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2004 G8 Pre-Summit Conference
Security, Prosperity and Freedom: Why America Needs the G8
June 3–4, 2004
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

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Multilateralism, International Security and the G8
Gary Bertsch
Center for International Trade and Security
University of Georgia
Draft: May 22, 2004

“We are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe.”

— Former Senator Sam Nunn [1]


The current threat posed by terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should focus the mind. The threat is real, and the leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) who are scheduled to meet at Sea Island know it. Accordingly, they should use this opportunity to do everything possible to prevent terrorists from using WMD against their homelands. If they do not do more — and do it more effectively — history will record their failure to defend against catastrophic attacks on U.S., European, or Japanese soil. Inaction is no longer an option for the G8 nations.

The G8 is not an irrelevant institution in the fight against WMD terrorism. As noted by others in this issue, the 2002 summit meeting at Kananaskis scored a victory against WMD terrorism when it instituted the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The Evian summit in 2003 took the process a step farther, creating new G8 bodies to take on the missions of counterterrorism and WMD nonproliferation. The Sea Island summit now has the opportunity to take another step forward with the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), the Secure and Facilitated Transport Initiative (SAFTI), and related efforts. But will it? Will President George W. Bush be able to lead and inspire the multilateral action required to reduce the WMD threat and promote national and international security? Will the G8 leaders and their governments be able to muster support behind practical programs that minimize the very real threat of catastrophic terrorism?

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President Bush and the Sea Island Summit

President Bush and his aides have much on their plates these days. In particular, the upheaval in the Middle East is consuming much of their time and attention. The controversies surrounding the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the ongoing insurgency in Iraq, and Israeli plans for Gaza — all are difficult problems that require presidential attention, and will no doubt engender considerable hand-wringing and tense exchanges at the Sea Island summit. However, these issues, as important as they are, should not divert attention from what former US Senator Sam Nunn aptly describes as “a race between cooperation and catastrophe,” and what US Senator Richard Lugar refers to as “the security problem of our time.” President Bush has clearly come to recognize the import of this problem during his presidency. He has spoken to the issues, and no doubt lost considerable sleep grappling with them. His February 11, 2004 address at the National Defense University (NDU) summarizes his assessment. “The greatest threat before humanity today,” declared the president, “is the possibility of secret and sudden attack with chemical or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons.”

In his NDU address, President Bush made clear the policy of the United States: “America will not permit terrorists and dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most deadly weapons….We will stop these weapons from being acquired or built. We’ll block them from being transferred.” But clearly, the United States cannot accomplish these goals alone. Herein lies the importance of the G8 and multilateralism.

The annual G8 summits have several advantages over other international forums. Top leaders meet face-to-face in an informal setting. Under the right conditions, they can reach consensus swiftly compared to other institutions. They can bring immense resources to bear. The G8, then, may be the right forum to address the security problem of our time.

President Bush did some of this at his recent NDU address. Among other things, he outlined several important initiatives — all of which will require multilateral action to be effective.

First is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). President Bush called for cooperative action against proliferation networks. “We need greater cooperation not just among intelligence and military services, but in law enforcement, as well,” said the president. If all of the G8 countries can be brought on board with the initiative, and if G8 leaders can enlist the help of other critical states, the PSI will go far towards reducing WMD-related transfers.

There are of course many sticky issues surrounding multilateral cooperation on the PSI, but serious G8 engagement on this issue and international leadership can help move the agenda forward. Like other important multinational arrangements — the nonproliferation export control regimes come to mind — the PSI faces a contentious future. But the payoff will be worthwhile.

Second, President Bush called on all nations “to strengthen laws and international controls that govern proliferation.” In recent years the U.S. and other governments have learned sobering lessons about the need to tighten controls over the flow of dangerous technology and materials. Consider the recent revelations about A.Q. Khan, who admitted running a black market for nuclear-weapons components. Khan and his henchmen sold blueprints for centrifuges used to enrich uranium, they sold uranium hexafluoride, and they used factories and associates abroad to manufacture key parts for centrifuges. A network of operatives in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa ran this illicit nuclear bazaar. The United States alone cannot eliminate international nuclear black markets. It should share intelligence and help lead, but such challenges require G8 and multilateral action and cooperation.

Third, President Bush at NDU applauded the Nunn-Lugar program and advocated expanding it. In the early 1990s, Senators Nunn and Lugar had the vision to devise a program that in ensuing years has dismantled the excesses of the Soviet arsenal and secured weapons, weapons-related items, and know-how in Russia and the former Soviet states. Forceful leadership will be needed if the Nunn-Lugar program is to expand within the G8 and beyond. Such places as Pakistan and Libya, not to mention North Korea and Iran, demand immediate attention.

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Fourth, President Bush’s NDU speech called for a safe, effective system that would assure the peaceful use of nuclear power without contributing to weapons proliferation. He called on the 40 nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to “refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.” Mustering support for such an initiative promises to be difficult and controversial. G8 engagement and multilateral leadership could help surmount the political obstacles to an agreement.

Lastly, President Bush called for a number of actions to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He urged governments to assent to the Additional Protocol to the NPT, which requires states to declare a range of nuclear activities and facilities and to allow the IAEA to inspect those facilities without advance notice. He called for the creation of an IAEA board to focus intensively on safeguards and verification. And he advocated forbidding governments under investigation for proliferation violations to serve on the IAEA Board of Governors.

President Bush concluded his address by noting, “As we move forward to address these challenges we will consult with our friends and allies….We will listen to their ideas….over the last two years, a great coalition has come together to defeat terrorism and to oppose the spread of weapons of mass destruction.”

A great coalition? In truth, much more needs to be done to forge an effective coalition against weapons proliferation. But it is possible; and institutions such as the G8 can make it more likely. The G8 must be used, and used more effectively. Leadership is required, and although President Bush and the other leaders will have far too little time to address these issues at Sea Island, they can lead by speaking loudly and clearly about what needs to be done. They can be resolute in demanding that their ministers and bureaucracies get it done. They can explain the perils of a world of catastrophic terrorism and rally their populaces for the challenges ahead.

In sum, when they convene at Sea Island, President Bush and the G8 leaders should make every effort to call attention to the issues of WMD terrorism and proliferation. If G8 and other multilateral institutions fail to act, the likelihood of catastrophic terrorism will grow commensurately. We truly are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe.


[1] Senator Nunn was commenting on the findings of the “Black Dawn” nuclear terrorism exercise held in Brussels, Belgium on May 4, 2004.

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