.

With Pyongyang the Americans are probably going to have to settle for diplomacy, buying out the North Korean nuclear programme if possible, and for that they are going to need powerful regional allies.

Non-proliferation thus requires a mixture of unilateral and multilateral actions. But the fear among at least some arms control advocates is that President Bush has simply got the balance wrong. America often appears disdainful of the sorts of treaties and multilateral regimes that it recommends to others.

They argue that Washington's new emphasis upon military dominance threatens to tear asunder the very fabric of arms control at a time when this foundation is needed more than ever.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Charles Scanlon reports from Tokyo
"Washington has not decided on its next move"
IAEA's Mohammed El-Baradei
"This came as a complete surprise to us"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

21 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Oct 02 | Middle East
18 Oct 02 | South Asia
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
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