Ruminations on Blix report
I managed to get an op-ed about the Blix report published in the June 17 Chicago Sun-Times, “This time, let’s listen to Blix on WMD.” It shouldn’t be that hard to place informed and reasonably well-written op-eds on a topic of great, arguably supreme, importance (nuclear weapons), but it is, I can say from experience over the years. The op-ed traces the U.S. rejection of disarmament commitments, observing that:
“In the longer term, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons requires reversing proliferation where it began, in the United States. We led the world into the nuclear age during World War II; now we must lead it out. Unfortunately, since the treaty banning all nuclear test explosions was negotiated in 1996, the United States has abandoned the multilateralism necessary to the exercise of leadership. The Senate rejected ratification of the treaty in 1999. In the 2000s, the Bush administration has repudiated commitments the United States made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] to work with other nations to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security postures and to pursue verified, irreversible reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals.”
There wasn’t space to refer to some of the unflinching statements of the Hans Blix-led Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction regarding the regressive U.S. role. Notably, the report says:
“Some of the current setbacks in treaty-based arms control and disarmament can be traced to a pattern in US policy that is sometimes called ’selective multilateralism’ - an increased US skepticism regarding the effectiveness of international institutions and instruments, coupled with a drive for freedom of action to maintain an absolute global superiority in weaponry and means of their delivery.” (p. 25)
The report also says:
“It is easy to see that the nuclear-weapon states parties to the NPT have largely failed to implement this commitment [to nuclear disarmament] and failed to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith’ on nuclear disarmament as required of them under the NPT. Indeed, all states that have nuclear weapons are still seeking to modernize their nuclear capabilities.” (p. 94)
From one vantage point, that of the media-starved disarmament activist, coverage of the release of the report was pretty good. There was an excellent story in the New York Times, and Blix did interviews on Fresh Air and Meet the Press and an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune. From a more objective standpoint, it was fairly limited in extent (the Washington Post ran only a wire story, as Andrew Lichterman noted on this blog) and short in duration. There was certainly no pounding away at different aspects of the story day after day, week after week! What coverage there was seemed motivated partly by Blix’s status as a quasi-celebrity due to his role prior to the U.S. invasion as UNMOVIC chief inspector investigating alleged Iraqi programs involving biological and chemical weapons and missiles. It also tended to focus on what Blix had to say about the U.S./Iran situation.
For selected media coverage and other items regarding the report, including a summary and preliminary commentary and a list of key implications for U.S. policy, see www.wmdreport.org, the website of the project of “civil society review” of the report initiated by the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, Western States Legal Foundation, and Reaching Critical Will.
Iran& War and law
15 Jun 2006 03:03 pm
Off the Map
The New York Times recently reopened the issue of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s notorious appeal to “wipe Israel off the map”. The Times piece focuses exclusively on the translation — or possible mistranslation — of the statement in order to determine if it constituted a threat against Israel and a call for war. The original phrase in Farsi, borrowed from rhetoric used by Ayatollah Khomeini, lacks a direct literal equivalent in English. The closest expression is to remove from the “pages of time of history”. Despite this, the Times noted that Ahmadinejad’s personal translators chose the wording “wipe off the map” in the posting on the President’s web site. The Times concludes that it remains an open question of whether Ahmadinejad called for war against Israel.
In a recent Washington Post Op-Ed, David Rifkin argued that this statement alone constituted an illegal threat to Israeli territorial integrity, and political independence, in contravention of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter. He reasoned that the utterance alone is sufficient grounds for Israel to exercise its right to self defense, preserved in Article 51 of the Charter. Moreover, he argued that Ahmadinejad’s statement, taken with his prediction of a coming “nuclear conflagration”, equates to a threat to commit genocide, in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Rifkin reiterated this argument Monday night at the New York Bar Association at an event examining the legality of the use of force by the United States against Iran. The event was inspired by Seymour Hersh’s article, “The Iran Plans“. The other panelists included Gary Solis, a professor of law who formerly taught at West Point, and Charles Moxley, a professor of law at the Fordham Law School. After their presentations John Burroughs, (Executive Director of Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy and a contributor to this blog) asked the panel a straightforward, but challenging, legal question: what constitutes a threat under international law?
There is little guidance in the body of international law on the question of what constitutes a threat. Article 2.4 of the UN Charter stipulates that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Yet there is no definition of threat provided in the Charter or other international instruments.
John Burroughs has suggested (see Legal Framework, p. 30), from an orthodox point of view, that core elements of a threat are a demand that another state do or refrain from doing something coupled with the statement that military action will be taken if the demand is not complied with. Taking off from that basic point as well as international relations theory, I would identify several criteria for determining what is a threat in the context of Article 2.4. States employ many available foreign policy tools to achieve a desired policy outcome, including the use of force. To constitute a threat, a state must show intent, through either its actions or statements, to use force to achieve its policy. Intent to use force could come through a demand or ultimatum to another state, stipulating explicit consequences for a failure to comply. Intent can also be revealed through a pattern of behavior, appropriate for achieving the policy goal, such as building up armed forces or engaging in arms races, or otherwise preparing for the use of force. Other factors can mitigate or aggravate the perception of threat, such as previous foreign policy practice, more precise articulations of the policy in question, or doctrines governing the threat or use of force. Credibility is key to intent and to the question of threat. If the state making the threat lacks the capability to achieve its policy through the use of force, any threat it makes lacks credibility and constitutes nothing more than belligerent, hard-line rhetoric.
A world still on the nuclear brink
Figure from Weapons Of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, Report of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, p.36.
“So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, there is a risk that they will one day be used, by design or accident. And any such use would be catastrophic. The accumulated threat posed by the estimated 27,000 nuclear weapons, in Russia, the United States and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states, merits worldwide concern. However, especially in these five states the view is common that nuclear weapons from the first wave of proliferation somehow are tolerable, while such weapons in the hands of additional states are viewed as dangerous.” Weapons Of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, p.60.
As noted in the previous entry, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by Hans Blix, released its report, Weapons Of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, at a press conference at the United Nations Thursday (download the full report in pdf here). The Washington Post online ran a Reuters story on the report predictably tracking mainstream Washington’s obsessions and repressions, focusing on Iran (who has no nuclear weapons) and its relationship to Israel (who does). The immense nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, and those of the other original nuclear weapons states, are an afterthought, relegated to a few paragraphs at the end.
A good place to start in turning this skewed world view right side up is by remembering that nuclear weapons are the true “weapons of mass destruction.” And it is worth contemplating the magnitude of the danger presented by the arsenals of the existing nuclear powers, still big enough to destroy most, perhaps all, of human civilization in a day.
A single U.S. ballistic missile submarine, armed with 12 Trident missiles each capable of carrying up to eight separate nuclear warheads, can deliver as many as 192 nuclear weapons in short order. Independent analysts estimate that the average missile load today is 6 warheads, which means 144 warheads on a single boat. Each of these weapons will have a yield of either 100 or 475 kilotons, depending on which of the two SLBM warheads are employed. The yield of the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima was, by comparison, estimated to be at most 15 kilotons– so these modern warheads range from more than 6 to almost 32 times the size of that first city-destroying weapon.
Disarmament groups welcome the Blix Commission Report
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC), chaired by Hans Blix, released its final report today at the UN in New York. Blix presented the report, titled Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson.
Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, Western States Legal Foundation, and Reaching Critical Will, in partnership with the Arms Control Association have formed a project to assess the report of the WMD Commission and analyze its implications, especially for turning around U.S. policy.
A preliminary response to the report is available on the project website, wmdreport.org.