US allies fret at hard line of 'nuclear hawks'

by Guy Dinmore in Washington

Published: February 4 2005 Financial Times


How far the second Bush administration can take its charm offensive in rebuilding its traditional alliances is already being put to the test by newly promoted "nuclear hawks" committed to a hardline approach on arms control and non-proliferation.

Tensions are emerging between the US and its allies over what non-nuclear nations see as a lack of sincerity by the superpower towards nuclear disarmament, even as it pushes for a tightening of the international nuclear regime and a tougher response to the ambitions of North Korea and Iran.

Senior diplomats are concerned that a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a conference held every five years and due to reconvene in New York in May, will produce no outcome.

The "nuclear hawks" or "bomb lovers" as one former official described them include Jack Crouch, named this week as deputy national security adviser; Robert Joseph, expected to be named soon as undersecretary for arms control; and John Rood, who replaces Mr Joseph in the White House as special adviser.

The hawks--supported by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary--are known for their scepticism towards arms control agreements, their commitment to missile defence and development of new nuclear weapons, such as "bunker busters", and an appreciation of covert operations.

In his Senate confirmation hearing in 2001, Mr Crouch was questioned about his support for nuclear testing and his 1995 recommendation for attacks on North Korea's nuclear complexes should agreements fail.

Discussions over the NPT review agenda are stalled, in part because of the US refusal to reaffirm the "13 steps" adopted at the 2000 conference. Those steps included a broad commitment to undertake nuclear disarmament and not to resume testing.

"Times change. Debate moves on. The debate will be relevant to conditions that prevail today, not in 2000," Stephen Rademaker, assistant secretary of state for arms control, told a panel discussion organised by the independent Arms Control Association this week.

Roberto Abdenur, Brazil's ambassador to Washington, was visibly upset. Reflecting the sentiment of countries that have renounced development of nuclear weapons, he warned that the NPT review conference, to be chaired by Brazil, could fail. "If a nuclear power says the 13 steps belong in the past, what confidence do we non-nuclear developing states have in the NPT?" he said. "Let's be careful about this."

Failure at the review conference to produce a consensus has happened before. It would by no mean spell an end to the NPT. But diplomats say it would weaken the main pillar of non-proliferation at a critical moment.

The US administration insists the NPT remains the cornerstone of global arms control and non-proliferation efforts. Under the bilateral 2002 Moscow Treaty, the US will reduce (but not destroy) its operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 about one-third of the level in 2002 in the next seven years. Since 1989, the US says it has cut by nearly 90 per cent the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The hawks were instrumental, while George W. Bush was campaigning for office in 2000, in drawing up a review of US nuclear strategy, adopted in 2002 that foresaw an expanded role for nuclear weapons.

Washington affirms it will not resume nuclear testing, even though it refuses to become a party to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Despite these declarations, Joseph Cirincione, head of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment, is among analysts and former officials concerned that the review conference is heading for a "train wreck".

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