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Libya and Transatlantic Cooperation

Are recent events heralding nations' push toward non-proliferation — or is this just a happy interlude?

December 23, 2003

Are recent events heralding nations' push toward non-proliferation — or is this just a happy interlude?

Clearly, the threat of nuclear weapons' proliferation is one of the main scourges that will have to be dealt with around the world. It is even worse than terrorism.

Therefore, the announcement by Moammar Gadhafi's regime to come clean in this dark area is a great way to end the year.

The fact that the regime is willing to give up its efforts of developing weapons of mass destruction is a bright light in an otherwise somber year.

Yet, positive movements are not limited to Libya. Iran, too, has been making amends. In a October 21, 2003 meeting with key European foreign ministers, it pledged to sign an additional protocol to the United Nations' Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The agreement would allow tougher inspections of its nuclear facilities by the IAEA — the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

Savor the moment. It is as if all the stars were in perfect alignment. Some outcasts — such as Gadhafi — are trying to get inside the tent. Other fence-sitters, such as the Iranians, are trying to get on the right track.

As it stands, on some problem countries, the “Anglo-Saxon” coalition is in the lead. On others, the job is done remarkably well by what Washington calls the “axis of weasels.”

That is what one could — and should — call an effective division of labor across the Atlantic, all the name-calling and animosities notwithstanding.

And perhaps most amazingly, a UN agency — the afore-mentioned IAEA — is in the thick of things. Its close involvement proves that the much-maligned UN bureaucracy does have a vital role to play.

It also demonstrates that some UN agencies' capabilities in critical areas — such as tracking WMD developments — are superior to what the United States accomplishes on its own.

The IAEA's work is viewed as more reliable and more importantly, as having more teeth — than what U.S. agencies have come up with.

Clearly, the global community has to be grateful for these developments. It is a rare golden moment for the Atlantic Alliance — and one can only hope that it will last for a while.

And yet, in light of the recent displays of mutual overreaction and profound distrust, it is wise to hold the euphoria. Cautious optimism may be the most we can afford, realistically.

There already are clearly visible danger signs which may indicate that this recent de facto cooperation will not last, that this is just a happy interlude.

Washington tends to give too much credit to its muscular foreign policy as a root cause of Tripoli’s turnaround. It ignores the reality of a decade-long effort by Gadhafi to rejoin the community of nations.

This effort contained such desperate moves — similar to those of one of Gadhafi's sons who labored hard to make the grade as a player on one of Italy's professional league soccer team.

As far as the continental Europeans are concerned, it is unlikely that they will agree that the doctrine of preemption is the root cause of what moved Libya. However, that is very much the current feeling in Washington — even in Democratic circles.

And the Europeans, for their part, feel frustrated that their own successful efforts with Tehran — which were at least as equally hard to attain as Gadhafi's U.S. agreement — were widely pooh-poohed in the U.S. media, as well as in Washington policy circles.

The Europeans are therefore concerned that the United States — under the Bush Administration — is willing to just give itself credit.

It has excluded all other major players (except Britain).

Evidently, if the current two-pronged transatlantic push to advance the global agenda on non-proliferation is to succeed, it is high time to move beyond such acrimoniousness and distrust of motives on both sides.

And there are plenty of reasons why both sides should let bygones be bygones — and focus on what is ahead. Either way you cut it, teamwork — even with the occasional acknowledgement of sharp differences in opinion — beats infighting and the petulant effort to shroud oneself in an air of superiority.

This is especially true, because the recent announcements are but the opening moves in a much broader campaign to reign in the spread of WMD around the world.

And on this particular front, recent reports that Iran’s weapons-makers were aided in their efforts by Pakistan should help things along as well. After all, in Western terms, Pakistan is viewed as a U.S. protectorate.

Therefore, to the extent that countries' scientists are the ones giving a "friendly assist" to the dark side of Iran’s government, the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear apparatus is no longer just a European/UN matter — as Washington has tried to portray in recent weeks.

The keys to rooting out this problem may be found in Islamabad, just as much as in Tehran. Given the closeness between Washington and General Musharaf, the United States is now a full party in the effort of moving Iran away from the nuclear track.

So far, so good. If the global community now only managed to close ranks when on the issue of North Korea, it would seem like real progress is being made.