political revue


Year XLI, 1999, Number 3, Page 204



In a joint appeal to the US Senate published in the New York Times (8 October 1999), the French President Chirac, the British Prime Minister Blair and the German Chancellor Schröder called for the immediate ratification of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, signed by President Clinton in 1996. The signatories of the appeal emphasised how the “rejection of the Treaty in the Senate would remove the pressure from other states still hesitating about whether to ratify it. Rejection would give great encouragement to proliferators. Rejection would also expose a fundamental divergence within NATO”. In this way the three European heads of state and government recognised the American Senate’s role as arbiter of the world’s destiny, declaring that they, having already ratified the Treaty, had done all in their power.
Ignoring the appeal of the three European leaders, the Senate voted
against ratifying the Treaty. As the New York Times emphasised, it is the first time since the vote which excluded the USA from the League of Nations in 1920, that the Senate has challenged the power of the President on matters of security and foreign policy. The reason for this vote was explained by Senator Kyl, speaking in the heated debate which took place in the US Senate: “The world community, which does not want the United States to develop a ballistic missile defense, which doesn’t want the United States to do anything that would require an amendment to the A.B.M. Treaty, and some of which is very much in favour of total nuclear disarmament and has agreed to participate in this treaty only after leaders promised them that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would be one of several key steps toward nuclear disarmament — all those people in the world, I submit, are not people that want to make United States national defense policy. Their goals are not the same as our goals”. He was echoed by the Republican leader, Senator Lott, who invited the President and Congress not to undervalue the role of check and balance assigned to the Senate by the American constituents: “‘The Founding Fathers never envisioned that the Senate would be a rubber stamp for a flawed treaty”.
On one point Chirac, Blair and Schröder are right to be worried: the important debate which has opened in America on the future of world security, of which the discussion of the Comprehensive Test-Ban in the Senate is only one aspect, and perhaps not even the most significant one at that, may be the prelude to a turning point in the US military policy.
What is the significance for the USA of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty? The debate in the Senate and the testimony of experts have highlighted both its advantages and its limitations. But on closer examination these prove more symbolic than practical. Indeed, three principles have never been put in discussion either by the supporters or the opponents of ratification: keeping intact the and supremacy of the current American nuclear arsenal over those of other states; not excluding the development of new nuclear weapons by means of virtual simulations; and confirming the sovereign right to decide if and when to unilaterally resume material tests. On the other hand, disagreement emerged over how effective the Treaty would be in the proliferation of “small” nuclear devices. On this point however, the debate brought to light a harsh reality: it is very hard to prevent proliferation when the USA, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, India and Pakistan admit to having enough radioactive material available annually to produce thousands of devices. And it is equally difficult to trust in the containment of proliferation when the only credible guarantee against radioactive material escaping from Russia, which is struggling to keep charge of its own nuclear arsenal, remains the United States, which has undertaken the burden of acquiring part of the Russian nuclear overproduction, sufficient to build twenty thousand devices, for the next twenty years. This uncertain context, together with the fear of failing to stop the proliferation of missiles, which means that in a few years a growing number of countries will have inter-continental strike capacity, capable of reaching United States territory,[1] is the background to the decisions which the American Congress and administration must take in the coming months. The USA is now discussing projects like virtual tests and a new edition of star wars, which had seemed to belong to an outdated logic and which risk opening a new race for re-armament. These projects contradict President Clinton’s declared intention of reassuring the international community as to the USA’s determination to pursue a policy of disarmament and banning nuclear tests.
Why should the USA adopt a political line which is so risky for itself and for the world? Why does American policy increasingly oscillate between rhetorical declarations in favour of world-wide elimination of weapons of mass destruction and a policy which de facto seeks to maintain US superiority?
This oscillation is the result of two states of mind: the fear of entering a new era of anarchy in international relations, and the desire to maintain US scientific, technological and military supremacy over the rest of the world for a long time to come.
The project of a new world order of the Nineties, hoped for by President Bush, which was to be based on the exercise of world leadership by the USA with the collaboration of the USSR under the aegis of the UN, has vanished. The collapse of the USSR, the reappearance of nationalism and the involvement of the USA on a military and financial level in all the crises of the planet, has shown the precariousness of an order based on a single world power. The USA now fears having to face a situation in which international anarchy risks being aggravated by the fact that their foreign and security policy continues to be based on an outdated strategy.
But at the same time the USA does not want to give up the possibility of still keeping up the overwhelming strength which it has in scientific, technological and military terms compared to the rest of the world. It is no mere chance that the concept of scientific and technological deterrence is beginning to be used, in contrast to the more traditional one of nuclear deterrence. The price of this reckoning would evidently consist of abandoning the American internationalist policy, which contributed to the birth of the UN, the launch of the Marshall Plan; and the creation of NATO and the principal world organisations, in favour of a unilateralist policy, if not isolationist.
The new American policy therefore seems destined to provoke problematic consequences for the USA itself and for the maintenance of a stable world equilibrium.
