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Preventing the prevention of nuclear proliferation

By See-Dubya  •  October 20, 2007 11:29 AM

Who knows exactly why the Israeli Air Force blew up that building in Syria? Not even all of Congress has been briefed the details, although a few journalists have received tips from the administration–about which Congress is hopping mad:

If the Israeli airstrike last month is related to covert nuclear collaboration involving Syria and either North Korea, Iran or other rogue states, this may or may not be an issue that can be easily addressed by negotiations alone. It is certain, however, that such a serious international security issue will not stay secret forever.

Congress, therefore, needs to be fully briefed, not just on the details of the airstrike, but on how to address this matter and how, if press reports are true, rogue states will be held accountable for what could amount to a very serious case of WMD proliferation.

We regret that the administration has ignored numerous letters from Congress asking that all members be briefed on the Israeli airstrike. Failing to disclose the details of this incident to the legislative branch, preventing due diligence and oversight — but talking to the press about it — is not the way to win support for complex and difficult diplomatic efforts to combat proliferation by rogue nations.

Well, it’s in the papers, right? So can’t they just buy a copy like everyone else?

Seriously, though, that was a major event, and we’re still coming to grips with the implications of what looks like collaboration between Syria and North Korea on a nuclear weapons program.

Here’s some good news about that: we have a program in place to stop these kinds of transfers. It’s called the Proliferation Security Initiative. John Bolton is usually recognized as its chief architect, and it’s basically an informal agreement between countries who don’t like nuclear weapons and missile programs being trafficked to and by rogue states. We’re not really even supposed to know which countries are members, but we do know they share information about nuclear smuggling and the like, and occasionally board ships suspected of hauling nuclear materials or missile parts. They’ve had some success with this: Iran and other bad guys are short a few loads of equipment because of the PSI.

The PSI is especially important because North Korea ships nasty stuff out in its maritime fleet. The PSI got its start after our Navy intercepted a load of North Korean SCUD missiles bound for Yemen during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and we had to let it go. Later in 2003, there was the seizure of a North Korean boat full of heroin, the Pong Su, off the coast of Australia.

North Korean merchant ships may have played a part in this late unlamented Syrian construction project as well. A Nork freighter called the Al-Hamad, traveling both under North Korean and South Korean flags, appears to have arrived in Syria with a mysterious cargo a few days before the airstrikes. There’s another North Korean freighter called the MV Sea Prince that went missing this summer, ostensibly the victim of Somali pirates….although I found another source saying the MV Sea Prince just changed its name and registry in order to sneak around, and I strongly suspect it may have payed a call to a Syrian port in its new guise.

Needless to say, tracking down and stopping these sorts of dodgy North Korean freighters that sail around the Middle East changing their names and flags is exactly the sort of cooperative effort that the PSI is supposed to enable.

Now here’s the bad news: There’s a treaty under consideration by the Senate that may cripple the PSI. It’s called the Law of the Sea Treaty, a version of which was vetoed by President Reagan way back in 1982 but it keeps coming back like a transnational zombie. LOST has long been a bugaboo among conservatives because it empowers a new collectivist U.N. bureaucracy to control two-thirds of the earth’s surface. But it’s actually even worse than that. Senator James Inhofe, on his blog, says the Law of the Sea Treaty may interfere with WMD interceptions under the PSI:

LOST could also infringe on the War on Terror, specifically the President’s Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) which combats the transfer of WMD’s. LOST only identifies four circumstances under which ships may be stopped on the high seas. Those are human trafficking, drug trafficking, piracy, and illegal broadcasting. So, if the U.S. were to become a formal party to LOST, we may face challenges to our PSI program.

LOST is a boring treaty and not at all a sexy topic to blog on. But North Korean freighters full of heroin, plutonium, and missiles ought to get your attention. Along with our PSI allies, we really need to continue our very productive policy of aggressive nosiness toward Kim Jong Il’s worldwide fleet. (And Iran’s, too.) If LOST interferes with our ability to do so, well, that’s just one more reason for the Senate to throw LOST back on the scrap heap where Reagan left it a quarter-century ago.

UPDATE: Commenter Jim M. posts a real stemwinder on the sovereignty and constitutional implications of LOST, noting it will take powers the Constitution gave the courts and transfer them to UN bureaucrats:

Granting a dysfunctional and inherently corrupt organization such as the United Nations any power or control over the future of this Country and its citizens is beyond the realm of reason or responsibility. And the motives behind any attempt to steer the US in that direction are not only highly suspect, they are downright seditious.

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