1997 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile

Proliferation and U.S.-China Nuclear Cooperation Paul Wolfowitz
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Senate Foreign Relations
Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Subcommittee October 8, 1997

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Committee on this important subject. I commend the Committee for holding hearings on an issue that need to get more attention, namely the issue of Iranian development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction and the question of Russian and Chinese assistance to those programs.

My comments will be of a general nature. I know you have a panel of expert witnesses following this one who will speak to issues of detail, and I would encourage you to bring Administration witnesses to testify in closed session, because there are clearly important details that can only be discussed in a classified session, although an enormous amount has appeared in the press.

In this short statement, let me make a number of points briefly. I would be pleased to elaborate on any of them in our subsequent discussion.

1) The proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction is a general concern, but some cases are much more serious than others. While we have a general concern about any violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the issue is far more serious when it involves countries that are direct military threats to the United States, to our allies and friends, or to U.S. forces.

2) Iran is a particularly serious problem, more serious than any other case of potential proliferation with the possible exception of North Korea, because of the serious military threat that Iranian military capabilities pose to vital U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and the danger they would pose to U.S. forces deployed to defend those interests.

Of course, longer range Iranian missiles with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads would be a threat to the very survival of Israel. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Israelis have been sounding very loud alarms in recent weeks about Russian assistance to the Iranian missile program. However, it is absurd to suggest as some have done that this is simply a ploy by the present Israeli government to deflect criticism from their handling of the peace process. It is equally absurd to suggest that the key to dealing with the Iranian problem is to make progress on the Arab-Israeli issue. As important as that issue is, the Iranian nuclear weapons problem is a separate problem. And we do not have the luxury of time to wait to deal with it.

Moreover, it seriously underestimates the problem if it is viewed only as a threat to Israel's security. Iranian missiles are a threat to the moderate Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. And they would be a threat to U.S. forces that might come to defend those countries and to defend vital American interests in the Persian Gulf. In fact, we and our Arab friends in the Gulf are threatened not only by long range missiles with unconventional warheads but even by accurate shorter-range missiles with conventional warheads.

It would be very disturbing if it takes Israeli pressure to get the U.S. government to be serious about a problem that threatens us equally if not more. It was perhaps barely understandable in 1981, when Israel took military action against Iraq's nuclear program, that the U.S. failed to recognize that the Iraqi program was a threat to our interests as well as Israel's. After the experience of the Gulf War, however, there can be no excuse for such a mistake.

3) As a consequence, any cooperation with Iranian missile programs or nuclear programs is dangerous for the United States, even if such cooperation is permitted under the MTCR or the NPT.

The MTCR is designed to limit the spread of long-range ballistic missiles. But even shorter-range Iranian missiles would be a threat to U.S. forces deploying to the Persian Gulf. During the Gulf War the only thing that prevented the Iraqi SCUD's from being a significant threat to U.S. forces was their inaccuracy. Even so, the worst U.S. casualties in any single event during that war occurred when an Iraqi SCUD scored an unlucky hit on a U.S. barracks in Dhahran. It would have been far worse, however, if the Iraqis had been able to accurately target the large concentrations of U.S. forces as they were unloading in Saudi ports. Russian or Chinese assistance to Iran that helps them build more accurate missile guidance systems could thus be laying the ground for a future military disaster.

The NPT, in turn, is based on the idea that one can distinguish between peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy. While that distinction may have some meaning in the case of countries whose intentions are clearly peaceful, it is a totally meaningless distinction for a country seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. And, indeed, for a country endowed with the energy resources that Iran has, there is really no reason to pursue nuclear programs for any purpose other than military.

In a moment of candor with U.N. inspectors after the Gulf War, the head of Iraq's nuclear program acknowledged that his country had decided to remain a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty after concluding that doing so would in no way interfere with their acquisition of the nuclear and related technologies that the needed from abroad. Indeed, it would actually assist them.

