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[casi] America's Shocking Hypocrisy on WMD

May 17, 2003

America's Shocking Hypocrisy on WMD

An Interview with Richard Butler

Transcript of an interview on Australia's Dateline on SBC.

A few days ago, the US Senate Armed Services Committee voted to repeal a
long-standing ban on the development of small nuclear bombs---so called mini
nukes. For 10 years the US has abided by an international moratorium on the
testing of nuclear weapons---another international convention now likely to
go up in smoke. Tonight's guest, Richard Butler, has had a long involvement
in nuclear disarmament issues. Perhaps better known as the former chief
weapons inspector in Iraq, most of his career was spent in helping to forge
the international anti-nuclear conventions---including a spell as
Australia's Ambassador for Disarmament.

MARK DAVIS: Richard Butler, the US Armed Services Committee has just passed
a motion supporting the development of what they're calling mini nukes. Does
this signal the beginning of another arms race? How serious should we take

seriousness of it. It is absolutely shocking. If this becomes the policy of
the United States Government, if it passes through the Congress and the Bush
Administration, which wants it to be the policy, if it implements it, it
will involve the United States walking away from, tearing up, solemn
obligations that it's made for 30 years now under international law, and on
which the world relies---an obligation to progressively reduce the number of
nuclear weapons in the world so that they don't spread to other countries.
Instead of honouring that obligation, this would involve tearing it up,
walking away from it and, in fact, making new nuclear weapons, going in
exactly the opposite direction.

MARK DAVIS: Well, it's pretty dramatic departure from---I think we all
thought that nuclear proliferation was behind it. Who's pushing for this?

RICHARD BUTLER: The Bush Administration. It's been clear now for about two
years that George W. Bush and the people around him want to have nuclear
weapons in the regular battlefield arsenal of the United States armed
forces. No more a question of nuclear weapons simply being there to deter
what was the Soviet Union, the big scale intercontinental stuff. The
question of whether that really worked or not is something we probably
haven't got time to talk about. But for the whole of the period of nuclear
weapons since the end of the Second World War, their stated purpose was for
deterrence, mutual assured destruction, the outcome of which was supposed to
be that therefore they would never be used. They would just deter each
other. Now, the Bush Administration wants to have nuclear weapons in the
regular battlefield arsenal of its armed forces in order to use them in the
same way that they'd use a conventional artillery piece, a conventional
missile, an ordinary cannon. That's what they want to do and they're the
ones pushing for it.

MARK DAVIS: Well, they have an argument for that, of course, is that this
now has a strategic use with limited fallout, for use against terrorist
groups or rogue states where otherwise a lot of troops would be lost in
taking that position. There is a certain logic...

RICHARD BUTLER: There's none. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but it's just
profound nonsense. Look, even Colin Powell, who's now Secretary of State,
when he was in charge of the United States armed forces wrote in his main
book about his experiences as a military commander that when he was in
charge in Europe, he dreaded, he dreaded that the order would come from
Washington to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield, tactical rather than
strategic nuclear weapons. He said there in his book---and everyone knows
this, Mark---they are useless and dangerous. All they do is escalate. There
is nothing that you can't achieve with today's high precision conventional
weapons that would require you to go, to take that step, to cross what is
called the nuclear threshold and use nuclear weapons. If you cross that
threshold, you enter into weapons of mass destruction, you transform the
battlefield into a place where the other side can do the same and, look, the
fundamental irony of the situation we're dealing with here is that we have
just witnessed the United States go to Iraq to remove Saddam's weapons of
mass destruction, and it is now itself proposing to acquire new weapons of
mass destruction. It makes no sense in logic, in politics, in proliferation
terms and it makes no sense on the battlefield. There is nothing that needs
to be achieved on the battlefield today that can't be achieved with
conventional non-nuclear, non-mass destruction weapons.

MARK DAVIS: Well, at the moment, it's passed a committee stage which is
significant in itself, but from your discussions with US officials and your
contacts in the States, how far up the food chain is this likely to
progress? Are we being overly dramatic in even talking about it now?

RICHARD BUTLER: No, I find it pretty astonishing that people haven't been
talking about it already, that's why I welcome being with you here tonight
and congratulate you for doing it. Because you see, Mark, we are witnessing
a profound change in the way in which the world has been run since the
Second World War. A cornerstone of that world has been the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, a bit of a mouthful, but that's the treaty that
states---that those who have nuclear weapons will progressively get rid of
them and those who do not have them, will never get them. So that we'll come
one day to a point where no-one will have nuclear weapons. The United States
and the other four official nuclear weapons powers, the five of them, are
obligated under that treaty to progressively reduce. Now, if the United
States goes ahead and does what is being planned, and walks away from that
obligation and, in fact, starts to make new nuclear weapons, I promise you,
Mark, it will be the end of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty that we
extended a few years ago to be indefinite in the life of humankind---after
30 years of operation, it was extended in 1995 to be indefinite---and the
elemental bargain there is that those who don't have them won't get them,
and those who do have them will get rid of them. And if the United States
does this, people will walk away from that treaty, we'll see---you saw what
India and Pakistan did, we know what Israel has done, we know what Iran is
looking for, North Korea, it will spread, because you cannot say to another
country "It's OK for me to have nuclear weapons because my security is so

MARK DAVIS: But that's the point, isn't it?

