"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Issue Briefs

Repairing the Nonproliferation Regime

Daryl G. Kimball

Six decades after the first atomic blasts, the world’s leaders agree that nuclear weapons pose one of the greatest threats to global security and human existence. But as the recently concluded nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference demonstrates, there is a growing divide about how to address this danger. The four week-long conference closed in New York on May 27 without any agreed assessment or plan to bolster the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Future progress will depend on correcting the policies that sank the 2005 review conference. Well before the meeting, the Bush administration signaled that it would not support core disarmament-related commitments and decisions made at the 2000 and 1995 review conferences, including supporting the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, irreversibly and verifiably reducing nuclear arms, and negotiating a verifiable ban on the production of fissile material for weapons. Yet, U.S. representatives claimed their disarmament record is “unassailable.” At the same time, they argued that peaceful nuclear cooperation is put at risk unless cases of noncompliance involving North Korea and Iran are forcefully addressed.

Predictably, Egypt and other nonaligned states did not want to allow the repudiation of past NPT conference commitments, which include pursuit of a nuclear-free Middle East and negative nuclear security assurances. Meanwhile, Iran, under investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency for safeguards violations, mischaracterized concern about its nuclear ambitions as an assault on developing states’ treaty “right” to peaceful nuclear endeavors. As a result, participants took weeks reaching agreement on an agenda and none of the three “main committees” could produce consensus reports.

U.S. officials deny any responsibility for the breakdown of the conference and blame Cairo’s stubborn resistance. But Egypt and others might have been more flexible if the United States did not seek to discard prior NPT agreements. U.S. intransigence scuttled the chance for agreement on Western proposals to make treaty withdrawal more difficult; toughen treaty monitoring, compliance, and enforcement; and tighten controls on nuclear weapons-related technology.

The NPT remains vital, but a crucial opportunity to strengthen it was squandered. Overcoming the differences revealed at the 2005 NPT Review Conference and avoiding further setbacks will not be easy but are possible, especially if the United States can adopt a more balanced, pragmatic, and flexible strategy.

The most urgent tasks are the resumption of talks leading to the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and the successful conclusion of an agreement between the European Union and Iran that recognizes Iran’s “right” to pursue peaceful nuclear endeavors but produces a voluntary and indefinite freeze of its uranium enrichment program. Failure on either front could lead neighboring countries to rethink their nuclear options and/or lead to a military confrontation.

The Bush administration must seize on North Korea’s recently stated intention to resume long-stalled negotiations on its nuclear program and be prepared to offer a new and more practical proposal to resolve the crisis. To increase Iran’s incentives to cooperate and comply with the NPT, the White House must make it clear that it will not seek regime change and that it will support the guaranteed and controlled supply of nuclear energy fuel as a substitute for an Iranian uranium enrichment program.

To prevent the further production and proliferation of weapons-usable nuclear material, the United States, EU, and others should back an indefinite moratorium on all new uranium enrichment and plutonium separation plants. Even with tougher international inspection authority and tighter controls on nuclear technology transfers, confidence in the nonproliferation system will erode if more states produce more nuclear bomb material. The pause would provide time to consider options for the guaranteed supply of nuclear energy fuel services and launch long-stalled talks on a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons.

Finally, the leaders of the nuclear-weapon states must restore confidence that they will continue to reduce the number and the role of nuclear weapons. It is in the United States’ self-interest to resume talks with Russia on verifiable strategic nuclear reductions before START I and its verification provisions expire in 2009. NATO should move to withdraw the obsolete U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stockpile in Europe to encourage Russia to account for and reduce its even larger tactical nuclear arsenal, parts of which could fall into terrorist hands. The nuclear-weapon states should also disavow the development of new types of nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear- weapon states and targets.

The dangers of the bomb are obvious and the need for action is as clear as ever. Without more effective global leadership in all—not just some—of these areas, the struggle against nuclear proliferation will fall short and leave behind an even more dangerous world for generations to come.



North Korea: Time for Results

Daryl G. Kimball

Nearly one year has passed since the last round of six-party talks between North Korea and the United States and four other Asian powers, designed to contain and reverse Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. With the prospects for dialogue fading and North Korea's capabilities growing, it is time for a new and more effective diplomatic strategy that has the full support of regional allies, keeps North Korea at the negotiating table, and begins to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Since ejecting international inspectors in 2002 and restarting its plutonium operations in 2003, North Korea is believed to have separated enough plutonium for as many as six bombs. In recent weeks, North Korea has shut down its reactor at Yongbyon to harvest a new batch of plutonium.

