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U.S. Foreign Policy Turns Unilateralist: "No" to Treaties

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Introduction: In December 2001, President Bush formally announced that the United States intends to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The same month, the Bush Administration urged abandonment of international negotiations on verification procedures for the Biological Weapons Convention. In January 2002, the Pentagon issued a report moving the U.S. closer to resuming nuclear test explosions. These are part of a series of steps the Administration has taken to withdraw from or not participate in international treaties. This trend toward unilateralism -- refusing to play by the rules that we expect the rest of the world to follow -- has dramatically accelerated under President Bush. The following lists some of the recent major unilateral actions:

Senator Robert Byrd: "We are advancing headlong into committing our nation and our treasure to an untried and unproven missile defense system, which we may or may not need and which may or may not protect us, while at the same time we are in full retreat from the arms control treaties and policies that have helped stabilize the world for decades. . . A handshake, no matter how sincere or well-intentioned, is no substitute for a signature."(Senate speech, December 13, 2001)

National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice: "[It is] not isolationist to suggest that the United States has a special role in the world and should not adhere to every international convention and agreement that someone thinks to propose . . .A Republican administration will proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interests of an illusory international community." (Foreign Affairs, Jan-Feb. 2000)




On December 13, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to pursue deployment of a national missile defense. The Administration took a step opposed by Russia, China and most U.S. allies. While the U.S. had suggested the possibility of modifying the Treaty in discussions with Russia, in fact the President was determined to go-it-alone in opting out of a treaty that has been the cornerstone of arms control for almost 30 years. Back on July 23, Bush declared: "I will consult with our friends and allies . . . I will work with Russia. But make no mistake about it, I think it's important to move beyond the ABM Treaty."

The Bush Administration has blamed the ABM Treaty for the Pentagon's lack of progress on national missile defense. However, the problem is not the treaty; the technology still does not work after more than four decades of trying. According to Philip Coyle, former Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, "Until the U.S. government learns whether the technical, budgetary, and operational problems that the National Missile Defense presents can be solved, the ABM Treaty is the least of President Bush's problems."

Russian President Putin was critical of the December 13 decision: "We consider it a mistake . . . Russia first of all has proceeded from a concern for the preservation and strengthening of international legal foundations in the field of disarmament and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."



On July 24, Donald A. Mahley, the American representative to the Ad Hoc Group of the Biological Weapons Convention, announced that the U.S. had rejected the draft for a verification protocol as flawed beyond repair, though he insisted that "no nation is more committed than the U.S. to combating the [biological weapons] threat." On December 7, in the midst with of dealing with the spread of anthrax through the U.S. postal system, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton advocated the termination of the Ad Hoc Group of the Conference on Disarmament which was in charge of negotiating the verification protocol. Both actions alienated America's friends and allies.

All major U.S. allies support the draft, arguing that any shortcomings could be improved during the negotiations. The allies were further antagonized by the fact that the Administration's move came with no advance warning. The draft protocol represented a compromise reached over six years by the 143 nations that have ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The European Union argued that the protocol's draft, despite its imperfections, is the best way to combat the germ weapon threat. Significantly, the U.S. even refused to propose changes to the protocol.

In its "alternative package" meant to replace the rejected protocol, the Bush Administration proposed in July to resolve compliance concerns with the Convention through voluntary exchanges of information. In addition, it called for using international experts selected by the U.N. Secretary General to investigate suspicious uses of biological weapons. Both proposals provided little improvement over existing mechanisms to verify illicit biological weapons programs.



In January 2002, the Pentagon released the Nuclear Posture Review recommending that the United States shorten the time between a decision to resume nuclear testing and an actual test. This was another in a series of moves that have undermined the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed in 1996.

The Test Ban Treaty was defeated by the U.S. Senate in October 1999, after a short and highly partisan debate. Since gaining office, President Bush has reiterated his previous opposition to the Treaty, but said that for the time being the United States would continue the moratorium begun in 1992 on any underground nuclear testing.

Some Bush officials, including John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, have explored ways to ensure that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is never revived by repudiating the U.S. signature to the treaty. Other officials have suggested testing and development of new small nuclear weapons to target underground bunkers. At the NATO meetings in 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried and failed to delete references to the Test Ban Treaty from the joint communiques. In mid-November, the U.S. was the only signatory to the treaty not to attend a conference of countries that had signed or ratified the pact. The group of key countries that have not ratified include the U.S., China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

The test ban treaty is an important nuclear non-proliferation step to make it harder for more countries to test and develop new nuclear weapons. More than any other country, the United States does not need to resume nuclear testing to maintain a reliable nuclear stockpile.



