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A New Paradigm: Shattering Obsolete Thinking on Arms Control and Nonproliferation
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Christopher A. Ford

Challenging conventional thinking is rarely popular, even or perhaps especially when it is most needed. So it has been with the Bush administration’s approach to arms control and nonproliferation issues. Determined to develop new approaches in arms control, nonproliferation, and strategic policy to deal with the new realities of a post-Cold War era, the administration found itself under fire from those determined to uphold traditional and often outmoded ways of thinking about these matters. Many of its critics doubtless now look forward to the Bush administration’s departure.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that the administration’s nonproliferation innovations are likely to remain valuable components of the next president’s toolkit no matter who wins this year’s election. Moreover, the Bush administration’s efforts to move arms control and strategic policy emphatically into new territory, focused on 21st-century threats and opportunities rather than reflexively pursuing older agendas, will likely stand the test of time better than its critics can today imagine.

Reconceiving a Post-Cold War World

Early in the administration, its willingness to rethink the conventional wisdom of the arms control community, particularly that community’s reliance on the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and fear of missile defenses, led to dramatic and controversial results: withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; agreement with Russia on the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, aka the Moscow Treaty); and firm moves away from Russia-centric strategic planning. There is irony, of course, in the fact that it took a hawkish Republican administration finally to make the U.S. government as uncomfortable with the balance-of-terror policies of MAD as the arms control left and the disarmament community had been since the 1950s.

In a 21st-century context in which the United States no longer engaged in a strategic face-off against a rival geopolitical bloc devoted to world domination, U.S. officials felt it possible and desirable to build the U.S. strategic posture increasingly on a mix of growing defensive and reduced offensive capabilities, instead of forswearing strategic defenses and relying fatalistically on the restraint presumed to be generated by the prospect of utter nuclear catastrophe. U.S. officials no longer saw the potential for existential threats to the United States solely through a bipolar prism, and they wished to pursue the potential for a convergence of interests with their former rival and to deal more forthrightly with the emerging threats. There might be little immediate chance to evolve to a fully post-nuclear-weapon relationship, but U.S.-Russian strategic relations could nonetheless become much more “normal.” This normal future, it was felt, should include strategic missile defenses and a growing reorientation of each nuclear superpower’s strategic focus toward threats that did not come from the other.

Significantly, this focus on defenses did not mean that the administration expected to bulletproof itself against Russian nuclear attack, for even in the context of post-Cold War force reductions, reliable defenses always seemed highly improbable against the kinds of assault that Russia could mount. Rather, it meant that Washington had decided to end its monomaniacal strategic policy focus on a single superpower adversary. Especially for an administration staffed by senior officials painfully aware of the potential spread of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—a threat emphasized, for instance, in the 1998 report of a commission headed by future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld[1]—it was important to improve the U.S. defensive posture. It was a testament to the end of the Cold War nuclear arms race that strategic relations with Moscow were no longer the driver for U.S. policy and that officials in Washington now made fighting such proliferation threats the centerpiece of their strategic approach. Defenses against relatively small-scale missile threats thus rapidly emerged as a cornerstone of administration policy.

The Bush administration also brought into office a profound skepticism about traditional arms control negotiations, which officials tended to feel were anachronisms predicated on a tense and competitive Cold War stalemate that no longer existed. In a 21st-century context, they felt, the “usual” sort of negotiations with Russia might actually have counterproductive effects, such as by encouraging a more adversarial relationship than strategic circumstances actually warranted and by giving each side incentives not to reduce strategic forces except as a result of rigid, slow, and painfully negotiated quid pro quo bargaining. Instead, in keeping with its appreciation of the end of the nuclear arms race, the administration embraced the idea of unilateral reductions to a level as low as possible consistent with enduring national security and alliance commitments. Because Russia at the time also wished, for its own reasons, to reduce its forces further, it was possible for the administration to codify parallel U.S. and Russian reductions in the Moscow Treaty.