Now, some U.S. intelligence assessments suggest North Korea may be preparing to conduct a demonstration nuclear test explosion. A test would certainly dispel doubts about North Korea's capabilities, but it could precipitate military confrontation and lead other states to rethink their non-nuclear weapons status. An already dangerous situation would become a disaster.

Despite a failed policy, the Bush administration still insists that tough talk and pressure from China will convince Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table and agree to U.S. terms for disarmament. Not surprisingly, North Korea's insecure and isolated leaders have responded with a series of provocative statements and actions. After Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny," North Korean officials made their most explicit claim about having "manufactured nukes."

Rather than changing course, the latest responses from Washington range from inadequate to impractical to imprudent. Some Bush officials try to downplay the crisis and at the same time suggest that rumors of nuclear test preparations should motivate China to cut off energy aid to North Korea and compel Pyongyang to return to the bargaining table. Other "anonymous administration officials" float trial balloons in the news media about possible U.S. efforts to win UN Security Council support for a virtual quarantine of North Korea.

Understandably, U.S. allies and partners in the region are deeply concerned and are as impatient with the United States as they are with North Korea. China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are urging North Korea to return to the multiparty talks and say that a nuclear test would result in strong punitive action. For now, however, China and South Korea are refusing to withhold economic and energy assistance to North Korea out of concern that it would worsen prospects for a peaceful solution.

Leaders in Beijing and Seoul also recognize that, before they exert their last bits of leverage on North Korea, the United States needs to demonstrate greater flexibility to give the next and perhaps last six-party meeting a chance. As former U.S. special envoy on North Korea Charles Pritchard told The Boston Globe, "You have got to explore the possibility of real dialogue before you declare failure. We haven't yet made a good faith effort."

Clearly, China and other states have a vital role to play. But if there still is a chance for diplomacy to work—and there is—it is the United States and North Korea that will ultimately have to strike a deal.

For instance, the White House should drop its long-standing policy not to negotiate directly with North Korea within or even outside the six-party process. Although multiparty talks can deliver maximum international leverage, progress should not be held hostage to process.

Fortunately, the administration may already be moving in this direction. On May 13, U.S. special envoy Joseph Ditrani and North Korea's UN ambassador quietly held direct "working level" talks in New York.

Further meetings, however, will do little in the absence of a realistic U.S. negotiating strategy. Diplomats on all sides must be authorized to go beyond fixed talking points and earlier positions. The last U.S. offer calls for North Korea to disarm before it would get firm security guarantees and economic assistance. North Korea demands the delivery of aid and security assurances first, to be followed by a suspension of some of its nuclear activities. Instead, the two sides should reconsider South Korea's 2004 three-phase plan of corresponding positive incentives in return for the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear capabilities following a clear timetable.

To maintain progress, regional powers, including China, must do their part and make clear that, if North Korea's deviates from any agreed deal, they are prepared to impose uncompromising economic and political pressure.

President George W. Bush is fond of noting that the "consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated...means little unless it is translated into action." Now is the time for meaningful action, before it is too late.



Replacement Nuclear Warheads? Buyer Beware

Daryl G. Kimball

Soon after President George W. Bush took office, the Pentagon proposed a controversial new plan for U.S. nuclear forces that calls for new low-yield warheads and enhancements of existing high-yield earth-penetrating weapons to expand U.S. nuclear attack options against future adversaries.

For two years, Congress grudgingly went along with the administration's new weapons research proposals. But last year, in a refreshing blast of common sense, a bipartisan coalition blocked funding for new design concepts and modi.cations of existing warheads to create a new Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). Lawmakers rightly concluded that the pursuit of such weapons undermines vital efforts to convince other states to exercise nuclear restraint as well as the credibility of U.S. disarmament commitments in the context of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Unfortunately, at the Pentagon's urging, the administration did not cut its losses on RNEP. Instead it has proposed that Congress spend another $22.5 million over the next two years to finish the research phase. The proposal is as flawed as before and should be rejected again.

Recognizing the lack of political support for new weapons, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is now trying to market a nuclear weapons product: new "reliable replacement warheads to sustain existing military capabilities" at lower cost and without nuclear test explosions. Last month, NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks told Congress the goal of the effort should be to develop and produce a "small build" of the new warheads by 2012-2015.

Reliable replacement warheads may sound more attractive, but in reality, the proposal is problematic. The rationale for the program is dubious, the scope is vague, and the potential effects far-reaching and dangerous. Congress must carefully define the scope and direction of the program, and it should not write a blank check.

First, new replacement warheads are not necessary to preserve existing U.S. nuclear-weapon capabilities. Each year, a representative sample of the existing arsenal is inspected to check for signs of deterioration, and limited-life components are replaced if necessary. Even the warhead's nuclear core can be remanufactured according to previously tested specifications.

