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April 4, 2002, Thursday


Washington Is Criticized for Growing Reluctance to Sign Treaties

UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- Disarmament and human rights experts say in a report to be published on Thursday that the United States' rejection or disregard of a range of treaties is undercutting efforts by many other countries to strengthen the international rule of law.

From nuclear testing and proliferation accords to the land mines ban to agreements on climate change or protecting the rights of women and children, over the last decade Washington has moved steadily away from accepting treaties that would be binding on the United States, ''despite its widely admired and emulated commitment to the rule of law within its society,'' the report says.

The report, ''The Rule of Power or the Rule of Law? An Assessment of U.S. Policies and Actions Regarding Security-Related Treaties,'' is published by two independent organizations, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy.

In some cases, it says, the United States, sometimes with its closest allies, may be violating agreements.

One case it cites is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty barring all nuclear testing and explosions even for peaceful uses. The treaty was signed by the Clinton administration in 1996, which then did not fight hard enough to save it from defeat in the Senate ratification process in 1999, disarmament experts say.

The report says that the United States and France are each building laser fusion laboratories -- at Livermore, Calif., and near Bordeaux, France -- ''planning to use these devices to carry out explosions of magnitudes that are greater than four pounds of TNT equivalent.'' The four-pound TNT equivalent, enough explosive to blow up a car and kill people, is a widely accepted (though not specifically stated) limit of testing under the treaty to ascertain the condition of nuclear stocks.

The Clinton administration said it would adhere to the test ban even though the Senate voted against ratification. The treaty has not yet entered into force worldwide because 44 nuclear-capable countries must ratify it first. Among those that have not ratified the pact aside from the United States are India, Pakistan, China, Israel and North Korea. The Bush administration is not expected to seek the treaty's ratification.

The authors of the new report have taken a broad definition of security in selecting treaties for study. One is the treaty setting up the International Criminal Court, which is expected to come into force this year.

Not only is the Bush administration opposed to the treaty, which was signed by the United States in the Clinton administration's last days, but it is also reported to be considering removing the country's signature from the document.

Concerns about American reluctance to join international agreements at a time of unchallenged American power are being voiced in international organizations and among American allies in Europe. The Europeans, individually or as a bloc, support the International Criminal Court and numerous conventions on the environment and human rights not accepted in Washington.

''I must warn against the sacrifice of disarmament and arms control norms in the battle against terrorism,'' said Jayantha Dhanapala, the United Nations under secretary general for disarmament affairs, at a meeting of the Arms Control Association in Washington earlier this year. He said he feared that arms control agreements were being sidelined by the war on terrorism just as human rights organizations feared a diminution of civil liberties since Sept. 11.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company