In addition to Moscow Treaty cuts in deployed warheads and to delivery system reductions prescribed by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) signed by President George H.W. Bush, the Bush administration moved rapidly ahead with further unilateral reductions in the U.S. arsenal. Many tons of fissile material have been removed from U.S. weapons programs, and the United States has been implementing a program of actual warhead dismantlement that has in fact been greatly accelerated since President George W. Bush’s decision in 2004 to cut the size of the overall U.S. stockpile nearly in half by 2012. [2] Indeed, with the United States having met this milestone remarkably early in only 2007, Bush decided to reduce warhead numbers still further, by an additional 15 percent from what had been planned for 2012. When these additional dismantlements have been completed, the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be less than one-quarter of its size at the end of the Cold War and at its smallest size since the Eisenhower administration.[3]

In keeping with its nontraditional approach to arms control and informed by the insight that the key to continued progress is ensuring mutual understanding of the degree to which post-Cold War U.S.-Russian relations are not based on nuclear weapons competition, the Bush administration has also been pursuing the establishment of a legally binding transparency and confidence-building regime with Russia to replace START when that treaty expires in 2009.[4]

The movement of U.S. thinking into emphatically post-Cold War territory has not been without its problems. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates apparently recently felt it necessary, for instance, to remove the top leadership of the Air Force after a couple of embarrassing incidents of incompetence and inattention suggested that the military needed to be reminded to take its traditional nuclear weapons responsibilities more seriously.[5] On the whole, however, the Bush administration deserves credit for a dramatic shift away from late-20th-century nuclear arms competition and a wholesale reorientation of strategic policy into a post-arms race world. The United States had not been pursuing a competitive nuclear policy with Russia since the end of the Cold War, but until the Bush administration, U.S. strategic policy had continued along lines familiar since before the collapse of the Soviet Union: for example, the pursuit of reductions principally through traditional arms control negotiations such as START II and III, coupled with an emphasis on maintaining a fundamentally defenseless nuclear posture pursuant to the ABM Treaty. There is thus a sad irony in the criticism Bush policy elicited from an arms control community that now seemed unable to take “yes” for an answer when faced with a U.S. president interested not only in moving Russia off center stage as the focus of strategic threat planning and making the two powers’ mutual homicide pact increasingly a thing of the past, but also in moving unilaterally in that direction.[6]

Nonproliferation Innovation

In place of a focus on strategic competition with Russia, the administration increasingly emphasized the need to meet emerging proliferation threats, moving proliferation issues to the center of U.S. strategic policy. Moreover, the Bush team was quite flexible and indeed innovative in its focus on nonproliferation. It employed subtle and secret trilateral diplomacy to arrange Libya’s abandonment of its WMD programs and used the global forum of the UN Security Council to establish new worldwide benchmarks for nonproliferation rectitude with the passage of Resolution 1540. It worked through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to press Iran to comply with its nonproliferation obligations after Tehran’s secret nuclear effort was publicly revealed in August 2002. After that multilateral effort was undermined by European unilateralism in late 2003, when three European foreign ministers cut a concessionary side deal with Iran,[7] Washington worked hard to keep the issue of Iranian nuclear defiance moving forward in the IAEA and then the Security Council. Although the North Korean nuclear situation deteriorated sharply as a result of a confrontation over the U.S. discovery of evidence of a clandestine uranium-enrichment program,[8] the Bush administration has shown dogged determination, although not particularly impressive results, in seeking to resolve things through a novel regional forum, the six-party process, created for the purpose.

The administration also did not show any fetishistic attachment to formal instruments or “official” multilateral fora for their own sake. Rather, matters were addressed from the perspective of how the United States could contribute on as many fronts as possible to the nonproliferation regime, a term that the Bush administration interpreted in the broadest sense, comprising not simply a collection of formal institutions and treaties, but rather the aggregated panoply of practices and policies followed by the various members of the international community in order to reduce proliferation threats.[9] The U.S.-founded Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), for instance, was quite an informal institution, technically nothing more than a shifting, ad hoc group of countries generally subscribing to a set of broad nonproliferation principles and willing to cooperate to varying degrees in interdicting shipments that might contribute to WMD programs around the world. Yet, its quiet successes, most of which cannot be discussed openly because they involve discreet and sensitive cooperation by international partners, often entirely within one country’s domestic jurisdiction, are no less real for the PSI’s protean informality. Resolution 1540, in turn, focuses not on international behavior at all, but rather aims to set common rules for how countries should order their own laws and practices in order to prevent WMD proliferation.