As Brooks correctly notes, existing warhead designs are sophisticated and were designed to minimize size and weight and maximize yield, making them sensitive to significant changes and upgrades, especially to the nuclear components. But the reliability of existing warheads can be maintained if the weapons labs avoid unnecessary alterations to the existing weapons during refurbishment. In addition, the reliability of existing warheads can be improved without new designs or testing by adding more boost gas to increase the explosive energy of the primary stage of the weapon well above the minimum needed to ignite the secondary, or main, stage of the warhead.

The bottom line is that the existing Stockpile Stewardship Program is working. At best, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program is a solution in search of a problem. Worse still, the RRW program could, if not carefully circumscribed, become a back door for the administration to circumvent congressional opposition to new warhead designs for new and destabilizing nuclear strike missions.

For now, Brooks and others claim that the RRW program is intended solely to provide "comparable military capabilities as existing warheads in the stockpile." Yet, Department of Defense officials and Brooks continue to cite the need for new loweryield nuclear weapons that can knock out shallow bunkers and defeat biological and chemical munitions and "are geared for small-scale strikes."

Yet, if weapons scientists get the green light to build more rugged nuclear weapons, the Bush administration may be able to achieve their controversial new nuclear weapons ambitions without getting approval from Capitol Hill. In a revealing comment to The Oakland Tribune, outgoing NNSA deputy administrator Everet Beckner said, "[T]hat's not the primary objective, but [it] would be a fortuitous associated event."

Finally, replacing existing, well-proven nuclear warhead designs with "new" and "improved" replacement warheads or warhead components could, if carelessly pursued, increase pressure to conduct nuclear explosive proof tests. Like a car buyer looking at a first-model-year car, key political or military officials may insist on taking a test drive before buying a new set of untested nuclear bomb designs.

So long as the United States maintains a nuclear arsenal, stockpile maintenance efforts should focus on preserving the reliability of existing warheads using methods validated by past experience. The role of the arsenal should be limited to deterring a nuclear attack by another nuclear-weapon state. Otherwise, the "reliable replacement warheads" may introduce, not reduce, stockpile reliability concerns and open the way to the counterproductive new nuclear weapons program voided by Congress last year.


Arming Dictators, Rewarding Proliferators

Daryl G. Kimball

Last year, Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf pardoned his former nuclear weapons program chief Abdul Qadeer Khan for masterminding a global black market trade that delivered advanced nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. For more than a decade, the Khan network secretly transferred some of the most sensitive technology, including uranium-enrichment devices and, in the case of Libya, even design and engineering plans for nuclear bombs.

U.S. officials claim there is no evidence of official Pakistani government involvement, but they also acknowledge they still do not understand the full extent of the Khan network or whether it is shut down. New evidence has recently emerged that Pakistan continues to advance its own nuclear program through illegal means.

Yet, even as Musharraf continues to shield Khan from outside interrogation, President George W. Bush announced last month that he wants to supply Pakistan with F-16 jets to facilitate Musharraf's continued support in fighting al Qaeda. As a counterbalance, Bush has held out the possibility of selling advanced fighter jets and missile defenses to Pakistan's longtime rival, India.

The Bush administration's F-16 decision not only symbolizes Washington's abandonment of meaningful efforts to curb Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, but it contributes to the escalating South Asian arms race. The move further undermines the credibility of Bush's nonproliferation policies and global efforts to reinforce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which neither India nor Pakistan have joined.

U.S. policymakers first began to overlook Islamabad's nuclear activities when they sought Pakistan's support to counter the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But with the end of the Cold War and the steady advance of the Pakistani bomb effort, Washington began to condition its support in order to push Pakistan toward a more responsible nuclear policy.

It was President George H. W. Bush who, in 1990, stopped earlier deliveries of F-16s to Pakistan by invoking the U.S. law that blocks military assistance to Pakistan if it acquires nuclear weapons. At least three years earlier, Pakistan had completed its quest to build the bomb with the help of Khan's clandestine network and foreign technology.

Following India and Pakistan's 1998 nuclear tests, Washington imposed further sanctions and urged the nuclear rivals to refrain from deploying their arsenals, join the nuclear test ban treaty, halt the production of fissile material, and improve export controls. Although India and Pakistan waited out the sanctions and resisted most of the U.S. arms control overtures, these and earlier nonproliferation efforts tempered the South Asian arms race.

The current U.S. policy favoring South Asian arms procurement rather than restraint is based on the erroneous assumptions that the nuclear rivalry can be managed and U.S. military technology is needed to buy "strategic partnerships" with New Delhi and Islamabad. Under this formula, Indian and Pakistani nuclear forces will be neither minimal nor stable. Certain U.S. arms transfers can lead each side to make countermove after countermove.

