Stopping Dangerous Weapons Proliferation Highest U.S. Priority

State's Joseph says "a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable to us"

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer

Washington – The State Department’s top arms control official says there is no higher national security priority for the United States than stopping the proliferation of dangerous weapons and addressing “the challenge of nuclear terrorism.”

Robert Joseph, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, says the administration also is looking at ways to ameliorate threats posed by land mines, unexploded ordnance and small arms and light weapons, particularly shoulder-fired missiles.

Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS, pose a specific threat to aviation, Joseph said.  He told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee February 9 that the State and Defense departments have been working together to keep them from reaching the hands of terrorists.  “We have destroyed or disabled over 17,000 at-risk MANPADS and have commitments for the destruction of over 7,000 more,” he said.

In places such as Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the under secretary said, successful efforts to remove the threat from anti-personnel land mines has led the way to subsequent successful efforts to eliminate surplus weapons, including MANPADS.

Committee Chairman Senator Richard Lugar provided his own example of how gaining access to one type of weapon through dismantlement efforts can lead to the discovery of other surplus stockpiles that are ripe for destruction.  While visiting Albania to see how nerve gas would be destroyed as part of the ongoing U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction program, he said, Albanians led him to a shed containing 79 MANPADS, which they later agreed to destroy with U.S. assistance.

Joseph agreed with Lugar and other senators that the threat from these surface-to-air missiles needs to be treated as a high priority.  The United States is working with some 17 countries around the world to address the problem, including Ukraine, he said.

Eleven nations and the European Union have matched U.S. funding for a NATO Partnership for Peace program to destroy munitions, small arms, light weapons and MANPADS in Ukraine.  Joseph said partner contributions have doubled the available funding.  He also said the United States is supporting similar programs in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan and an assessment team went to Georgia in December 2005.

“No country that has sought MANPAD-assistance has been refused,” the under secretary said.  “We are making a determined effort” to eliminate the problem, he added.

But Senator Joseph Biden suggested that some nations might not actually ask for U.S. assistance; and he characterized the $8.6 million that the Bush administration has requested for fiscal year 2007 to destroy small arms and various other kinds of conventional weapons as “miniscule” compared to the scope of the problem.  Joseph said experts are working hard to come up with innovative and more effective counterproliferation tools within the president’s budget.

He also pointed out that countering weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous weapons is an international responsibility and noted that the Group of Eight nations have pledged $7 billion to this effort.

Joseph said that he traveled to the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia in late 2005 to broaden support for the multilateral Proliferation Security Initiative.  Many countries responded positively to his PSI overture, he said.  He also said that the first counterproliferation task force meeting will be held in the United Arab Emirates later in February.

More than 70 nations are supporting PSI in one way or another and that number will continue to grow, Joseph said.  “PSI countries are applying laws already on the books in innovative ways and cooperating as never before to interdict shipments, to disrupt proliferation networks and to hold accountable the front companies that support them,” he said in his prepared statement.


Regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Joseph said that  “a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable to us.”  The United States is working to deny Iran – through PSI and other programs -- all the technology it might need to produce nuclear weapons, he said, while also working on the diplomatic side “as hard as we can.”

The under secretary told the committee that ongoing U.S. diplomatic efforts on the Iran issue would be difficult as they evolve “over many months.”  In his prepared remarks, Joseph said U.S. officials have “no illusion that reporting the Iran issue to the [U.N.] Security Council will produce a quick resolution of the threat that Iran presents.”  But the Security Council, he said, offers “the best next step for diplomacy to succeed.” (See related article.)

Joseph was the only witness at a hearing examining U.S. policies and programs related to counterproliferation and conventional weapons dismantlement.


Lugar and Senator Barak Obama introduced a new bill in November 2005 titled the “Cooperative Proliferation Detection and Interdiction Assistance and Conventional Threat Reduction Act (S. 1949).”  The legislation, modeled after the 1991 Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, seeks to destroy surplus conventional weapons and to intercept conventional weapons and materials used to produce weapons of mass destruction before they reach the wrong hands.

While well aware of PSI’s record of success, Lugar said he and Obama believe that some nations participating in PSI lack all the equipment and training needed to carry out their interdiction responsibilities.  The bill would set aside money for innovative foreign military financing assistance and bolster coordination efforts, according to the senator.

In addition, both senators said they had witnessed vulnerable weapons stockpiles in their travels to Iraq, Russia and elsewhere, and they view their proposed legislation as a mechanism to plug existing security gaps.  Lugar said he and his colleague were prompted to take legislative action because they have seen firsthand “the detritus of old wars.”

Lugar said the best way to deal with weapons surpluses -- which frequently turn up in places such as war-torn Africa -- is to enlist the help of U.S. allies.  The least expensive way to address the matter, he said, is to control or destroy excess weapons or weapons components “at the source.”

For more information see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Created:09 Feb 2006 Updated: 09 Feb 2006

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