Prepared Statement by Gary Bertsch Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing: The Arming of Iran

May 6, 1997

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile
  • Chemical

Related Country: 

  • China
  • Russia
I wish to thank you for the invitation to appear before the Subcommittee today. My colleagues and I at the University of Georgia are involved in studies of the issues being addressed by the Subcommittee. I am pleased to share our work with you and members of Congress.

In addition to my formal statement, the Associate Directors of our Center, Dr. Richard Cupitt and Dr. Igor Khripunov, have prepared separate statements on the Chinese-Iranian and Russian-Iranian issues, respectively. I ask that they be entered into the record. Finally, I am releasing two new Georgia Center reports. The first is entitled Restraining the Spread of the Soviet Arsenal. The second is a special issue of our quarterly report The Monitor on "Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction." Both reports contain considerable research and reporting of relevance to your hearings today. I am happy to make copies of both available to you and your staff. I also want to thank you and members of Congress for your support of U.S. programs-such as the State Department's Title VIII program and the U.S. Institute of Peace--that help make a portion of our work possible. My colleagues around the United States and I are distressed to learn of the financial crisis of Title VIII and the impact it will have on policy research of importance to U.S. national interests. Total funding for Title VIII dropped from $102 million in FY 1994 to $4.2 million in FY 1997, with the distinct possibility of zero funds hereafter. The Title VIII program is crucial to developing and sustaining U.S. expertise about the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The Issues

Last week Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Senator Richard Lugar, Sam Nunn, Jim Woolsey, and others joined us at the University of Georgia to address the issues of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. security. All agreed that we are dealing with a major threat, that Iran is a critical problem, and that China and Russia are parts of the problem, and I might add, can be important parts of the solution.

I commend you and your colleagues for keeping attention on these issues, for promoting a fuller understanding of the problem and for reassessing what the United States can and should do to address it. I read with interest the transcript of your April 17, 1997 hearing. The issues addressed there and at today's hearing are critical and require ongoing, long-term attention. I will address two major issues. What is happening? What is and can the United States do about it?

The Chinese, Russian, and Iranian Connections

In order to assess what is happening, we have to understand how Russia and China view Iran, and what they are doing (or not doing) to control strategic exports into the region.

Russia and Iran

Russia views Iran differently than does the United States. Although some informed Russian officials are aware of and concerned about the security threats emanating from Iran, most view Iran as a neighbor with some common economic, political, and security interests. For example, many Russian officials consider Iran a valuable asset in resisting the northward influence of the Taliban religious forces in Afghanistan, and as an ally in other regional security issues. Most see Russia as having a large stake in economic relations with Iran, including billions of dollars in oil and gas deals, military contracts, and nuclear energy projects. While the United States sees much of this as the "arming of Iran," Russia sees it as energy and economic cooperation with a neighbor.

Although Russia is less sensitive to the security threat from Iran than is the United States, it is not oblivious to its national and international nonproliferation responsibilities and interests. On the nuclear issue, it intends to verify the peaceful uses of equipment supplied to Iran. It is attempting to develop its nonproliferation export control system. For example, in 1996 it approved two new sets of procedures that are intended to reduce proliferation risks. Government edicts Nos. 574 and 575 were intended to enhance Russian controls on the export and import of nuclear materials, dual-use equipment, and related technologies. Furthermore, in April 1997 Russia and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding on export controls.

As I am suggesting, and as Dr. Khripunov details in his statement submitted for the record, Russia wants to maintain close economic, political, and security relations with a neighbor. This does and will continue to raise legitimate proliferation and security concerns in the United States and West. We should be concerned and we should do everything possible to lessen the risks. Keeping attention on these issues is critical, and continuing to engage Russian officials at all levels about nonproliferation in the region is also very important.

The U.S. government has done much to heighten proliferation concerns and bolster export control responsibilities in Russia and the other new states of the former Soviet Union (FSU). A Committee of the National Research Council, on which I serve, released its report on Proliferation Concerns April 17, 1997, which gives high marks to U.S. governmental programs and efforts to promote nonproliferation export controls and policies in Russia and the other post-Soviet states. Although much remains to be done, progress is being made. The United States is promoting more responsible nonproliferation behavior in Russia and the FSU through its national security policy of engagement and enlargement.