Pakistan says the F-16s will help it close the conventional weapons gap with India. However, Pakistan will likely outfit its new F-16s with nuclear weapons and base them in hardened shelters to reduce the vulnerability of its nuclear-armed forces to Indian air attacks. India, in turn, will surely seek U.S. assistance to improve its early warning and air strike capabilities.

India's strategic doctrine already calls for deploying a larger number of nuclear weapons on missiles, submarines, and aircraft, in part to counter Pakistan's nuclear-capable missile force. Future U.S. missile defense cooperation with India would likely prompt Pakistan to deploy a larger number of its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

As Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons capabilities have increased, crises have persisted and the consequences of war have grown. Although tensions between India and Pakistan have eased, it was as recently as 2002 that the two states were on the verge of their fourth war. The United States has a strategic interest in maintaining close relations with both India and Pakistan, but it can and should do so without exacerbating their nuclear arms buildup.

Although Khan may be under house arrest, there are disturbing signs that the regime continues to use the black market to improve its nuclear capability. An ongoing U.S. Department of Commerce investigation has found that in 2003 a front company with close ties to the Pakistani government made clandestine purchases of U.S. high-tech components used in nuclear weapons in violation of U.S. laws.

Pakistan's support for anti-terrorism can be maintained without sacrificing the effort to stop the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons. The United States should use its aid to support Pakistan's economic and political development and should condition further military assistance on Islamabad's support for nuclear restraint. At a minimum, U.S. officials must leverage aid to win full cooperation from Pakistan in stopping nuclear smuggling and to certify that it has finally ended all black market nuclear activity.


Reinforce the Nonproliferation Bargain

Daryl G. Kimball

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is a good deal that must be honored and strengthened. Since the NPT entered into force 35 years ago, the number of states forswearing the world’s most destructive weapons now stands at 188. Only India, Pakistan, and Israel have refused to join the treaty. The NPT has solidified the norm against nuclear weapons acquisition, trade, modernization, and use.

Nevertheless, the foundation of security established by the NPT is under severe stress. Since the NPT was extended 10 years ago, a few states have exposed and exploited the treaty’s limitations. Iran, Libya, and North Korea pursued illegal nuclear programs with the assistance of a secret Pakistani supplier network. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. Iran may soon have the capacity to produce fissile material for weapons if ongoing European diplomatic efforts falter.

Meanwhile, the nuclear-weapon states have fallen short of key disarmament commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences. As a result, a growing number of states believe that the nuclear haves do not intend to fulfill their end of the NPT bargain—their pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons. That growing frustration makes the non-nuclear-weapon states less willing to agree to further measures that would bolster the regime.

When the states-parties meet for the treaty’s seventh review conference this May, they must not only reaffirm the legal and political objectives established by the NPT and previous review conferences, but also resolve differences blocking agreement on a balanced and effective action plan to advance nonproliferation and disarmament.

One of the most important steps would be for all NPT states to agree to establish more effective controls on technologies that can be used to produce the key ingredients for nuclear weapons: highly enriched uranium and plutonium. As Article IV of the NPT has been interpreted, countries under international monitoring can acquire nuclear equipment for peaceful pursuits that brings them to the very brink of nuclear-weapon capability. Under the NPT’s withdrawal rules, they can then leave the treaty without penalty.

According to the findings of a new report from an expert panel convened by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, a number of viable options exist that would constrain the spread of uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technology while guaranteeing nuclear fuel supplies under multinational authority. The NPT’s members should agree not to permit access to controlled nuclear materials and equipment by a state that withdraws from the treaty.

The NPT Review Conference must also act to improve the IAEA’s ability to detect and deter treaty violations by urging all states to agree to tougher inspections under the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, to which only 64 states fully adhere. Today, the international community depends on the IAEA’s Additional Protocol authority to verify Iran’s voluntary commitment to freeze its uranium-enrichment program.

Efforts to ensure compliance must also be backed by diplomacy designed to resolve regional tensions. Ultimately, the goal should be new regional security measures, such as a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The global political consensus needed to implement these strengthening measures will not be achievable unless the nuclear-weapon states accelerate and deepen the disarmament process. U.S. opposition to two key commitments—the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and an effectively verifiable ban on fissile material production for weapons—is especially damaging.

Nevertheless, U.S. and other nuclear-weapon-state representatives argue that their Article VI disarmament record is a good one and peaceful nuclear cooperation is put at risk unless cases of noncompliance are forcefully addressed. U.S. and French officials have even suggested that the 13-point action plan on disarmament that they agreed to in 2000 was a product of another time and is no longer relevant.