The first consequence of a policy of scientific deterrence would for example be the need to share at international level precisely that data and knowledge which the USA would not wish to fall into the hands of other states. As highlighted in his statement to the Congress by Stephen M. Younger, the director of Los Alamos, one of the three US laboratories which oversees the nuclear arsenal monitoring programme (Stockpile Stewardship Program), the USA could and should replace the shows of strength of the Cold War era, based on nuclear tests and missile launches, with computer simulations which would show potential adversaries and rogue nations the current and future destructive capacity of the American arsenal. But such a policy, to be effective, would imply a greater circulation of scientific knowledge, and therefore an automatic transfer of scientific data and test results to other states, including potential enemies, which would be put into a position to exploit the work done in American laboratories without having to support the costs (4.5 billion dollars a year).[2]
On the other hand, the adoption of a missile defence system would have the consequence of opening a race to missile rearmament. This risk is real. The Congress and the White House have in fact a plan for testing a national missile defence system, which should begin to be operative by 2003/2005 (at an estimated cost of between 18 and 28 billion dollars). Now, after thirty years of joint agreement with the USSR not to equip themselves with such a defence system, the USA seems to intend challenging Russia and China to engage in a new arms race, with the argument that today they have the appropriate technology. The objections to this decision are the same as those advanced at the end of the sixties, when a similar plan was examined and then shelved. That decision then opened the way to the agreements on containment of the arms race. Today the adoption of a national missile defence system would provoke a reaction with unpredictable results in those countries which have already started costly plans to develop intercontinental missiles. These countries could not accept that their own efforts should be frustrated by a defensive shield which would deprive them of the possibility of reacting if attacked. To escape this blackmail they would probably be led to intensify their production of weapons and missiles for simultaneous launch in case of conflict, to deceive the US defence system.
It would be wrong to think that what is happening in the United States is the result of a precise political plan of some power group which is craftily deceiving those who want the USA to continue to be involved in the evolution and government of international organisations by reinforcing the UN and supporting the major international treaties. The fact is that at this moment the USA has no precise plan. It is trying to respond confusedly to the contradictions of an order which is no longer bipolar, which cannot be monopolar, and which risks falling headlong into international anarchy. The positions adopted by the Republican and Democrat leaders reflect these contradictions and their incapacity to resolve them.
The more conservative wing of the Republican party is not unaware of how much the world has changed since the days when the Senate refused to ratify the USA’s membership of the League of Nations. And yet the temptation to defend the national interest above all else is prevailing. On the other hand, the more progressive wing of the Democrats is not prepared to subordinate American commercial policy to the decisions of international bodies. US policy therefore seems to be guided by an irresistible tendency to embark on a road which leads neither to a more secure America nor to a more secure world.
For the federalists this is not an inexplicable phenomenon. It is reason of state which, at the first signs of international anarchy, tends to subordinate every political decision to the search for foreign security based on maximising the power which a state already or potentially has available. Today this tendency can be resisted only by a profound change in the international order which restores the balance of the importance, role and responsibilities of the USA in the world.
But in the final instance such a change no longer depend exclusively on the United States. It can be initiated only by consolidating the regional poles of stability in the various continents, as indeed was hoped by the Americans themselves on the eve of the creation of the UN. If this does not happen the USA itself risks becoming a factor of instability for the whole world.[3]
From this point of view the responsibilities of Europe are enormous. Its lack of unification is the principal cause of the current of American politics. If there were already a European state capable of assuming its own responsibilities in the field of foreign and security policy without having to implore its American protectors to provide for them in moments of crisis, the Europeans could lighten the responsibility of the USA, contributing to the birth of a more peaceful and just multipolar world order in which the tendency of American politics to accentuate the military aspects of its own supremacy could be reversed. Instead, the Europeans, even now that the Union has reached the point of adopting a single currency and therefore ought to be assuming a more responsible attitude at international level, continue to reason and act as the vassals of the American ally.
Now that the risks of a deterioration of international anarchy, mitigated in the past by the Russo-American government of the world, are beginning to take shape, there is no more time to lose. The Heads of State and government, the national parliaments and the European members of parliament, at least those of them who really have the destiny of Europe and the world at heart, must leave behind ambiguity and vain nationalist ambitions, and re-launch the constituent debate in Europe.
Franco Spoltore

[1] See the National Intelligence Council report to Congress, September 1999, “Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States through 2015”.
[2] See two articles with very significant titles: by Lewis, Postol and Pike, “Why National Missile Defense Won’t Work”, Scientific American, August 1999, and Paine, “A Case against Virtual Nuclear Testing”, Scientific American, September 1999.
[3] See the lecture given in New York City on 21st October 1999 by Samuel Berger, national security adviser to President Clinton, on “American Power: Hegemony, Isolationism or Engagement”, and the article by Richard N. Haass in Foreign Affairs, autumn 1999, “What to Do With American Primacy”.




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