RICHARD BUTLER: "..but you can't."

MARK DAVIS: That's exactly what America is doing now. What does it do for
the authority of the American voice to talk to North Korea, to talk to Iran
about nuclear weapons?

RICHARD BUTLER: It trashes it. It trashes it. This administration in
Washington is honestly asking other human beings to believe that American
security is so precious, that it can have in its possession whatever weapons
of mass destruction it might want, but others can't. You know, I heard that
argument for years. I've worked on this subject for over a quarter of a
century. I heard it for years, in particular in India. I've written a book
about it. And the Indians were quite compelling, saying "We can't accept
that somehow American security is more important than ours. We've got China
on our border with nuclear weapons, they've attacked us several times. We
can't accept the basic inequity that is involved in that position." The
United States is about to bring that inequity to a height and it will have
nothing to say, nothing that it can credibly say to any other country---"You
may not have these weapons"---or indeed to a terrorist group, if it itself
walks away from what it has solemnly promised under international law. I
welcome your calling attention to this. People must debate this. This is a
very serious move.

MARK DAVIS: Under the various treaties, nuclear non-proliferation and the
test ban treaties, what are the consequences for a country that either walks
away from or breaks the terms of that treaty?

RICHARD BUTLER: What is supposed to be the consequence is that the
International Atomic Energy Agency will report to the Security Council that
a country---in this case North Korea recently did it---has walked away from
its obligation and asked the Security Council, who has the political and
military muscle, allegedly, to deal with it, to go to that country and say
"You're breaking the law, this has to stop or else." Now...

MARK DAVIS: So is that going to happen to America?

RICHARD BUTLER: It's not going to happen at all! It won't happen because the
way in which the Security Council was trashed on trying to get it support
for the invasion of Iraq, this wasn't obtained, and under international law
that invasion therefore is outside the law, some would say plainly illegal.
But in very practical terms I ask you, what capacity has the United States
now to go to the Security Council and say "Let's all collectively deal with
this threat to security, the country X is about to acquire nuclear weapons."
It's got no capacity, because of its own double standard on nuclear weapons
and because of the way in which the Security Council was abused on the way
into Iraq. The Security Council, in this sense, is lying somewhat in ruins,
at precisely the time that we need it.

MARK DAVIS: Well, I guess you'd have to say clearly the Americans don't care
what the consequences of a treaty...

RICHARD BUTLER: You're dead right.

MARK DAVIS: But what do you do now?

RICHARD BUTLER: Well, I've talked to senior members of the Bush
Administration and if the viewing public are asking "Well, why are they
behaving this way?" Well, one can say they're just plainly selfish or this
is the consequence of September 11 and so on. Not really. It's this---this
administration has a view of the special character of the United States, the
singular and exclusive character that is new. I've talked to them about it
and they make this plain. They say "We are the sole super power, we're
therefore the exceptional country, we're outside of international law.
Others have to obey the law and obey the rules, but we don't." I mean, I'm
not making that up. If they were sitting here tonight, Mark, the people I've
talked with would readily agree. They'd say "Yeah, that's right, that's who
we are. We are the exceptional country and we don't have to obey the law
because we're different." Now, that's where this is proceeding from. And I
ask you to recognise what happens when the most powerful country, the same
as the most powerful people within a domestic society, consider themselves
to be above the law. What happens? Citizens, or countries, decide that the
law itself is no good and that's what will happen in the nuclear area.

MARK DAVIS: Well, while I have you here I'll get you to put your Iraq hat on
for a moment. Are you surprised that the Americans haven't found any weapons
of mass destruction so far?

RICHARD BUTLER: No, I'm not, Mark. There's no doubt that unaccounted for
weapons existed when Saddam threw me and my team out in 1998 and, indeed,
when Hans Blix, my successor, made his last reports. But I think what we are
seeing now is the very strong possibility that towards the end, just before
the war began, Iraq either began to destroy those weapons or moved them out
possibly to Syria. Destroyed them in the way that it started, you'll
remember, to destroy the al-Samoud missile, in the belief that the weapons
wouldn't be of any further use to them and it would be better for their case
if they could say---if no weapons were able to be discovered.

MARK DAVIS: I mean, this is the incredible point, I suppose. We've just
invaded a country, we've killed thousands of people and, despicable as
Saddam Hussein may have been, he was probably telling the truth.

RICHARD BUTLER: We need to know that, that's what I'm saying. It could well
be that at that point, immediately prior to the war when they lodged their
12,000 page document, that we may discover they were telling the truth in
the sense that at that time they did destroy those extant weapons. We need
to know what the facts are to know whether the weapons of mass destruction
justification for the invasion was real or not. It's very, very important.
We have four people---the US has four key people in custody now---General
Saddi, General Rashid, Tariq Aziz and Dr Germ, Rihab Taha. They know exactly
what the facts are. We need to know what they're saying. We need to know on
what basis they're being interrogated. We need the truth about those
weapons, Iraq's programs, did they give them to terrorists, for example, as
has sometimes been claimed. We need the truth behind an invasion and
occupation by the United States, and its friends, of Iraq.

Richard Butler, we'll have to leave it there but thanks for joining

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