These various efforts were to reinforce, rather than replace, more conventional nonproliferation institutions and mechanisms such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The administration may perhaps be faulted for its occasional coldness toward multilateral instruments such as the NPT review process and the Conference on Disarmament (CD), however understandable such sentiment was in light of the hyperbolic anti-American rhetoric and sometimes surreally insular debates there. Nevertheless, this failure was largely remedied in the Bush administration’s later years, as ways were found to engage constructively with foreign counterparts in these fora without sacrificing substance or principle, and in a fashion intended to contribute to helping the conventional wisdom of the arms control community catch up with modern realities. At the CD, moreover, the administration has mounted a sustained push for a draft fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), a long-standing priority of the arms control community, even if many of its members are uncomfortable with the U.S. conclusion that no achievable FMCT could really be verified. In the course of this effort, it has become increasingly evident, even to critics of U.S. policy, that blame for the CD’s continuing dysfunction cannot be laid at Washington’s door.[10]

One of the reasons that Bush administration strategic and arms control policy proved so controversial with arms controllers was precisely the mismatch between traditional assumptions prioritizing the management of competitive U.S.-Russian dynamics and the administration’s movement into a new paradigm. The administration, for instance, was keen to develop improved ballistic missile defenses; articulated a general use-of-force doctrine against WMD threats that left open the option of pre-emption; deflected calls for negative security assurances [11] and regional nuclear-weapon-free-zone protocols out of concern for the ways in which they might, if in fact believed or followed, undercut U.S. deterrence of WMD use by rogue regimes; pursued the development of a non-nuclear payload for submarine-launched ballistic missiles in order to provide a rapid global strike capability against fleeting or time-sensitive targets, such as mobile missiles or terrorist cell meetings; and at one point considered the development of nuclear weapons optimized for defeating deep underground facilities of the sort beloved by proliferators worried about U.S. precision-guided conventional munitions. Such efforts made good sense from a thoroughly post-Cold War perspective of prioritizing proliferation threats, but they were poorly explained to the public, Congress, and foreign governments; set teeth on edge in the arms control community; and alarmed those who still saw strategic policy through the prism of competitive dynamics vis-à-vis Russia.[12]

All this, along with the administration’s disinterest in resubmitting for ratification the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) rejected by the Senate 13 months prior to Bush’s inauguration, its effort to develop a “reliable replacement warhead” (RRW), and its program to modernize some aspects of (while in fact reducing in size) the U.S. nuclear weapons development complex, led to widespread if fatuous accusations that Washington wished to wage some kind of new arms race by seeking strategic superiority vis-à-vis Russia and China. In fact, if test-ban verification concerns could be overcome, the RRW program might conceivably open the door to U.S. ratification of the CTBT by undercutting worries that the U.S. arsenal could not reliably be maintained over time without at least the option of underground testing.[13] This point, however, was lost in critics’ reflexive alarm at the taboo issue of developing “new” nuclear weapons. Similarly, the fact that infrastructure “transformation” was necessary in order to bring U.S. warhead levels even lower by eliminating the need to hedge against possible future threats by maintaining warheads in existence in excess of current needs, and that such transformation would also greatly shrink the size of the U.S. infrastructure was ignored or felt irrelevant. For too many critics, particularly those in diplomatic fora, not departing from the conventional wisdom was a higher priority than adapting to 21st-century circumstances or apparently even than laying a realistic foundation for further reductions.

Indeed, administration officials in 2007 publicly raised the idea that a “countervailing reconstitution” capability rooted in the development of a highly “responsive” nuclear weapons infrastructure might help provide a foundation for the eventual achievement of nuclear disarmament.[14] The retention of such a capability by today’s NPT nuclear-weapon states might help make far more feasible their ultimate decision to go to “zero” because, especially when coupled with robust global defenses against potential WMD delivery systems, it would provide them with some insurance against attempted breakout from a disarmament regime by some other party. Otherwise, the requirements for verification inerrancy and compliance enforcement reliability would have to be far more stringent, making the achievement of zero even more difficult and unlikely.

Many critics appear to have hoped and anticipated that, being foreclosed by treaties halting qualitative and quantitative weapon modernization, the nuclear-weapon states would idly sit by while their nuclear stockpiles atrophied. These hopes proved illusory, however, for possessor states will hardly agree to eliminate these weapons before they believe the global security environment allows them to do so without imperiling their vital interests. Attachment to those vain hopes, however, seems to have blinded many critics to ways in which nuclear arsenal reductions and, conceivably, something very much like zero might be achieved in ways consistent with nuclear-weapon states’ perceived security interests. The Bush administration deserves but is seldom given credit for advancing this discourse and encouraging greater seriousness and realism in such debates.