If some nuclear-weapon states disavow past NPT commitments, they increase the risk that non-nuclear-weapon states will not fulfill theirs or agree to new measures to strengthen the nonproliferation system. Rather, the nuclear-weapon powers must acknowledge their existing disarmament obligations and commit to reduce further the risk of nuclear war and the allure of nuclear weapons. If such leadership is not forthcoming, then they should at least follow the United Kingdom’s example and publish detailed plans on the conditions by which nuclear disarmament could be achieved.

The May 2005 Review Conference is a crucial forum for parties to measure progress—or lack of progress—in implementing their mutual NPT obligations and commitments. The multiple threats to the nonproliferation cause also make it an indispensable opportunity to demonstrate the political will to strengthen peace and security for all states, not just a few.

Nonproliferation Through Disarmament

Daryl G. Kimball

Sixty years after the first atomic bombings, some 40 countries have the know-how to produce nuclear weapons. If it is true that the nuclear genie cannot be put back in the bottle, why aren't there dozens of nuclear-armed states? The decades-long global struggle against nuclear proliferation has largely succeeded because the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) established effective nonproliferation and disarmament rules and standards.

The treaty and associated measures make it far more difficult for the non-nuclear states to acquire the material and technology needed to build such weapons. Equally important, it commits the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China to pursue nuclear disarmament and has led them to pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear NPT members, thereby reducing the salience of nuclear weapons and the motives for other states to acquire them.

At the 1995 NPT Review Conference, the reaffirmation of the nuclear-weapon states' disarmament obligations was essential to the indefinite extension of the treaty. At the 2000 Review Conference, states-parties went even further, agreeing to a 13-point action plan, including bringing into force the treaty banning nuclear testing, making future nuclear arms reductions irreversible and verifiable, and negotiating a verifiable cutoff of fissile material production for weapons.

As the May 2005 NPT Review Conference approaches, progress on nuclear disarmament is as essential to winning the struggle against proliferation as ever. Sadly, the nuclear-weapon states' recent disarmament record is mainly one of lost opportunity and inaction.

Most disturbing are the brazen claims of senior Bush administration officials that disarmament commitments made at previous review conferences no longer apply. Washington is also actively opposing or sidestepping the most important disarmament measures. As a result, states-parties are divided about how to strengthen the treaty. Leading states, including many U.S. allies, are calling on Washington to revise its policies and adopt a more balanced and productive approach.

President George W. Bush opposes entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would impede development of new types of nuclear warheads by existing nuclear powers and would-be proliferators. China and other key CTBT hold-outs have followed suit by delaying ratification.

Adding insult to injury, Bush has approved a military strategy that calls for new nuclear capabilities designed to enhance the credibility and range of options for the possible use of nuclear weapons. Not only has the United States initiated research on new, more “usable” nuclear weapons, but Russia claims it is developing a more advanced nuclear delivery system.

China continues to slowly modernize its nuclear arsenal of approximately 400 warheads, while France and the United Kingdom are considering nuclear force modernization. Maintaining and expanding reliance on nuclear weapons only undermines nonproliferation efforts by suggesting to other states that nuclear weapons are necessary for their security.

Stalled for years by China, negotiations on the fissile material cutoff treaty are now blocked by U.S. opposition to a verification system. The stance is short-sighted and self-defeating. Such a treaty is effectively verifiable and would lock in the production freeze observed by the NPT's five nuclear-weapon states. It would also cap the supply of bomb material available to NPT holdouts India, Israel, and Pakistan.

The United States and Russia will cite their progress toward securing Soviet-era weapons-usable material and dismantling weapons banned under the 1991 START agreement. While important, their efforts reflect commitments made a decade ago.

They will also tout their newest arms reduction pact, which will reduce their stockpile of deployed strategic weapons. But contrary to arms reduction goals of the 1990s, the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty does not require the verifiable destruction of warheads or their delivery vehicles and will allow each side to maintain massive strategic nuclear arsenals of 5,000 warheads or more past 2012—about 10 times the size of any other states' current nuclear stockpile.

U.S. and Russian leaders have also failed to discuss how they might reduce their so-called tactical nuclear weapons, which total at least 4,000. Greater Russian reliance on such weapons combined with NATO states' reluctance to part with the 480 U.S. tactical warheads based in Europe impedes progress.

Although NPT member states will not likely reach consensus on a new disarmament action plan at the next review conference, they cannot afford to retreat from their past commitments. At a minimum, NPT states must reaffirm their common nuclear disarmament goals, examine how to achieve them, and agree to resume progress on further, specific measures to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race.

By itself, progress on nuclear disarmament will not hold back proliferation. But in the long run, the number of countries with nuclear weapons cannot be held in check if the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states do not hold up their end of the NPT bargain.