China and Iran

China is not adequately concerned about the proliferation threat in Iran. It is interested in expanding its economic and political relations with Iran; it is seeking political favor, hard currency, and oil. It views its relations with Iran as "normal cooperation in peaceful areas." This is troubling for a number of reasons, including the following.
There are numerous strategic exports from China to Iran, of which members of this Subcommittee are fully aware, that are reason for proliferation concern. These exports raise doubts about Beijing's commitment to nonproliferation norms and their capacity to control the export of sensitive items from Chinese territory. The U.S. Congress, executive agencies, and intelligence communities have responsibilities to follow these developments closely. U.S. government officials should continue to express their concerns to Chinese authorities.

Secondly, as Dr. Cupitt indicates in his statement submitted for the record, China has much to do to develop more effective export controls. Our research at the University of Georgia shows that PRC export controls remain far from being "complementary in practice" to Western standards and to the systems of some of their neighbors, including Russia.
At the same time, it is fair to report some positive developments in Chinese controls.

These include:

(1) an improved legal framework (the 1994 Foreign Trade Law allows China to restrict trade for reasons of national security and international obligations);

(2) development of control lists, administrative regulations, and governmental structures to review and approve licenses; and,

(3) use of administrative sanctions to punish individuals and enterprises that have violated export control procedures.

Yet, many problems in Chinese nonproliferation export controls exist.

These include:

(1) an overwhelming lack of export control knowledge and transparency;

(2) suspicion that the United States, Japan, and others are pushing export controls to undermine Chinese sovereignty and commercial interests; and

(3) waning Chinese governmental control over industries and enterprises; this is placing immense pressures on their underdeveloped export control system.

Chinese strategic transfers to Iran and elsewhere are matters of significant U.S. concern. Washington should continue to engage Chinese leaders and officials at all levels on these issues, and do all that it can to encourage and support the development of more effective export controls in China.

U.S. Responses

There is much the United States can do and is doing to address the arming of Iran. It has been vigilant and it has regularly raised its concerns with high level Russian and Chinese authorities. Its bilateral and multilateral nonproliferation efforts are important and their impact should not be underestimated. For example, while Russia remains unwilling to forgo much of its nuclear cooperation with Iran, it has agreed to limit its scope and be more vigilant. The same can be true for China. Multilaterally, U.S. leadership has brought about a broad international consensus on the need to limit Iran's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. It has helped put multilateral nonproliferation export control regimes in place which have imposed serious obstacles for Iran. The Iranians are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire the WMD related equipment and technology they want. The Chemical Weapons Convention outlaws any assistance to Iran's chemical weapons program. The Nuclear Suppliers Group and IAEA have created real impediments to Iran's nuclear weapons aspirations. The Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement are doing the same in the missile and conventional weapons areas. Regrettably, some Chinese and Russian items that raise proliferation concerns are still flowing to Iran. We should do all that we can to persuade the Chinese and Russians to refrain from this, but I do not believe that sanctions are the best instrument.1 Considerable scientific research shows sanctions to be ineffective in most cases such as these. Sanctions are unlikely to change Chinese and Russian behavior in this specific Iranian case. There are more effective ways to bring about their cooperation.

The United States can convince the Chinese and Russians that the costs of arming Iran with nuclear or chemical weapons, or increasing Iranian missile capabilities, exceed the economic return resulting from the export of such items. I am confident that the United States can make persuasive arguments that will demonstrate to the Chinese and Russians that their futures are brighter if they are part of an international consensus resisting the development of WMD in Iran. In this environment, the United States can engage the Russians and Chinese in improving their nonproliferation export control systems and in complying with the international export control regimes. Much has been accomplished with Russia in recent years. More remains to be done. Much more needs to be done with China. In a policy of engagement and enlargement, U.S. pressure and encouragement will do more to tighten Chinese and Russian nonproliferation export controls than any sanctions are likely to do.

In conclusion, I believe the United States should continue to lead and build an international consensus restraining WMD transfers to Iran. It should encourage Chinese and Russian participation in this consensus and responsibility in their behavior. Finally, it should work with China, Russia, and other potential proliferants to build effective national export control systems and multilateral regimes that will ensure that proliferation related transfers do not take place.


1 There is, of course, a time and place for sanctions. The U.S. government has sanctioned Iran twice for missile-related imports. It has also sanctioned entities providing assistance to Iran's chemical weapons program. Focused sanctions can complement U.S. nonproliferation policy, but sanctions on Russia and China should not be viewed as a unilateral substitute for what can be far more effective national and multilateral policies.