Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld have warned that we must deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration fears that radiological, chemical, biological or nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. Despite these concerns, the US does not pay its dues to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on time, and on April 22, midway through his second term of office, to which he was re-elected a year early by acclaim, José Bustani, the Director General of the OPCW, was ousted in a campaign led by the US.
The UK Government was the first member state to co-sponsor the US resolution to dismiss Mr Bustani. The main thrust of the Government’s argument for taking this action seems to be that other states had lost confidence in him. One of the states cited is India. However, at the Executive Council meeting of the OPCW in March, India abstained on a vote of no confidence and made a strong speech in support of the Director General. Strangely, at the vote in April at the Special Conference of States Parties, which led to Mr Bustani’s immediate dismissal, India voted with the US. In view of the likely back room manoeuvrings that brought about this ‘change of confidence’, it is not acceptable for the UK Government to plead strength of numbers as its main reason for supporting US allegations.
A list of the US allegations against Mr Bustani has been posted on a State Department website but the US has never produced any evidence and has declined to conduct an inquiry to seek to substantiate its allegations. It is thought that Mr Bustani’s attempts to get Iraq to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention many have been a factor behind the US desire to remove him. Recently, Mr Bustani made a special visit to Westminster to speak to MPs about the future of the OPCW in the light of his ousting. He spoke of the pressure put on him to give differential treatment to major budgetary contributors, "At the time of my ousting, there were 6 pending industrial inspections in the US that could not be closed due to, among other things, denial of access to inspectors". A parliamentary answer has shown that the US, Germany and Japan have failed to honour their obligation to pay their contributions on time. Mr Bustani said "This is illegal – they are bound to pay by 1st January and by not doing so they are hindering the Organisation’s programme of inspections". He also expressed his fears about budgetary restrictions in future years which will lead to a reduction in the number of inspectors and in the number of inspections.
The ousting of Mr Bustani sets a very dangerous precedent in relation to the independence of other international bodies and their heads, who must now see that their positions are under threat if their work conflicts with US interests. The US would now like to see special influence for so called "key states parties". This is an assault on the multilateral nature of the treaty and organisation and must be vigorously opposed.
The world owes José Bustani our thanks for refusing to go quietly thus exposing the US’s actions. In view of the events of September 11 it is astounding that the US is forging ahead with this blinkered unilateralism. Colin Powell has warned that the threat of proliferation means that "No nation has the luxury of remaining on the sidelines because there are no sidelines." The US should heed its own advice by looking at its own lack of compliance with its international obligations. Paying its dues to the OPCW on time would be a good start.
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