Nuclear Checks and Balances

Daryl G. Kimball

Four years ago, Congress called on the president to reassess the military requirements for nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era. Yet, rather than reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons, President George W. Bush launched a costly and counterproductive campaign to research and develop new, more “usable” nuclear weapons and to expand the repertoire of U.S. nuclear attack options.

After narrowly approving funding requests for research on new weapons for the last two years, Congress has finally begun to rein in Bush’s worst nuclear excesses. Last month, congressional appropriators denied the administration’s fiscal year 2005 requests for $9 million to investigate “advanced concepts,” such as new low-yield warheads, and $27 million to enhance the bunker-busting capability of an existing high-yield warhead.

The outcome is a stunning, bipartisan rejection of the administration’s flimsy arguments for new nuclear weapons and new nuclear missions. Opposition came from an array of House and Senate Democrats, as well as from Republicans, including Rep. David Hobson (Ohio), the powerful chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees Energy Department weapons spending.

Using twisted logic worthy of “Dr. Strangelove,” administration officials claim that the United States needs to adapt its existing Cold War nuclear arsenal to deter and defeat new adversaries and to make them available for use in conflicts that could begin as conventional wars. Enhancing the ability of nuclear warheads to penetrate underground and reducing their yields, they say, would make it more plausible that an American president might actually use nuclear weapons in a conflict with a country such as Iran or North Korea. At the same time, the administration claims the new weapons would only “slightly complicate” U.S. nonproliferation efforts.

Congress did not buy it. Hobson and others realized the nonproliferation costs of trying to enhance the credibility of U.S. nuclear threats are high and the benefits illusory. As another leading opponent of the new weapons initiative, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), put it, “If we are to convince other countries to forgo nuclear weapons, we cannot be preparing to build an entire new generation of nuclear weapons here.”

Maintaining and expanding the role of U.S. nuclear weapons not only violates accepted international norms of nonproliferation behavior, but it invites countermoves by former adversaries and would-be nuclear powers. The devastating power and collateral effects of the proposed new weapons also make it clear that their use or threat of use is no more credible, necessary, or justifiable than existing nuclear weapons.

Destroying a deeply buried bunker requires a high-yield blast too large to avoid dispersal of radioactive debris and fallout even if the weapon is designed to penetrate tens of meters before detonation. If new, smaller-yield nuclear weapons are used against suspected chemical or biological weapons sites, the fallout would still be significant, and small errors in intelligence and targeting could disperse rather than destroy deadly chemical or biological material. Improvements in specialized conventional munitions offer significant and more practical capabilities without the risk of crossing the nuclear threshold.

“Other than a Cold War ‘Russia gone bad’ scenario, I don’t believe our nuclear stockpile is useful against our new foes,” Hobson told a National Academy of Sciences gathering in August. “What worries me about the nuclear penetrator is that some idiot might try to use it.”

The Departments of Energy and Defense sought to retain the support of waivering congressional members by claiming the controversial programs were only “research.” Citing the Energy Department’s $485 million, five-year plan for nuclear earth penetrator research and development, Hobson rejected what he called “superficial assurances that the activity is only a study and that advanced concepts is only a skills exercise for weapons designers.”

The 2005 freeze on new weapons research is the result of three years of growing opposition and strong leadership from key lawmakers. It could also be the beginning of the end for the program. If the administration tries to revive these nuclear weapons research programs, it will reignite opposition in Congress and further complicate efforts to strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the May 2005 Review Conference.

Rather than continue to pursue its obsession with a new generation of nuclear weapons, the White House should cut its losses and focus the Energy Department on its primary mission: maintaining the reliability of the remaining nuclear stockpile, while dismantling the growing number of excess weapons here and abroad.

Today’s greatest security challenges are shutting down global terrorist networks, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, and reducing the likelihood that they are someday used by other countries or terrorists. The logical response is not to invent new missions and find new targets for U.S. nuclear weapons but to reduce their allure and, so long as they remain, strictly limit the role of nuclear weapons to deterring nuclear attack by other states.

Obsolete Relics of a Dead Conflict

Daryl G. Kimball

Some habits, even dangerous ones, can be difficult to break. Nearly 50 years ago, the United States introduced so-called tactical nuclear weapons into NATO forces in Europe to deter and, if necessary, use against a Soviet land attack. Not long after, the Soviet Union followed suit.

The U.S.-Soviet military rivalry is now over. Yet, both countries cling to the remnants of their massive tactical nuclear arsenals. They serve no meaningful military role for the defense of Europe or Russia, and the possible loss or theft of these weapons poses an unacceptable risk of nuclear terrorism. It is past time to account for and verifiably eliminate tactical nuclear weapons, beginning with those stationed in Europe.

