Focus editorials from Arms Control Today.
Seven months after Israeli Air Force jets bombed a remote facility near al-Kibar in Syria, the United States released intelligence information April 24 suggesting that the site housed a nuclear reactor for a military program being built with assistance from North Korea. The assessment comes as Pyongyang and Washington have reached a tentative agreement on a declaration of North Korea's nuclear program, an issue which has stalled talks aimed at verifiably denuclearizing North Korea.
The charges of a Syrian-North Korean nuclear connection raise new and troubling questions about Pyongyang's past proliferation behavior and Damascus' intentions, which must be fully investigated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Yet, it would be a grave mistake to allow it to derail the ongoing diplomatic process that has led to the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and still provides important, if limited, leverage to halt further North Korean proliferation activities. (Continue)
For nearly 40 years, American presidents have expressed their intention to fulfill the U.S. obligation under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue “effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
Still, few presidents have taken that goal seriously, and those who did missed historic opportunities to move closer toward a nuclear weapons-free world. Beginning with the next U.S. president, that can and must change, or else the global effort to reduce the risk of nuclear war, curb proliferation, and prevent catastrophic terrorism will falter. (Continue)
Two and a half years after President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced their proposed U.S.-Indian civil nuclear cooperation deal, the ill-conceived arrangement faces a highly uncertain future. In the next few weeks, decisions will likely be made at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that will determine whether the deal occurs at all and, if so, at what cost to the global nuclear nonproliferation system.
As soon as this month, the IAEA Board of Governors may be convened to consider a new India-specific safeguards agreement. If approved, the 44 other members of the NSG might then act on a U.S. proposal to exempt India from long-standing guidelines that require comprehensive IAEA safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply. If these bodies agree, the United States and other suppliers could finalize bilateral nuclear trade deals with India. (Continue)
Effecting change in Washington, and nuclear weapons policy in particular, is exceedingly difficult, requiring strong presidential leadership and a working bipartisan majority. Yet, recent congressional actions and trends will give the next occupant of the White House a rare opportunity to initiate sweeping changes in outdated U.S. nuclear weapons and arms control policies.
Congress in December struck down the Bush administration’s ill-conceived plan for new “replacement” nuclear warheads and an additional plutonium pit production facility to help build them. Although President George W. Bush may try to revive these projects and insist that the nuclear arsenal is as small as possible, there is growing support and a strong security rationale for fewer, not newer, nuclear weapons. (Continue)
A mere 20 years ago, massive numbers of conventional and nuclear forces stood poised for attack on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. NATO and Soviet bloc countries were finally able to draw down their arsenals, ease tensions, and build trust with verification through a series of landmark arms control agreements concluded in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Much attention has been focused on the impact of the treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear forces and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in solidifying the end of Cold War hostilities. No less important is the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which slashed NATO and Warsaw Pact armies and their equipment and effectively eliminated the possibility of a blitzkrieg-style land attack across the East-West frontier. (Continue)
Since Iran’s leaders two years ago rejected a multilateral package of incentives to halt their uranium-enrichment program, the United States and Europe have adopted a strategy of targeted sanctions. But this effort has failed to slow progress on Iran’s most worrisome nuclear projects.
Rather than engage Iran in a broad-based dialogue, the Bush administration has said it will only negotiate if Iran complies with UN Security Council calls to suspend its nuclear program. At the same time, the president and vice president have suggested that they may be willing to use military force to prevent Iran from “acquiring the knowledge to make nuclear weapons.” (Continue)
Two decades ago, President Ronald Reagan proposed a simple yet bold idea to reduce the risks of nuclear-armed ballistic missile attacks and “mutual assured destruction.” At the October 1986 Reykjavik summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan suggested that both countries eliminate all offensive ballistic missiles within 10 years while researching and developing strategic missile defenses.
Although Gorbachev rejected Reagan’s proposal, the exchange set the stage for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which scrapped all of their ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and eased Cold War hostilities. (Continue)
After months of contentious negotiations, U.S. and Indian officials recently concluded a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation that contradicts long-standing U.S. nuclear export policies and threatens the global nonproliferation order.
