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No matter if the "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) argument brought forward by the U.S. in respect of the multinational military intervention in Iraq in 2003 was meant to be "real" or rather was "constructed": It is a fact that the WMD case, along with the new concept of security after 9/11, is real in its consequences for international WMD non-proliferation policy, collective use of force, and thus the U.N. security system. However, this fact does not cut off the path-dependencies of a policy of containment of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. A point often overlooked is that not only U.S. unilateralism – along with the multi-nationalism in the EU-context that it evoked for example in the Iran nuclear dispute in early 2005 – has contributed to a loss of collective endeavour in WMD non-proliferation policy. Rather, the sheer technology" of the problem itself had been rendering collective, or "global" solutions increasingly unfeasible long before. For example, since the 1980ies, the dimension of the threat has been substantially defined by the easy trans-national availability of key technologies and dual-use goods. In addition, a number of pivotal states have not only been exhibiting decreasing commitment but also technical and financial capabilities to implement their obligations in the disarmament sector. Moreover, research already concluded ten years ago that in contrast to community-of-states or world-society based approaches (such as "trust" and "verrechtlichung", or "civilizing"), we would be going to increasingly have to discuss the use of force in non-proliferation policy and options for military intervention – and this especially so when facing diffuse WMD threats. That is because such a type of threat is not amenable to customary means of deterrence and active repulse. Based on this observation, my article first locates the problem of WMD non-proliferation within its path-dependencies as well as the theoretical debate of "nuclear peace". It then introduces the formative elements of the state of the art of the WMD non-proliferation regime on the eve of 11 September 2001 and the Iraq conflict (2002-03), contrasting them with the structural developments in the WMD non-proliferation sector that we have been witnessing since then. From this, the paper derives working propositions about non-proliferation policy in the early 21st century. Among the results will be that on the one hand, we still have to comprehend the problem of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the light of last decades' experience. On the other hand, certain principles of non-proliferation policy have been fading recently, especially its co-operative and universal idea. This leaves us with important conclusions for U.N. collective security and the use of force in the WMD sector: The "war on terror" as well as the case of Iraq has shown that the global level of WMD non-proliferation is seriously losing its relevance – which has serious consequences for the further developments and accomplishments of non-proliferation standards in the U.N. framework.

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Analytical Standpoint (Analysestandpunkt)


Endowed Centre for European Security Studies

Additional Information

Dr. Siedschlag was not affiliated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the time this paper was published.