Disarmament Issues

U.S. administrations of all political stripes have received generally poor reviews from much of the arms control community on nuclear disarmament. Although the Bush administration has received more criticism than its predecessor for some of the reasons suggested above, in truth probably no U.S. administration has felt disarmament to be a particularly realistic possibility, at least not since Western enthusiasm for international control of all “dangerous” aspects of nuclear energy began to sour during the early Eisenhower administration in the face of Soviet intransigence and a growing recognition of the challenges of verifying a ban on nuclear weapons.[15]

If anything, the Bush administration has been unusually honest and forthright about the issue. Especially during the past two years, U.S. officials have spoken plainly about Washington’s continued commitment to the disarmament goals embodied in Article VI and the preamble to the NPT and about how very difficult it would be to achieve these goals. Furthermore, they have not minced words about the importance of what historian E. H. Carr might have called “the factor of power” in nuclear disarmament planning: the need to approach discussions with an eye to whether it can be made an attractive and sustainable policy choice for real-world decision-makers.

After all, would-be proliferators are not likely to forgo pursuing the strategic coup of acquiring nuclear weaponry in a disarmed world, and current possessors will not eschew rearmament if this occurs, just because a treaty has been signed and some moral high ground seized. Serious disarmament debates thus need to figure out how to structure all participants’ balance of interests and incentives so that disarmament is sustainable. As one seminal nuclear strategist put it decades ago, “It is the hallmark of the amateur and dilettante that he has almost no interest in how to get to his particular utopia.”[16]

Disarmament is a job that requires more realism than idealism, and the famously idealistic disarmament community has responded only slowly to calls for a more level-headed debate. [17] I am by no means a disinterested observer, but in my view, the Bush administration was far more intellectually agile and open-minded in these regards than its critics. It is difficult to predict what will come of today’s bubbling disarmament debates, but if anything ever is to be possible, it will presumably only come about through the kind of sober, realistic discussions for which the Bush administration has repeatedly called.

Enrichment and Reprocessing

The Bush administration deserves mixed grades for conceptual boldness and principled rectitude in one arena of many shopworn assumptions: concerns about nuclear technology “rights.” From early 2004, the administration took a strong stand against the further spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology to “any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.”[18] It realized that a world in which everyone has this sensitive technology is one in which everyone has the option of building a nuclear weapon; since the dawn of the nuclear age, availability of fissile material has been the principal challenge and pacing element for a nuclear weapons program.

The administration was quite right to seek to limit the further spread of this technology and has worked admirably hard, albeit with only limited success to date, to secure international agreement on such a principle. Washington has worked, for example, to promote new approaches to reliable nuclear fuel supply, to obviate any legitimate need for these technologies for producing reactor fuel, and is converting up to 17.4 tons of its own highly enriched uranium into a low-enriched fuel reserve in case a future backup mechanism is unable to provide an alternate supplier. As a result of a resistance from a disappointingly large number of states within the consensus-driven Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), including opposition from countries that are otherwise serious about nonproliferation (Canada) or at least claim to be (South Africa), the administration was recently forced to abandon a hard-fought effort flatly to prohibit further enrichment and reprocessing transfers, but it is no discredit to U.S. diplomats that they spent four years trying to do the right thing.

Nevertheless, the administration has seemed to lack the courage of its convictions when it comes to challenging the surprisingly widely held belief that Article IV of the NPT gives countries such as Iran some kind of right to enrichment and reprocessing technology. In its awkward silence on this subject, Washington has in effect ceded the intellectual field to the proliferators. Iran has not been shy, for example, in advancing amusingly tendentious legal arguments in NPT fora, but however shallow these appear to real attorneys, in the absence of clear rebutting arguments, too many readers, especially among governments in the Nonaligned Movement,[19] will take them more seriously than they deserve.

Some of the U.S. reluctance to engage on these issues is tactical, rooted in a desire to avoid being seen as trying to deny other countries’ rights. [20] Yet, instead of forcing the “everyone can have it” partisans to explain precisely why Article IV must be read to subvert both common sense and the core nonproliferation provisions of the treaty, advocates of stopping the spread of sensitive technology have been left on the diplomatic and seemingly legal defensive, having been assumed to concede that there indeed exist Article IV enrichment and reprocessing rights capable of being thus denied. If the United States manages to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons effort but ends up conceding that everyone in the world can have the capability to produce fissile material so long merely as the IAEA is able periodically to send inspectors, Washington will have won the battle but in the longer run will lose the war against nuclear weapons proliferation.


