Damaging national security
The Democrats had tried several pre-emptive strikes against President Bush’s Jan. 10 speech about how to win the war in Iraq. The president, in our view, is right to send additional troops to Baghdad and other violent areas of Iraq to stanch the blood-letting and enable the Iraqi government to impose its authority over the nation. But in addition to opposing measures to end the war, the House would now undermine national security.
Buried inside the legislation hurried through the House on Jan. 9, as part of the Democrats’ goal of implementing September 11 commission recommendations, is a provision that would damage a successful multilateral program to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The PSI was largely responsible for persuading Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to terminate his search for atomic weapons and for unravelling the nuclear proliferation network run by the notorious A.Q. Khan of Pakistan. Unfortunately, this legislation has the potential to wreak damage by bringing the U.N. Security Council into the process.
The legislation, pushed by prominent members of the House Democratic leadership, including Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, urges “with a particular emphasis” that the president work with the Security Council (where Russia and China, serial proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, have a veto) to “authorize the PSI under international law.” During the Jan. 9 debate, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, offered an amendment to strike the provision, but it was defeated on a party-line 230-198 vote.
Given its extraordinary record of achievement, it is difficult to see how the initiative, largely the work of John Bolton as undersecretary of state in 2003, could be strengthened by the U.N. Security Council. The United States oversees the program, which sets out principles and steps for interdicting shipments of weapons of mass destruction. More than 70 nations have committed to PSI’s antiproliferation principles. In October 2003, operating under the auspices of the initiative, U.S. warships seized uraniumenrichment gas centrifuge components bound for Libya’s covert program aboard the BBC China, a German-owned vessel. Libya subsequently renounced nuclear weapons, and its revelations led to the unraveling of the Khan network — which had played a key role in helping Iran develop the ability to use gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. If the Proliferation Security Initiative had been in place throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Iran might not be on the brink of developing nuclear weapons today.
Although the informal, voluntary structure of the initiative has been essential to its success, this would likely be jeopardized by the Democrats’ insistence that the Security Council and the U.N. bureaucracy be brought into play. This would empower both China and Russia, which have helped along the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, with increased ability to make mischief. If the Senate refuses to strip this irresponsible provision from the bill, Mr. Bush should consider doing it himself with a veto.