US Pushes UN to Endorse Preemptive Action Against Suspected WMDs

The United States is pressing the U.N. Security Council to endorse a draft resolution that would allow the use of force against "entities and individuals" suspected of trying to develop, possess or transfer weapons of mass destruction (WMD), diplomats and observers here say.

Though they say they are equally concerned about proliferation of the weapons, many Security Council members fear the resolution would give Washington a free hand to unilaterally deal with the as yet undefined "entities and individuals".

The draft resolution states that some countries "may require assistance within their territories, and invite states in a position to" prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, rockets and vehicles capable of delivering such weapons, a phrase that makes many suspicious of U.S. intentions.

The proposal "should not be a context to whip the countries", says an Asian diplomat who did not want to be named. "How can we talk about faceless actors when there’s no agreed definition of terrorists? You know, whom you called a terrorist yesterday could be a president today".

According to the draft, Washington wants the Security Council to ask all member nations to help prevent and "if necessary, interdict shipment of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, their means of delivery and related material in accordance with the international and national laws".

"This is a dangerous concept," says an Asian diplomat who also requested anonymity. "This can be misused by adversaries in the name of interdiction".

The US resolution stems from the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a plan announced by President George W. Bush in May last year as a step towards creating new legal agreements authorizing the search of planes and ships carrying suspect cargo.

The PSI has been endorsed by nine European nations, including Britain, Germany and France, as well as Australia. Washington and its allies claim the proposal is legal under the UN Charter and the Security Council Presidential Statement of 1992.

But legal experts say neither of those regulations gives nations the authority to interdict shipments on the high seas.

Diplomats say negotiations have stalled on the question of the definition of "interdiction" because two of five permanent Council members, China and Russia, have refused to go along with the current draft resolution.

"The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a serious issue," Russia’s UN Ambassador Sergey Lavrov told reporters recently. "But we need to develop a language which is clear".

"It’s a sensitive issue," said Chinese ambassador Wang Guangya, who is also president of the Security Council for February. "It can be best solved by the judgments of the International Atomic Energy Agency" (IAEA), the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, he added.

Recent IAEA investigations into Iran’s nuclear program led to the arrest of Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who publicly confessed his involvement in transferring his country’s nuclear technology to other nations.

Diplomats say so far that case is the only example that could be used to define the "entities and individuals" in the draft US resolution.

But Pakistan, a non-permanent Security Council member, sees the case in a different light. "Dr. Khan was an aberration," a Pakistani diplomat told IPS. "He has been taken care of."

A US diplomat had a different interpretation. "This resolution is trouble for (Pakistan)," he said.

Negotiations on the resolution have so far been confined to the five permanent members of the Security Council, which frustrates some non-permanent but elected members.

"Why is it up to the P-5 (permanent five) to determine the agenda of non-proliferation?" asked a diplomat from a non-permanent member nation. "On the one hand, they are the preachers. On the other hand, they are the sinners".

All permanent members – the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China – continue to posses thousands of nuclear weapons in their arsenals. Washington is no longer making it a secret that it is producing a new generation of those weapons.

Experts on international law say they share the concerns of the elected members of the Security Council – that Washington might use force against some nations under the pretext of implementing a UN Security Council resolution.

"They are right," says John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy, a U.S.-based non-profit disarmament advocacy group.

"They think if you get this resolution on paper, the US may use military force like it did in Iraq, even though the UN did not approve it."

Washington is seeking Security Council approval under chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which binds states to implement Council decisions. But Burroughs says he and his colleagues, who have been working on issues related to weapons of mass destruction for more than two decades, doubt if the move to adopt the WMD resolution is legitimate.

"There is nothing in the UN Charter that gives the Security Council the authority to adopt global legislation," he says. "This resolution deals with complex situations" and involves individuals not acting on behalf of states.

Burroughs suggests that any effective implementation of such a proposal would require the involvement of the UN secretary-general and the body’s department of disarmament, in addition to negotiations on multilateral agreements such as the Biological Weapons Convention.

Diplomats say non-permanent Security Council members want to address the issue of proliferation by enhancing the agenda on disarmament. But Washington and other permanent members prefer to deal with it separately, they add.

"This is the basic problem with the US and others," says Burroughs. "They think the terrorism threat can be solved with nonproliferation efforts. That’s not right. It’s going to require eliminating weapons of mass destruction everywhere. It requires political will to do so."