One of the centerpieces of Bush administration foreign policy during the second term has been the strategic partnership with India, purchased at the price of successful U.S. diplomatic efforts to win for New Delhi an agreed exception to the usual NSG rules of prohibiting transfers of nuclear technology to states lacking full-scope IAEA safeguards. Given India’s portentous geopolitical position—the world’s largest democracy sandwiched between a rising and notably undemocratic China and a worryingly unstable and radicalized Muslim world—there are enormous strategic benefits to the United States from this relationship. The arms control and nonproliferation community, however, generally regards the India deal as a horror, a cynical move of U.S. realpolitik that undermines the nonproliferation regime by ending India’s nonproliferation “isolation” and effectively rewarding it for developing nuclear weapons.

Let me be clear: had it been up to me, I doubt I would have made the same decision. At the very least, I would have looked longer and harder for some kind of non-nuclear payoff for New Delhi. The U.S.-Indian deal has indeed complicated our nonproliferation diplomacy, for whether it deserves to be or not, it is clearly widely regarded as a dangerous blow to the nonproliferation regime. Yet, the administration has in no way gotten a fair hearing for its arguments that the India policy has some nonproliferation benefits. One should remember that there never seems to have been more than the proverbial snowball’s chance that India would actually agree to dismantle its weapons program, nor even much chance of some sort of freeze absent Pakistani reciprocity and some kind of verification scheme acceptable to both South Asian nuclear rivals. The initiative thus needs to be assessed not against an ideal outcome but rather against the other available option: continuing to watch from afar as India operates and even expands its nuclear power industry, entirely outside the system of international safeguards and in ways closely intertwined with military programs.
Viewed in this context, the India deal therefore seems somewhat less horrible. India is now to separate the peaceful aspects of its nuclear industry from the military ones, place its peaceful nuclear sector fully under IAEA safeguards for the first time, and improve its export controls to help prevent unauthorized nuclear technology transfers. The military sector would be for the first time cut off from its long-standing relationship with other parts of India’s nuclear industry and would over time likely become an increasingly small and isolated proportion of the overall nuclear complex. U.S. officials have also made it clear that should India test another nuclear weapon, it should expect cooperation to end, despite Indian claims to the contrary. (It is also worth remembering that the deal is hugely controversial in India and widely believed to represent a capitulation by New Delhi; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh narrowly avoided the collapse of his fragile coalition government on this account.[21])

How this weighs out against the nonproliferation costs is admittedly a close call. It must be conceded that the deal’s impact on multilateral diplomacy has been unhelpful. Nevertheless, any lessons that might be taught to future would-be proliferators themselves by the highly idiosyncratic situation of a country that exploded its first nuclear device in 1974, before the NSG even existed, are likely to be small in comparison with the messages sent by how the international community succeeds or fails in handling the nuclear provocations of Iran and North Korea. All in all, the jury is still out on the net impact of the India deal.

The Legacy of Iraq

Finally, in discussing the Bush administration’s arms control and nonproliferation legacy, one cannot avoid discussing the debacle of the bungled assessments by the U.S. intelligence community of prewar Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the fateful decision to invade Iraq that Bush could hardly have made without these flawed conclusions. Strictly speaking, of course, one cannot much blame the Bush administration itself for the misfortune of actually believing the mistaken analyses presented by its own intelligence professionals. The United States, as a whole, acted dramatically on mistaken conclusions, but the Bush administration cannot fairly be faulted for analytical errors by intelligence bureaucrats that began to develop years before Bush took office. [22] That excuse, however, makes the resulting impact on U.S. nonproliferation policy no less significant. To my eye, the Iraqi situation has had three negative effects on nonproliferation policy.