During the Cold War, each side amassed thousands of these “battlefield” nuclear bombs for delivery by bombers, ships, and artillery. Today, the United States continues to maintain approximately 1,300 tactical nuclear weapons, including about 480 bombs deployed on NATO military bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In response, Russia is estimated to possess at least 3,000 of these generally smaller, portable, but still devastating weapons.

The first and last serious effort to address the issue came in 1991, when Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev unilaterally withdrew most forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons to build confidence as the Soviet Union collapsed. Yet, in the absence of verification measures, significant questions remain about how Moscow has implemented its 1991 pledges and about the size, location, and security of Russia’s remaining tactical nuclear forces.

In 1997, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to explore controls on tactical nuclear weapons in the context of future nuclear arms negotiations but failed to do so. Unfortunately, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin did not address the issue in the context of the May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

Although senior Bush administration officials and leading Democrats have expressed interest in controlling tactical nuclear weapons, there is no active effort to do so. Russia, which has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons, refuses to enter into talks on tactical nuclear arsenals mainly because the United States and its NATO partners still deploy such weapons in Europe.

NATO’s current strategic plan claims that its nuclear forces in Europe “provide an essential political and military link” between the United States and European alliance members. As a result, NATO maintains an antiquated nuclear posture, which allows for the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict, including in reply to an attack with conventional weapons.

In the 21st century, tactical nuclear weapons are more useful for terrorists than for fighting terrorism or keeping the peace between nations. Whatever symbolic value the weapons may provide for NATO unity is far outweighed by the risk that some of Russia’s weapons might be lost, stolen, or sold to another nation or a terrorist group. Russia’s inadequate nuclear command and control systems and weapons transportation practices make its thousands of tactical nuclear devices a prime terrorist target. Just one of these bombs could be used to destroy a city.

Complicating progress on tactical nuclear arms reductions, the United States is also exploring new battlefield nuclear weapons. If left unchecked, the effort could lead to the development and deployment of a modified version of an existing high-yield bunker-busting warhead or possibly a new type of lower-yield tactical nuclear weapon. Russia and other states can be expected to match any such U.S. move.

The devastating power and inescapable collateral effects of such weapons make them inappropriate tools against non-nuclear targets. Rather than treating tactical nuclear weapons as just another part of the vast U.S. arsenal, the United States must diminish their value and vulnerabilities and cancel the new weapons research.

The next U.S. administration must align tactical nuclear weapons policy with present-day realities, and soon. To open the way to cooperation with Russia on the consolidation and dismantlement of its large and destabilizing tactical nuclear stockpile, NATO should announce that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and begin withdrawing its obsolete tactical nuclear forces from Europe. The United States should also invite Russia to negotiate an agreement on warhead accounting and the verifiable dismantlement of excess tactical nuclear weapons.

Through two U.S. and two Russian presidencies, government leaders have failed to tackle the dangers posed by their Cold War tactical nuclear weapons arsenals. A new initiative to reduce and verifiably eliminate these weapons would reduce the salience of all nuclear weapons, reinforce global nonproliferation efforts, and lower the danger of nuclear terrorism.


Iran: Getting Back on Track

Daryl G. Kimball

Since the world’s nuclear watchdog agency confirmed reports of Iran’s extensive and secret nuclear activities more than two years ago, international concerns that Tehran might soon acquire bomb-making capabilities have grown.

The crisis will surely worsen in the next few months unless Iran exercises greater restraint and stops short of completing a large-scale nuclear material production capability. At the same time, the United States must recalibrate its strategy to complement, not complicate, the European diplomatic initiative to reduce Iran’s incentives to acquire the bomb and keep it within the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Last year, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom persuaded Iran to agree to voluntarily and temporarily halt its uranium-enrichment program and accept tougher International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. The deal created valuable diplomatic breathing space and the opportunity for the IAEA to gather detailed information about the full extent and nature of Iran’s program.

Iran has grudgingly allowed the IAEA extensive access and information about its covert projects. But several questions still remain, including whether Iran has already enriched uranium. And, last spring, Iran began to undermine confidence by delaying the entry of inspectors and by continuing to manufacture parts for centrifuges for the enrichment process.

The leaders of energy-rich Iran insist these activities are for peaceful purposes and are allowed under the NPT. Their assurances are hardly reassuring. Uranium-enrichment technology cannot only be used to produce low-enriched fuel for power reactors, but also weapons-grade nuclear material.

A close reading of the NPT makes it clear that peaceful nuclear endeavors are a benefit that accrues only to those nonweapons NPT states that credibly fulfill their obligation not to divert nuclear material and technology for weapons.