The Convention on the Prohibition of The Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction was signed in Ottawa on September 18, 1997. Every country in the Western Hemisphere has signed the treaty except the United States and Cuba, and every NATO member has signed except the United States and Turkey. Through the treaty, parties agree to "never use anti-personnel mines" or "produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain, or develop" anti-personnel mines. The treaty also stipulated that nations signing the convention could not "transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, anti-personnel mines" and had to "ensure destruction of the mines." On September 17, 1998, the treaty entered into force when the 40th country ratified it. U.S. military officials attempted to obtain exemptions for mines which could de-activate themselves over time and for the mines along the border between the two Koreas, but neither was accepted. Since entering into office, the Bush Administration has rejected the convention.



On July 21, after an all-night negotiating session, delegates to the UN conference were forced to accept a weak convention to limit the sale of small weapons. Almost all countries participating were in disagreement with the United States delegation's refusal to include any language that mentioned norms on civilian possession of small arms and light weapons as well as transfers to groups (rebel forces, dissident leadership). To save the conference from certain failure, other countries caved in to U.S. demands and allowed a considerably weakened consensus document to move forward. In his final report, the President of the conference, Colombian Ambassador Carlos Reyes, singled out the United States saying, "While congratulating all participants for their diligence in reaching this new consensus, I must as President also express my disappointment over the Conference's inability to agree -- due to the concerns of one state -- on language recognizing the need to establish and maintain controls over private ownership of these deadly weapons, and the need for preventing sales of such arms to non-state groups."



When Congress adopted legislation implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, it included a series of unilateral exemptions. First, the U.S. law allowed the President to refuse any inspection in the U.S. if he determines that it "may pose a threat" to U.S. national security interests. Second, this legislation specified that no samples collected during an inspection can leave U.S. territory for analysis. A third measure in the U.S. law narrowed the number of industrial facilities that declare activities involving mixtures or solutions that contain certain chemicals covered by the convention. If other nations emulated these examples, they could seek to block challenge or other inspections, deny inspectors permission to send chemical samples abroad for detailed analysis at independent laboratories, and decrease considerably the number of industry facilities worldwide that are declared and subsequently opened to routine inspection.




In March 2001, President Bush shocked the rest of the world by withdrawing from the Kyoto Global Warming negotiations without proposing any changes. Despite that withdrawal, on July 23, 2001, 178 other nations reached a final agreement in Bonn, Germany, on the text of the accord requiring industrialized nations to cut emissions of gasses linked to global warming.



The Bush Administration has rejected the International Criminal Court and examined ways to withdraw the U.S. signature from the document creating the ICC. On July 17, 1997, 120 nations voted to establish the International Criminal Court (seven voted against the court and 21 abstained). President Clinton, in one of his final actions in office, signed the treaty on December 31, 2000, overriding objections from the Pentagon and many Senate Republicans.



Although the U.S. debt to the United Nations has decreased since 1998, when the U.N. threatened to take away U.S. voting privileges in the General Assembly, the United States still owes $1 billion in back dues and peace operations assessments. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress helped the situation by approving a back payment of $582 million.



The United States ratified the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child on February 16, 1995. However, in 2000 when the U.N. attempted to pass the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, the United States raised strong objections and still refuses to ratify it. President Clinton signed the Protocol in May 2000, but the Republican-dominated Senate did not ratify it, raising the objections that the treaty undermines the rights of parents and is unfair to the U.S., since the U.S. currently recruits and deploys 17 year-olds for service. The Bush Administration is taking no action on ratification.



Twice Congress has adopted the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act requiring the President to impose penalties on any company or any nation that invests more than $20 million per year in the energy sector of Iran or more than $40 million in that of Libya. U.S. corporations have joined most of the rest of the world to protest the sanctions. Further, other nations protest that the U.S. is trying to force other countries to adopt American policy.



Congress instituted similar legislation in 1996 when it passed the Helms-Burton Act against Cuba. The legislation bars any foreign executives who do business with Cuba from entering the United States. It also allows for lawsuits against foreign companies who invest in Cuban property that has been confiscated from Cuban-Americans. Following the Clinton precedent, Bush has waived the provision allowing for lawsuits against foreign companies.



Although the United States possesses the largest economy and military in the world and consequently the greatest influence in global affairs, unilateralism harms our international standing and credibility, damages treaties, cripples global environmental initiatives and weakens our ability to effectively negotiate in the future.

There are many circumstances in which the U.S. needs international cooperation:

There is increasing apprehension over America's international stance and its insistence that all nations play by U.S. rules.

A New York University workshop summary from a January 2000 conference on multilateralism and U.S. foreign policy stated: "Defenders of multilateralism believe that it generally furthers U.S. interests because the country has a strong stake in a rule-based international order. Moreover, the repeated resort to unilateral means to secure national ends risks weakening the system of stable expectations and diffuses reciprocity upon which smooth cooperation and an open world order depend."

The backlash against U.S. unilateralism has begun. In May 2001, the United States was voted off the UN Human Rights Commission, a body that the U.S. helped found. At the same time, the U.S. lost its bid for a third term on the International Narcotics Control Board, a drug monitoring agency. In the same month, a top-level delegation from the European Union had to step in for the absent U.S. in negotiations with North Korea.

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