First, the flawed intelligence community assessments of Iraq have undermined U.S. credibility when it comes to mobilizing other countries in support of compliance enforcement against proliferators. It is likely that some degree of U.S. concern about any specific future proliferator will be based on intelligence information that cannot be shared publicly. The United States therefore sometimes will have no option but to say “trust me” when trying to mobilize support against emerging threats. In the wake of Iraq, however, its ability to do this has been greatly reduced, and the proliferators have been handed helpful tools of political counter-mobilization in the form of accusations, however untrue they might be, that “this is just another Iraq.”
Second, the cost of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in blood and treasure and the domestic and international controversy it has engendered have somewhat reduced the credibility of military action against future proliferators. Sadly, this need not have been the case. There was a time early in the U.S. occupation when the Iraq invasion made the threat of military counterproliferation extremely credible. This produced notable nonproliferation benefits and was surely a critical factor both in catalyzing Libya’s final decision to eliminate its WMD programs in 2003 and in what the U.S. intelligence community now says was Iran’s decision that year to halt work at least on those aspects of its nuclear weapons program that had not yet been revealed in the media. As Iraq came to be seen less as a quick victory and more as an ugly and unpopular quagmire, however, this valuable threat credibility eroded. Today, although the president’s belated surge of troops into Iraq has helped improve the situation there considerably, nonproliferation diplomats still labor under the burden of widespread assumptions elsewhere in the world that the U.S. military option remains on the table only in a nominal sense.

Third, the pain and controversy of Iraq seem to have created a situation in which some would-be diplomatic or military partners have acquired a neuralgia about armed compliance enforcement even when there is a great and indisputable proliferation threat. Such feelings obviously do not bode well for the international community’s ability to deter future would-be proliferators from following the example of North Korea or Iran in developing nuclear weapons in violation of their nonproliferation obligations.


It is too early to judge with any finality the Bush administration’s arms control and nonproliferation legacy. In my view, however, any reputable assessment must acknowledge and discuss its conceptual innovations on their own terms. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the administration’s approach and whatever one thinks of the specific details of its execution on a case-by-case basis, it is inadequate simply to indict the administration for failing to hew to the long-established conventional wisdom of arms control paradigms rooted in the Cold War. It is the responsibility of serious leaders to adapt their remedies to evolving global security problems, keeping old formulae where they remain appropriate to modern circumstances but fearlessly jettisoning them where they do not. The Bush administration deserves a fairer hearing in these regards than it has gotten from the arms control community. Sooner or later, this community will itself have to struggle with how to adapt its conceptual paradigms to the 21st century. When it does, whatever course they end up taking, the arms controllers will owe the Bush administration much for having opened the debate. ACT

Christopher A. Ford served as U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation and as a principal deputy assistant secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. Currently, Ford is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Technology and Global Security at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

Updated online November 5, 2008.


