Testimony: The Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Testimony of Gary Milhollin

Professor, University of Wisconsin Law School and
Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control

Before the House Committee on National Security
Subcommittee on Military Procurement and on Research and Development

March 15, 1995

I am pleased to appear here today to discuss the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I am a member of the University of Wisconsin law faculty and I direct a research project here in Washington devoted to tracking and inhibiting the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

The Subcommittees have asked me to comment on the current U.S. response to the proliferation threat. I believe that for U.S. policy to succeed, it needs to be consistent and it needs to give nonproliferation a high priority. In fact, it is failing on both counts.

I would like to begin by pointing out that nuclear weapons have grown up in an unusual political climate. The cold war created a bi- polar world in which things were fairly predictable. It was possible to work out elaborate models of deterrence, or of “flexible response,” in a controlled atmosphere. There were only two main actors in the nuclear drama. Each could watch the other, and be fairly confident how the roles would be played.

Today, Russia and the United States no longer target each other with nuclear weapons. Both countries are committed to drastic reductions in their arsenals. The risk that thousands of nuclear weapons will obliterate civilization has gone down. But the risk that a few nuclear weapons will obliterate a few cities is probably going up. The cold war’s stability is being replaced with the instability that shook the worlds of 1914 and 1939. One doesn’t know where the next local conflict will break out, who will back whom, or with what arms.

The chances of nuclear war are probably greatest in South Asia. India and Pakistan can each deploy a small arsenal of one dozen to a few dozen atomic bombs. They also have a border conflict and a tradition of mutual hostility. These ingredients create a potentially explosive mix. Both countries are also building nuclear-capable missiles, which will destabilize things even further if the missiles are deployed.

I have provided the Subcommittees with copies of a new publication that my project has just launched, called the Risk Report. The first two issues cover India’s nuclear and missile programs. They contain unclassified lists of the Indian companies that are building India’s rockets and missiles, and helping produce plutonium free for use in atomic bombs. There are also lists of the sensitive products India is trying to import on the world market. The Subcommittees may wish to include these two issues in the record of this hearing. The lists are designed to help exporters avoid risky buyers.

In North Korea, the situation is still unsettled. The agreement made last October will probably unravel if North Korea insists on receiving light water reactors from some country other than South Korea–unless the United States caves on that point. The administration and the South Korean government are predicting that North Korea will cave.

What is settled, however, is that the accord is creating problems for U.S. nonproliferation policy. The Clinton administration has agreed to let North Korea keep any bombs it may have made while breaching the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The CIA says the number of bombs could be one or two. The administration has also agreed to give North Korea four billion dollars’ worth of light water reactors, and to supply millions of dollars’ worth of oil over the next ten years to reward North Korea for not making any more bombs. All of this will happen while North Korea builds up its powerful army on the South Korean border and develops missiles for sale to the Middle East.

I spoke recently with a Russian diplomat about the North Korean agreement. He was defending Russia’s decision to sell light water reactors to Iran. He said he thought it was absurd for the United States to object. “Whenever the Americans want to sell something it is good,” he said, “but whenever the Russians want to sell something it is bad.” It was hard to contradict him. Iran is a member in good standing of the Nonproliferation Treaty; North Korea is openly breaching it. In fact, North Korea will remain in breach while American taxpayers put North Korea’s economy on life support with oil shipments and while North Korea gets five or more years’ worth of construction on the light water reactors.

With respect to Iran, there are problems. The United States has not been able to convince other countries of its point of view. Our intelligence agencies keep announcing that Iran is going for the bomb, but never produced any proof. If there is evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons, and thus breaching its pledge under the Nonproliferation Treaty not to do so, it is time for these agencies to speak up. The United States needs to convince the Europeans not to sell Iran sensitive equipment. To do that, the United States has to cough up the evidence of why they shouldn’t. Unless our diplomats are willing to get specific, we are wasting time and lowering U.S. credibility.

That credibility is important as we try to extend the Nonproliferation Treaty. It is up for renewal next month and the vote count is close. Mexico and Egypt are leading the opposition to an indefinite extension. When the administration decided recently to bail out Mexico financially, it apparently did not get a pledge of Mexican support for the Treaty. It is hard to understand why the administration did not get it, if the Treaty is as important to the administration as it says.

Egypt is concerned about Israel, which is estimated to have at least a hundred and probably closer to two hundred nuclear weapons. Israel also has a large missile that can deliver nuclear warheads throughout the Middle East. Egypt has asked that Israel make at least some gesture in the direction of limiting its arsenal in exchange for Egypt’s promise under the Treaty to abstain from nuclear weapons forever.

This request seems entirely reasonable. America and Russia are cutting their arsenals, and nuclear weapons are losing their luster as emblems of status. Yet, the United States has not publicly encouraged Israel to make such a gesture, and Israel has not done so.

And one cannot speak of the Middle East without considering Iraq. Russia, France and China, three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are lobbying to lift the Iraqi oil embargo. The U.N. inspectors are convinced that if the effort succeeds, Iraq will try to revive its mass destruction war machine and the network of foreign suppliers who have nourished it. The inspectors plan to do all they can to thwart such an effort, but they cannot ensure success.

The chance that Iraq, Iran or Libya will get nuclear weapons also depends on Russia. As far as we know in the West, the former Soviet Union’s nuclear warheads are still protected. The same cannot be said of its nuclear materials. The United States has helped Russia install security equipment at one site where nuclear materials were at risk, but there are scores of similar sites that do not have such equipment. The world will be lucky if bomb quantities of fissile material do not find their way from Russia to the Middle East by the end of the decade.

If I had been making this presentation a few years ago, I would have covered Argentina and Brazil. But these countries are turning into success stories. Both have pledged to give up nuclear weapons and Brazil may join Argentina in giving up long-range missiles as well.

These victories were due in large part to export controls. Argentina and Brazil were denied high-technology exports as long as they persisted in proliferation. The same policy will still work with the remaining holdouts. However, the Commerce Department seems intent on reducing U.S. export controls as rapidly as possible, and there will be an effort during this session of Congress to legislate a weakened Export Administration Act. Last session, this Committee’s bipartisan amendments blocked such an effort and preserved the U.S. national security interest in strong controls. I hope the Committee will be equally vigilant during this session. It should stop any legislative attempt to weaken existing law, and it should make sure that the Commerce Department does not weaken existing controls by unilaterally changing its regulations.

If there are going to be more victories for nonproliferation, U.S. policy must be more coherent. The administration cannot make deals with North Korea that destabilize the Middle East. It cannot make renewing the Nonproliferation Treaty a high priority without pressuring countries to vote for it. And it cannot stop the spread of dangerous technology by cutting export controls. There have been plenty of administration speeches about nonproliferation. It is time for coherent action.