On Nuclear Issues Bolton’s a Failure

Of all the questions that cloud the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, the most troubling has so far received the least attention: Has he performed his current diplomatic duties competently and in accordance with U.S. policy?

The answer is a matter of profound concern, because Mr. Bolton’s job, as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, is to promote multilateral action against the proliferation of the world’s most destructive weapons. There are few officials in government with as much responsibility for the future security of this country and the world.

Specifically, Mr. Bolton is in charge of securing Russian cooperation to safeguard old Soviet stockpiles of uranium and plutonium, the core elements of nuclear weapons, from terrorists who want to inflict catastrophic harm on democratic civilization. Today, at least 300 metric tons of the stuff still remains inadequately protected.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bolton doesn’t appear to have done anything useful to improve that appalling situation. He may well have made it worse.

His failures are rooted in the same ideological rigidity that led him to denigrate the United Nations. He disdains treaties and agreements-even when they are quite plainly essential to our own national interest. aWhat matters most to him is sticking to the hard line, even when that achieves nothing.

So instead of progress toward increased safety, his four years in that most sensitive post have led to stagnation and stalemate. According to the authoritative Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, international cooperation to reduce the nuclear threat is now approaching a crisis of “unsolved problems and lingering policy disputes.”

Mr. Bolton’s sole mission since 2001 has been to resolve those problems and disputes. He works for a President who says “the biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network,” and whose stated policy is to reduce that threat with urgency and diligence.

But among the most knowledgeable members of Congress in both parties, Mr. Bolton has developed a poor reputation as both administrator and negotiator. He hasn’t gotten the job done.

This isn’t a partisan judgment. Among Mr. Bolton’s harshest critics on Capitol Hill is Senator Pete Domenici, the crusty conservative Republican from New Mexico, who publicly denounced him in hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last June. Few Senators have worked as hard or as long as Mr. Domenici to reduce the nuclear-terror threat.

Although Mr. Domenici now indicates that he will reluctantly vote to confirm Mr. Bolton, it is hard to understand why after reading his testimony on the disappointing results of the G-8 summit at Sea Island, Ga.

In sharp language, the Senator clearly blamed Mr. Bolton for allowing a pointless dispute over accident liability to fester, thus jeopardizing the cooperative threat-reduction accords between the United States and Russia. His fury practically blackens the written page:

“Nuclear nonproliferation is a deadly serious business and those who do not take it so are fools,” he warned, before proceeding to name names. “Of particular frustration to me is the very slow progress on plutonium disposition. After I began that program with an infusion of $200 million several years ago, the program has been blocked by disagreement over liability provisions. Why a program of this much global importance should be blocked by something as basic as liability remains beyond me.”

Mr. Domenici then went on to urge his colleagues to demand answers from the feckless official he holds responsible for this fiasco:

“Perhaps your committee could discuss this liability issue with the Honorable John Bolton when he testifies in a few minutes. You might ask why, after plutonium disposition was discussed in previous G-8 summits, it was omitted from the agreements at Sea Island.

“I submit that Mr. John Bolton, who has been assigned to negotiate this, has a very heavy responsibility, and I hate to say that I am not sure to this point that he is up to it. I am not sure that he attaches the significance that we do. Perhaps he can tell you how he does and why he has not been able to produce an agreement.

“I regret saying that, but I recall vividly when we did not have enough power, enough so-called horsepower, to get this done, and all of a sudden it was indicated by the State Department that he was the man, that he had great authority, that they needed him because he was the right kind of person. Well, I submit he ought to tell you why he has been unable to do this.”

Now they say that Mr. Bolton is the right man to reform the U.N. Actually, the Senate should never have confirmed him to his current post-and shouldn’t compound that earlier error now by sending him forth to blunder again.