In the case of Iran, its signature of the NPT not only allows them to put a "peaceful" label on a whole range of questionable nuclear activities; it actually entities them to financial assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to a GAO report issued last month, the IAEA has budgeted about $1.3 million for three ongoing technical assistance projects for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. As that report also notes, the United States provides about 32 percent of the IAEA's $49 million technical cooperation fund.

(As an aside, I would encourage the Congress to examine what actions it might take to prevent the recently ratified Chemical Weapons Convention from providing similar cover or assistance for countries acquiring chemical technology for military purposes.)

The bottom line is that we must make it clear to Russia and China that we regard any cooperation with Iranian missile and nuclear programs -- whether it complies with international agreements or not, whether it pretends to be "peaceful" or not -- as dangerous and threatening to American interests and to the lives of American military personnel.

4) It is not clear why either China or Russia engages in such cooperation or tolerates such activities by Chinese or Russian entities. In the long run, I believe this is not in their own interests. Instability in that part of the world will be dangerous for them as well and they have far more to gain from cooperating with us in developing abundant and secure sources of energy for the entire world.

However, it is clear that the present regimes in Russia and China do not see it the same way. One can only speculate about the reasons why. Certainly, for some, and particularly for the agencies and companies directly involved, the reasons must be purely financial. For others it may be a reversion to old Soviet patterns of behavior or a shortsighted way to gain leverage on the United States.

Whatever the motivations, it seems clear that the behavior will not change simply through friendly persuasion. If they think they can continue such behavior at no cost in their dealings with us, it will go on. It must be made clear that doing business with our enemies will cost them if they want to do business with us.

Of course, we hear the argument that this behavior is the action of individual enterprises over which the government has no control. Particularly in the case of Russia, this argument has some plausibility. However, it simply cannot be accepted as an excuse in an area where the consequences are potentially so serious. Once the door is opened to that excuse, all restraint is gone. Thus, even where the excuse may have some validity, we must make clear that governments have a responsibility to make sure that their citizens do not engage in these dangerous activities and that they are punished when they are caught doing so. Unfortunately, the tendency instead seems to be that the only penalty for being caught is to be told that you can't sign any new contracts.

5) In saying that there must be costs for such behavior, I do not believe that we should put the entire relationship at risk. In fact, if the only sanctions available are ones that cut off all useful cooperation with China or Russia, we will probably never use them. It is very important to find specific and discrete steps we can take to punish such behavior. If possible, these steps should be targeted at sectors that have the greatest responsibility for actions we are seeking to stop.

At the same time, we should not be afraid of invoking specific sanctions, or withholding specific cooperation that is sought from us, on the grounds that any step will endanger the overall atmosphere of good relations. In fact, I believe we cannot have a good relationship with either Russia or China if they believe that we need such relations more than they do. But that is the message that is sent if we lean over backwards to interpret away disturbing intelligence information or to ignore the clear intent of U.S. laws.

This applies, I believe, to the question of nuclear cooperation with China. I would very much like to see the agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation with China finally implemented, It is more than thirteen years since it was first signed. Implementation would be good for American industry and for U.S.-China relations. And it would probably reduce any environmental or safety dangers posed by China's development of civilian nuclear power. However, there are U.S. laws that must be complied with. Unless we can do so honestly, it would be better for the health of the relationship to wait until we can.

6) A final point, which I feel is important to make, is that the Russian activity with Iran further underscores the foolishness of last year's intelligence estimate about proliferation of ballistic missile capabilities to rogue regimes. We simply cannot assume that they will not gain access to technical assistance elsewhere.

It also underscores the folly of the Administration's attempt to amend the ABM Treaty in a fashion that would limit our ability to build the most effective possible defenses against Iranian ballistic missiles. It is ironic that we are proposing to renew a treaty with Russia that limits our ability to defend against ballistic missiles, at the same time that Russian entities are assisting our potential enemies to build such missiles. I believe that Congress should reject new treaty limits on the development of defenses against ballistic missiles. These latest revelations about the Iranian missile program should give additional reason to do so.

(End text)