A few days ago, I was on a television show arguing there was nothing wrong with ex-President Jimmy Carter visiting Cuba, and the host kept exclaiming, “But they’re making biological weapons, they’re making biological weapons.” Credit the Bush administration with a job well done–propaganda job, that is.
Several days before Carter’s trip, John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, “The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort” and has “provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states.”
Those certainly are fighting words. If Cuba is indeed developing such weaponry and sharing it with the “axis of evil,” that would make it a target in George W. Bush’s war on terrorism. After all, why bother first with Iraq, if a rogue-sympathizer is producing weapons of mass destruction 90 miles from Miami? Such a threat should compel immediate attention.
But the Bush administration provided no evidence. When President John Kennedy took a stand against Cuba for accepting Soviet nuclear missiles in 1962, he produced overhead reconnaissance photos showing the missile bases. Bolton merely says the United States “believes” Cuba is developing these weapons. The issue of “dual-use” items (which can be used for weapon or non-weapon purposes) is often a slippery matter. Trucks, to be simple about it, can carry bombs or humanitarian relief. Incubators can cook up life-saving vaccines or deadly germs.
Cuban defector Jose de la Fuente, who was director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana, has said Cuba sold sophisticated biotechnology to Iran that could be used to treat heart attacks and viral diseases and develop vaccines. And he has been concerned Iran could try to use these biotechnologies to develop weapons, But, according to the Miami Herald, de la Fuente also said that he had no cause to question the Cubans’ intent in this transaction and could not say the technology sold had been used for anything other than medical purposes.
When the Bush administration hurls such an explosive charge, it should offer proof, or, at least, further explanation. How advanced is any Cuban bioweapons program? Is it offensive, rather than defensive, in nature? (Who knows where the still-at-large American anthrax culprit will strike next?) What “dual-use” technology sales pose problems? Does the Bush administration know more than de la Fuente?
The fact that it was Bolton who unleashed this allegation does not inspire confidence. He is the conservative mole in Colin Powell’s otherwise not-so-rightwing State Department. He recently led the effort to have the administration renounce the United States’ endorsement of the International Criminal Court. Earlier this year, he single-handedly tried to change a cornerstone of US nonproliferation policy by declaring the administration no longer believed it was important to state that the United States, in general, would not use nuclear weapons against nations that do not possess such weapons. A State Department spokesman had to rush to the rescue and assert that Bolton had not really said what he said. [See Capital Games: “Bush’s New Nuclear Weapons Plan: A Shot at Nonproliferation”. And to learn how Bolton recently escaped a scandal, see Capital Games: “Taiwangate: A Fallout-Free Scandal”.]