State Department Director for Policy Planning Richard Haass describes the Bush Administration rejection of key international treaties as "a la carte multilateralism." New York Times reporter Thom Shanker says administration officials reject pacts that limit U.S. actions but favor those that restrain others, such as missile technology restraints, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But can the whole survive with just some of its parts? Can global security be maintained piece-meal? Project Director Joseph Cirincione warned of the dangers of precisely this approach in Foreign Policy magazine last year.
In "The Asian Nuclear reaction Chain" in the Spring 2000 issue of the publication, Cirincione wrote:
A broad, if rough-hewn, cold war consensus on the importance of negotiated threat reduction has dissolved into a free-for-all tangle over differing assessments of American vulnerabilities, defense spending, and the nature of U.S. global engagement. The U.S. Senate stunned the world when it rejected the test ban treaty in 1999. Now it seems probable that the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty is the next pact headed for the chopping block.
The Clinton administration, through inattention and indecision, squandered priceless opportunities to lock in its initial successes and move quickly beyond them. The door was left open for die-hard opponents of arms control in Congress to step in and dominate the debate over how best to respond to the challenges posed by today’s would-be weapons states. Treaties lull the country into a false sense of security, they say, as America keeps to them while other nations cheat. Worse still, multilateral arrangements weaken America like "Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians, stretched out, unable to move, because he has been tied down by a whole host of threads," as Senator Jeff Sessions warned his colleagues during the debate over the test ban treaty. The Senate defeat of the CTBT crystallized the arms control mantra now popular among conservatives: Distrust treaties, increase defenses, and assert American authority.
Henry Kissinger-the strategist behind the ABM Treaty and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, or SALT I-epitomizes the new centrist-conservative thinking. He says that he is not against arms control, just bad arms control, such as the test ban and the ABM Treaty today. He believes we can pick and choose the arms control agreements we like, such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (by which 182 nations have agreed not to develop nuclear weapons), the Missile Technology Control Regime (which restricts exports of missile technology), and the Australia Group (which restricts chemical and biological exports).
Many arms control critics reject the very idea of negotiated arms reductions as a cold war relic, unsuited for the current era. Now that superpower conflict is over, the logic holds, our strategy needs to change to accommodate "a world of terror and missiles and madmen," to borrow a phrase from President George W. Bush.
Those who claim to be reinventing arms control for the future are, in fact, turning their backs on history. Nuclear proliferation among so-called rogue states is not the primary problem. As far back as the early 1960s, policy makers recognized the greatest threat to U.S. security was not that Third World despots might acquire the bomb, but that advanced industrial countries might do so. Few people recall that President John F. Kennedy’s oft-quoted warning that "fifteen or twenty or twenty-five nations may have [nuclear] weapons" in the next decade was directed at Japan, Italy, Germany, Sweden, and other European nations that were developing weapons programs. Nuclear weapons in "the hands of countries large and small, stable and unstable," Kennedy worried, would create "the increased chance of accidental war, and an increased necessity for the great powers to involve themselves in what otherwise would be local conflicts."
Kennedy’s arms control vision, negotiated by President Lyndon Johnson and implemented by President Richard Nixon, has proved to be a global success story. Since the signing of the NPT in 1968, the treaty regime has greatly restricted the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But Kennedy’s legacy is now under siege, and the nonproliferation clock may be set back to the 1960s. If the United States disassembles diplomatic restraints, shatters carefully crafted threat reduction arrangements, and moves from builder to destroyer of the nonproliferation regime, then there will be little to prevent new nations from concluding that their national security requires nuclear arms. Taking elements we don’t like out of the regime structure starts a dangerous round of Jenga, the tabletop game where blocks are sequentially removed from a wooden tower until the whole structure collapses.
The blocks would fall quickest and hardest in Asia, where proliferation pressures are already building more quickly than anywhere else in the world. If a nuclear breakout takes place in Asia, then the international arms control agreements that have been painstakingly negotiated over the past 40 years will crumble. Moreover, the United States could find itself embroiled in its fourth war on the Asian continent in six decades-a costly rebuke to those who seek the safety of Fortress America by hiding behind national missile defenses.