1. Real-world threats have fortunately matured less quickly than feared by the Rumsfeld Commission. Nevertheless, after test-firing long-range Taepo Dong missiles several years ago, North Korea is now reported to be testing a rocket engine for missiles with a range of almost 7,000 kilometers (4,300 miles), and Iran has developed a multistage booster with which it is attempting satellite launches. See “Iranian Space Adventures,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, October 20, 2008, p. 15; “North Korea Tests Rocket Engine,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 22, 2008, p. 26. Moreover, Israeli and other sources have claimed that North Korea provided Iran with 2,500-kilometer-range BM-25 ballistic missiles, derived from the Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile, lending some credence to the commission’s warnings about the emergence of a collaborative missile proliferation industry. See David Fickling, “Iran Has Bought Long-Range Missiles, Says Israel,” Guardian.co.uk, April 27, 2006, www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/apr/27/iran.israel; “The Iranian Missile Threat,” Washington Times, November 10, 2006. Coupled with reports of North Korean technology swaps of ballistic missile know-how for uranium enrichment centrifuges from Pakistan, such a prospect would indeed be alarming. See “Pakistan and North Korea: Dangerous Counter-Trades,” IISS Strategic Comments, Vol. 8, No. 9 (November 2002).
2. For fiscal year 2007, for instance, the administration set a target of increasing the dismantlement rate by 49 percent, but in fact achieved a remarkable 146 percent increase. See National Nuclear Security Administration, “Nuclear Weapons Dismantlement Rate Up 146 Percent,” October 1, 2007 (press release).
3. See Christopher Ford, “Nuclear Disarmament Progress and Challenges in the Post-Cold War World” (remarks to the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, April 30, 2008), http://geneva.usmission.gov/CD/updates/0430USstatementNPT.html (U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation).
4. See “Remarks by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov,” March 18, 2008, www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2008/03/102362.htm; Christopher Ford, “A Work Plan for the 2010 Review Cycle: Coping With Challenges Facing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty” (opening remarks to the 2007 Preparatory Committee Meeting of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, April 30, 2007), www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/rm/84044.htm.
5. See Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel, “Defense Secretary Robert Gates Fires Air Force’s Top 2 Officials,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2008.
6. Just as it perhaps required a conservative anti-Communist such as President Richard Nixon to open the door to a new relationship with China in the interest of broader U.S. strategic goals, it may be that only a president such as Bush could have succeeded with such innovative unilateralism in the arms control arena.
7. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the so-called EU-3) reached a deal with Iran whereby Tehran would suspend its enrichment program temporarily, in return for which the Europeans apparently agreed to derail U.S. efforts to report the issue from the IAEA to the Security Council. See “Statement by the Iranian Government and Visiting EU Foreign Ministers,” October 21, 2003, www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/statement_iran21102003.shtml; Hassan Rohani [Hasan Rowhani], “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA Concerning the Nuclear Dossier,” Tehran Rahbord, September 30, 2005, pp. 7-38 (translation from Farsi by FBIS, #IAP20060113336001) (recounting EU-3’s quid pro quo). This agreement and a written successor arrangement in 2004 were not honored by Iran, but a Security Council report was successfully delayed for years. See IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2004/34 (June 1, 2004), p. 40; IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2004/60 (September 1, 2004), pp. 7, 19, 51-53; IAEA Information Circular, “Communication Dated 26 November 2004 Received From the Permanent Representatives of France, Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the United Kingdom Concerning the Agreement Signed in Paris on 15 November 2004,” INFCIRC/637 (November 26, 2004); Mehdi Mohammadi, “Nuclear Case From Beginning to End in Interview With Dr. Hasan Rowhani (Part 1): We Are Testing Europe,” Tehran Keyhan, July 26, 2005, www.ifpa.org/pdf/Iran_102307/Rowhani_Interview.pdf (bragging about success of Iranian tactics with EU-3).
8. In October 2002, U.S. officials presented officials in Pyongyang with information obtained from intelligence sources about a clandestine uranium-enrichment effort in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework. North Korean First Vice Minister Kang Sok Ju acknowledged that such a program existed, although North Korean officials have subsequently resumed denying it. Subsequently, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf confirmed that renegade Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had provided North Korea with uranium-enrichment centrifuges, while U.S. officials reported that evidence obtained in dismantling Libya’s WMD programs suggested North Korea as the origin of uranium hexafluoride provided by the Khan network to Libya for the development of nuclear weapons. (This would indicate the existence of a previously unsuspected uranium-conversion facility in North Korea, a source of feedstock for gas centrifuge enrichment.) See generally U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” August 2005, pp. 87-92, www.state.gov/documents/organization/52113.pdf; Anthony Faiola, “N. Korea Declares Itself a Nuclear Power,” The Washington Post, February 10, 2005, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12836-2005Feb10.html; “Khan ‘Gave N. Korea Centrifuges,’” BBC News, August 24, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4180286.stm; “Pakistan and North Korea: Dangerous Counter-Trades,” IISS Strategic Comments, Vol. 8, No. 9 (November 2002).
9. Administration officials have also quite properly reminded the arms control and disarmament community diplomatic counterparts in nonproliferation fora of the role that the U.S. nuclear umbrella (“extended [nuclear] deterrence”) has played over the years in preventing nuclear weapons proliferation, helping reassure allies that their fundamental security needs can be met through their alliance relationship with Washington rather than through the pursuit of an independent nuclear deterrent.
