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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

Report Questions Satisfactoriness of US Non-Proliferation Policy

On 14 July, a bi-partisan Congressional Commission set up to investigate the adequacy of US non-proliferation policy and preparedness, published a wide-ranging and sometimes disconcerting report, 18 months in the making, the broad and chilling conclusion of which is that "the US Government is not effectively organized to combat proliferation." The 12-member Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was chaired by John Deutch, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and vice-chaired by Senator Arlen Specter (Republican - Pennsylvania). Speaking at a press conference to launch the report, Deutch stated bluntly: "Terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States is a very real possibility." Specter, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, confessed himself to have been "terrified" by a number of the classified briefings the Commission had received: "We are woefully unprepared, and we would like to see something done before some incident occurs." The Commission's report identifies five main threats currently faced by the US: the use of WMD by terrorists; the possession, and/or with the capacity to manufacture, WMD by 'rogue' States (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and others); the diversion of WMD materials and expertise from the former Soviet Union; the transfer of WMD-related materials and equipment by China; and the "destabilizing consequences" of WMD programmes in the Middle East and South and East Asia. To help combat these and other threats, the Commission recommends the establishment of a Combating Proliferation Council, to be chaired by a National Director for Combating Proliferation. The Council would be in charge of coordinating all federal efforts in the field, currently spread out across a staggering 96 different agencies. The National Director would report to the President's National Security Advisor. In a press release issued to accompany the report's release, Deutch and Specter argued: "The [current] system generally responds well to a crisis but lacks the tools to ensure sustained, day-to-day focus and coordination to develop long-term strategies." One Commission member, former Democratic Senator James Exon (Nebraska), disassociated himself from the recommendation to establish the new Council, arguing that it did not go far enough. According to Exon: "What has been crafted, in my opinion, is another lower-level working group." President Clinton responded immediately to the Commission, pledging in a written statement (14 July) that "serious consideration" would be given to the recommendations. This consideration would take the form of a report "with advice on specific steps" to be drawn up by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and delivered to the President within 60 days. On the day of the report's release, Senator Specter announced he would be introducing legislation aimed at drawing up an electronic database on weapons-related exports; the legislation would require exporters to electronically file the contents of shipments before dispatch, as opposed to the current system of retrospective registering.

On 16 July, the latest six-monthly CIA report to Congress on proliferation threats was released in declassified form. The report cast doubt on the efficacy to date of changes made by both China and Russia to their export control systems. With reference to Beijing's reforms, the report notes: "The effect...of China's nascent nuclear export controls is not yet clear; restructuring among oversight entities and the defense industries may impede implementation in the near term..." With reference to recent changes in Russian policy, the report notes: "Despite these decrees, the Government's commitment, willingness and ability to curb proliferation-related transfers remains uncertain. Moreover, economic conditions in Russia continued to deteriorate [over the last six months], putting more pressure on Russian entities to circumvent export controls."

Reports: Commission urges new effort to curb weapons of mass destruction, United States Information Service, 14 July; Clinton orders review of anti-proliferation efforts, Reuters, 14 July; US terrorist threats detailed, Associated Press, 15 July; CIA - export controls slow weapons, Associated Press, 17 July.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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