The proposed agreement endorses undefined “India-specific” safeguards and fails to explicitly state that renewed Indian testing would lead to a termination of U.S. nuclear trade. The pact promises India assurances of nuclear fuel supply and advance consent to carry out sensitive nuclear activities that are unprecedented and inconsistent with legislation approved by Congress last year. (Continue)
When President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty five years ago, he asserted that “my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not, in any way, undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Now, Bush’s latest proposal to site 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic has severely compounded the Kremlin’s anxieties about growing U.S. offensive and defensive strategic capabilities.
President Vladimir Putin’s response to missile defense deployments in two former Warsaw Pact states has been hostile and counterproductive: he has threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; to target the sites with Russian missiles; and to stop work on a Joint Data Exchange Center intended to help avoid an accidental or mistaken nuclear attack. (Continue)
Five years ago at the signing ceremony for the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), President George W. Bush claimed the agreement “liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility” between the United States and Russia. Think again. Although SORT calls for deeper reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads, to 1,700-2,200 each by 2012, it has not liquidated the weapons nor mutual nuclear suspicions.
The treaty’s emphasis on flexibility detracts from its predictability, lessening its value in building a more stable and secure U.S.-Russian relationship. Unlike the earlier Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) approach, SORT does not require the destruction of strategic delivery systems. SORT also allows each side to store nondeployed warheads. The treaty fails to establish new verification mechanisms, relying instead on those contained in START. (Continue)
The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) faces enough difficulties without the additional burden of preferential treatment for NPT holdout states. Nevertheless, the George W. Bush administration won congressional approval last December for an ill-conceived nuclear trade bill that would blow a hole in U.S. and global nonproliferation rules. The legislation would allow India-specific waivers to U.S. laws designed to prevent the misuse of U.S. nuclear technology to build weapons, as India did in the 1970s.
Yet, the deal is not done. The United States and India must still conclude a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation, and U.S. leaders must win the consensus approval for changes to the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), which restrict trade with states that do not accept comprehensive nuclear safeguards. (Continue)
Forty years ago this month, the Senate approved the Outer Space Treaty, which bars signatory states from placing into orbit any objects carrying nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Although it has helped protect space for peaceful uses by all countries, the treaty has not closed off all threats to the safety of military and civilian space assets and the pursuit of other types of space-based weapons.
For instance, some countries have developed offensive weapons capabilities that can shoot down satellites in orbit using ground-based ballistic missiles. The United States is now contemplating “defensive,” space-based, kinetic-energy missile interceptors. The time has come once again for states to engage in dialogue on space security and avert a new and dangerous arms competition in the heavens. (Continue)
The Cold War may be over, but the nuclear-armed missiles and suspicions remain. Now, Washington’s plan to deploy ground-based missile interceptors in the former Eastern Bloc—coupled with the expansion of NATO and the Bush administration’s resistance to further offensive nuclear reductions—are increasing Moscow’s anxieties about U.S. strategic missile capabilities.
U.S. officials say their anti-missile systems are designed to deal with a potential Iranian missile force not Russia’s. They correctly note that even if 10 U.S.-controlled missile interceptors are eventually stationed in Poland, Russia’s missiles could overwhelm and evade the defenses with far cheaper countermeasures. (Continue)
For years, some scientists and policymakers have worried that the reliability of U.S. nuclear warheads could diminish as their plutonium components age. Such concerns have led some to argue the United States should resume nuclear testing, rebuild its older warheads, or both. Most recently, plutonium aging has been used by the Bush administration to justify an ambitious new proposal for remaking the weapons complex and the nuclear arsenal.
Think again. A new set of government studies finds that the plutonium primaries, or pits, of most U.S. nuclear weapons “will have minimum lifetimes of at least 85 years,” which is about twice as long as previous official estimates. The findings have led the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) to admit that “the degradation of plutonium in our nuclear weapons will not affect warhead reliability for decades.” (Continue)
What is the most serious weapons-related security threat? The answer depends on who you are and where you live. For many Westerners, the biggest worry may be catastrophic nuclear terrorism. But for millions of people in conflict-ridden developing regions, the greatest threat emanates from the free flow of and trade in conventional weapons. With global arms sales soaring to more than $44 billion in 2005 and hundreds of thousands of people dying annually from weapons and war, tough new controls on international arms sales are urgently needed.
U.S. and global leaders recognize the high-consequence dangers posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. As a result, they have established a patchwork system of legally binding treaties restricting the possession, proliferation, and use of “unconventional” weapons. However, there is no international treaty regulating the export of conventional arms, which produce more misery and carnage on a day-to-day basis. (Continue)