10. Rather than carping about U.S. skepticism on verification, an issue that does not preclude either negotiating or concluding an FMCT, arms control devotees wishing ever to see such a treaty might more usefully address their attention to Pakistan and China, which have blocked the commencement of negotiations.
11. In diplomatic parlance, nuclear negative security assurances are promises not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against someone; positive security assurances are promises of assistance in the event that a third party does so. It is far from clear today that any country particularly fears nuclear weapons threats or use by one of the five nuclear-weapon states recognized by the NPT, as opposed to threats or use by regimes such as North Korea or Iran or by terrorists, but it remains fashionable in NPT diplomatic circles to call for negative security assurances from the five nuclear-weapon states. The nuclear-weapon-state protocols to regional nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties customarily include what is in effect a legally binding negative security assurance. See, for example, Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), Additional Protocol II, Art. 3.
12. Interestingly, except for missile defense installations in Europe, these developments did not seem to alarm the Russians themselves very much. Even with regard to “third site” missile defenses in Europe, moreover, Russia’s public indignation, even if now perhaps internalized into something akin to sincerity, appears to have been born in contrivance and opportunism. In 2005-2006, I was reassured by Russian diplomats in official meetings that Russia fully understood that third-site plans posed no meaningful threat to Moscow’s strategic deterrent and that Russia would not object as long as the United States did not “surprise” Russia with some sudden deployment.
13. The Bush administration has not publicly voiced this idea, presumably in part because concerns about testing were only one of the reasons CTBT ratification died in the U.S. Senate in 1999. The other main public issue was over verifiability and whether a CTBT-compliant United States would risk strategic surprise from a sophisticated violator conducting small-scale weapons tests in ways designed to evade detection. Nevertheless, CTBT ratification is far more easily imaginable in the context of the RRW program providing a reliable strategic deterrent in a nontesting environment, even though it must always be remembered that U.S. ratification alone will hardly result in the CTBT actually entering into force. Pursuant to CTBT Article XIV, it requires ratification by all countries listed in an annex to the treaty. Because the requisite countries include China, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan—none of whom have ratified either—one suspects that regardless of U.S. ratification, the world will have to wait a long time if it is ever to see a CTBT.
14. See “Achieving and Sustaining Nuclear Weapons Elimination,” U.S. presentation, Annecy, France, March 17, 2007, www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/other/81943.htm.
15. See “Statement by President Eisenhower at the Geneva Conference of Heads of Government: Aerial Inspection and Exchange of Military Blueprints,” July 21, 1955, in U.S. Department of State, Documents on Disarmament: 1945-1959, Volume I (Washington, D.C.: Department of State Historical Office, 1960); “Statement by the British Foreign Secretary (Macmillan) at the Geneva Meeting of the Foreign Ministers,” November 10, 1955, in U.S. Department of State, Documents on Disarmament: 1945-1959, Volume I (Washington, D.C.: Department of State Historical Office, 1960).
16. Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960), p. 7.
17. Disarmament advocates also need to do better at persuading relevant players that eliminating nuclear weapons would not simply, in the words of one foreign diplomat of my acquaintance, “make the world safe again for large-scale conventional war.”
18. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “President Announces New Measures to Counter the Threat of WMD,” February 11, 2004.
19. The Nonaligned Movement (NAM) is a loose, informal association of countries, principally in the developing world, that has existed since 1961. During the Cold War, as its name suggests, the NAM sought to forge an identity and agenda distinct from the superpower-dominated camps, although in practice it was associated principally with opposition to Western “imperialism” and included prominent members such as Cuba, which were anything but nonaligned with regard to Cold War disputes. Today, the NAM is most visible on arms control-related issues as an opponent of U.S. policy, generally seeming to find Russia’s increased reliance upon nuclear weapons, China’s continuing if slow strategic build-up, and both countries’ ongoing strategic modernization less worthy of critical comment than U.S. efforts such as the reliable replacement warhead undertaken in connection with avoiding nuclear tests and facilitating further reductions. Iran hosted the NAM’s 15th Ministerial Summit in Tehran in 2007, and at the time of writing, Cuba chairs the movement.
20. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, for instance, has said it is “unproductive often to talk in terms of rights.” See Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, press briefing, February 6, 2006, www.energy.gov/news/3171.htm.
21. See Rama Lakshmi, “Indian Leader Rescues Nuclear Deal With U.S.,” The Washington Post, July 5, 2008, p. A11.
22. U.S. intelligence appears to have been well off the mark in overestimating Iraq’s WMD capabilities since the late 1990s under President Bill Clinton. Bush’s situation in acting dramatically on the even more detailed and alarming assessments presented him by an intelligence bureaucracy run by Clinton administration holdover George Tenet might perhaps be compared to one in which a police officer encounters a violent repeat offender acting threateningly in a dark alley. If the suspect pulls a gun-like object out of his pocket and points it at the officer, the latter is quite justified in opening fire himself, even if it turns out later that the object was not actually a weapon. All one can be expected to do is to act reasonably based on available information, and the U.S. intelligence community provided ample, if mistaken, information indicating that Iraq presented a notable threat. (How well the United States initially planned and executed its Iraqi operation, of course, is a separate question and one to which the answers may be less flattering, though this is best addressed elsewhere.)

Posted: November 3, 2008