A real national emergency

By Notra Trulock
web posted December 18, 2000

Did you know that we are in the midst of a national emergency? No, not the one down in Florida. This national emergency was declared by President Clinton in 1994 in Executive Order 12938. The President declared that "the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons ('weapons of mass destruction') and of the means of delivering such weapons constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States..." This Executive Order mandated new foreign policy initiatives, changes in export controls, and the stern use of economic sanctions against foreign countries, business firms, and even individuals engaged in proliferation activities. Coupled with other presidential mandates and Congressional funding, it seemed that U.S. diplomatic, intelligence and military resources would be devoted to reducing, if not eliminating altogether the proliferation threat. In other words, the Administration seemed to be serious about the gravity of the proliferation threat.

So how did the Clinton Administration do and what's left for the next Administration to beyond mopping up? The Clinton legacy on this as with so many other national security issues is simply awful. The world is a much more dangerous place today than it was 8 years ago; even the thoroughly politicized CIA believes that it is more likely that U.S. forces will be attacked by ballistic missiles carrying WMD weapons than ever before. Ever before... that includes even in the depths of the Cold War. What happened?

First, the center of gravity in WMD matters shifted away from Central Europe into the regions generally associated with the U.S. Pacific Command. North Korea and South Asia went nuclear and continue to develop ever longer-range missiles to deliver their new weapons. China expanded its efforts to modernize and upgrade its nuclear forces using technologies and knowledge sold to it by the Clinton Administration or acquired through espionage against the United States. In the middle east, Iran is developing a missile force capable of delivering WMD and Iraq has nearly thrown off the sanction regime imposed after the Gulf War; recent revelations by Sadism Housing's chief nuclear weapons designer indicates that Iraq lacks only fissile material to join the nuclear club.

It is the question of the availability of fissile material that raises the second new aspect of proliferation. The supply and demand aspect of proliferation changed profoundly during the 1990s. Important new suppliers came into the market. Russia pushed China out of the market in Iran and elsewhere and became the supplier of choice for Iranian acquisitions of missile technology, nuclear expertise, and maybe even fissile materials. Not to be outdone, China continued to supply WMD technologies and assistance to its client Pakistan and others. Meanwhile, lateral relationships between newly emerging WMD capable states sprang up. North Korea became a major supplier of missiles and associated technologies to Pakistan, Iran, and others. In return, the question must be - did Pakistan share its nuclear secrets with North Korea, as China had done with that country in an earlier period?

The Executive Order to the contrary, the Clinton Administration's response has been limited to ever increasing blandishments or looking the other way. In short, we have tried to buy compliance with meaningless arms control obligations. To the Chinese, the Administration offered U.S. missile and nuclear technology in exchange for promises of good behavior. New nuclear reactors and tons of fuel oil and other assistance later, we still don't know if North Korea has stopped its drive to develop its own nuclear weapons. All this assistance sure hasn't stopped North Korean missile developments or supplies to other WMD wannabes. Ever more funding has been pumped into Russia to buy off nuclear institutes shopping their wares to Iran or to prevent Russian scientists from heading south or east with their knowledge and experience. Has it worked? Who knows? There has been no effective audit to measure progress and we are left with assurances from Energy Department officials that this program has been a resounding success. Many of the same officials who assured us that our nuclear secrets were safe, remember?

Meanwhile, export control regimes, supposedly tightened by executive order, were loosened to give U.S. firms the latitude to penetrate hitherto closed markets. Missile technologies, high-performance computers, and sophisticated machine tools to make new and better weapons all became available to nuclear states and would-be proliferators alike. In nearly all cases the mantra was "if we don't sell to them, our global economic competitors will." This rationale was repeatedly cited to justify selling high speed computing capabilities to China. Except that the study supporting this policy was flawed; its projections regarding our competitors for this "market" were wrong; in fact, our main competitor in this market enforces stricter controls over the export of its high-performance computers than we do. The study would have been more accurate had it been done from our foreign competitor's perspective, because the U.S. will sell just about anything to anybody.

China, of course, is the most glaring example of the abject failure of U.S. export controls and nonproliferation policies. It is now evident that "three strikes and you're out" doesn't apply to China. For the third time, reports the Washington Time's Bill Gertz, the Clinton Administration has accepted Chinese assurances that it won't proliferate missile technology to Pakistan again...really, it won't. U.S. sanctions against Russian missile firms and nuclear establishments have been toothless, short-lived and ineffective. Thanks to Russia, Iran is developing missiles of ever-increasing range and lethality. In fact, Congressman Curt Weldon (R. Pa) says that these two have been caught 36 times breaking their nonproliferation agreements. Guess how many times they were sanctioned...twice. I guess even "34 strikes and you're out" doesn't apply. You can also bet that even in those two cases, Administration officials were "winking" at their Russian or Chinese counterparts implying that it would business as usual again soon.

So, despite the declaration of a national emergency, we are seeing the spread of missiles of ever-increasing range capable of delivering warheads of ever-increasing lethality including nuclear, chemical, and even biological agents. These missiles may not be able to reach the U.S. homeland yet, but our critical regional allies are certainly at risk as are U.S. servicemen sent into those regions to protect those allies. So now what?

First and foremost, we must stop dawdling over the development of an effective ballistic missile defense. Our military forces and our most important allies are completely vulnerable to missile attacks; the implications for our sustained forward presence in a crisis are ominous.

Second, we must reconstitute our intelligence capabilities against the proliferation threat. The Clinton Administration's abuse of intelligence over the past 8 years borders on the criminal. Our intelligence collection capabilities have atrophied as Administration officials "shared" ever more precious intelligence information to convince proliferators that we could catch them in the act. Energy Department officials routinely told their Russian interlocutors about U.S. intelligence on Russian-Iranian deals. Bill Richardson and Frank Wisner "shared" information about our overheard photography capabilities with both India and Pakistan in an attempt to dissuade them from testing new missile and nuclear weapons. Surely the most outrageous case involved a White House "leak" to the Washington Post identifying the source of CIA reports on Iran's nuclear developments. The purpose of the "leak" appeared to be to discredit the reports by dismissing the source as "flaky".

But over and over again Administration abuse of intelligence sources and methods resulted in lost "access." Foreign intelligence services went to school on U.S. intelligence capabilities and fashioned robust denial and deception plans to thwart collection of indications of proliferation violations. Given all this and the scorched earth policy of the administration and its allies in the Intelligence Community against the integrity of our analytic capability, it is little wonder that we are surprised time and again. Our concern has to be that someday soon these "surprises" are going to end up killing U.S. servicemen or our most valuable allies. Try buying your way out of that one.

Notra Trulock is the Director of Media Relations at the Free Congress Foundation.

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