Accordingly, the Europeans have privately held out the possibility of greater economic ties and a guaranteed nuclear power fuel supply if Tehran’s leaders agree to forgo the capacity to produce nuclear weapons-usable materials. Though this would open the way for much needed foreign investment and allow Iran to produce nuclear energy, the idea has not yet been embraced by Tehran.

Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats have maintained a harder line, charging that Iran has already violated its safeguards agreements. U.S. and Israeli officials have unsuccessfully called on IAEA states to refer the case to the UN Security Council, where they could seek international sanctions against Iran.

This, in turn, has inflamed Iranian nationalism and hardened the government’s stance. Shortly after IAEA member states urged it not to do so, Iran announced last month that it will begin processing about 40 tons of uranium into feed material, which, if enriched to weapons grade, would be enough for several bombs.

Some U.S. officials argue that diplomacy at the Vienna-based IAEA has run its course. However, referral of the Iranian case to the Security Council may push Iran to eject IAEA inspectors or withdraw from the NPT. Getting the council’s approval for sanctions is far from guaranteed and would do little to halt Iran’s advanced nuclear program. More drastic action is also unwise. The effect of a pre-emptive strike by Israel or the United States on Iran’s capabilities would be temporary and would likely trigger a wider war in the region involving exchanges of ballistic missiles.

Although difficult, diplomacy remains the best option. First, Iran should be careful not to escalate the crisis. The European powers must hold Iran to its earlier pledge to halt all uranium-enrichment work and provide the access and cooperation necessary to finally resolve outstanding questions about its past activities. Otherwise, the credibility of Iran’s claim that it has no weapons ambitions will diminish further.

For its part, the United States should tone down its tough talk and work with the Europeans to test Iran’s “peaceful” intentions by endorsing the proposal to provide Iran with a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel. If Iran is only interested in developing a nuclear power capacity and its perceptions of vulnerability are not reinforced, it should eventually agree to such a deal.

To prevent other states from acquiring the means to produce nuclear bomb material, the international community must be prepared to guarantee nuclear fuel services to states that forgo indigenous uranium-enrichment and plutonium production capabilities. In addition, all states should be pressed to allow more intrusive inspections under the terms of the IAEA Additional Protocol.

Even if Iran complies with its NPT commitments now, it may still choose to follow the nuclear weapons route in the future. Given the stakes, the United States must counter arguments from Iranian hard-liners who wrongly believe that nuclear weapons will enhance Iran’s prestige and counter Israel’s nuclear arsenal. To help do so, Washington should reiterate its long-standing commitment to achieve a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone.

Time is running out. The situation demands a new and more sophisticated U.S. strategy that increases Iran’s incentives to halt its dual-purpose nuclear projects and reinforces the view within Iran that it does not need and will not benefit from nuclear weapons.

Trust, but Don't Verify

Daryl G. Kimball

The dangers posed by today’s non-conventional weapons necessitate prompt and vigorous action to dismantle arsenals and block the transfer, stockpiling, and production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium—the fissile material needed to build nuclear weapons. U.S. leaders have long recognized that such arms control efforts must be reinforced with effective means to monitor compliance. As President Ronald Reagan told the Soviets, “Trust, but verify.”

Fittingly, the negotiation of a global, verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) has been a major U.S. nonproliferation priority at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) for more than a decade. But not any more.

Following a lengthy policy review, the Bush administration has adopted a new and counterproductive “trust, but don’t verify” FMCT position. Although the administration says it supports negotiations for a treaty to end the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, it has indicated it will oppose negotiations on an “effectively verifiable” treaty.

The goal in past years has been to negotiate a global treaty with an effective verification regime focused on facilities that are capable of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. This could provide high confidence that no country is secretly producing bomb-grade nuclear material for weapons.

The FMCT would reinforce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and lock in the halt on production of fissile material for weapons currently observed by the five established nuclear-weapon states: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Perhaps more significantly, a verifiable FMCT would cap the supply of bomb material available to NPT holdouts India; its nuclear rival, Pakistan; and Israel.

The U.S. policy shift is a body blow to the long-delayed FMCT talks, however. The United States wants the 65 member states at the CD to reach consensus on a new mandate for negotiations, an exceedingly difficult task that will further postpone the start of FMCT talks. The new U.S. policy is yet another shameful rejection of key disarmament commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences of the NPT.

According to the Bush review, an FMCT inspection program would be “so extensive that it could compromise key signatories’ core national security interests and so costly that many countries will be hesitant to accept it.” No verification system is 100 percent effective, nor is it free. But as major U.S. allies still insist, verifying such a treaty is technically feasible and politically possible, and it is in everyone’s core interests to make the treaty more than a symbolic gesture.

The additional financial cost of expanding the scope of current nuclear inspections to cap the size of the world’s arsenals is well worth the price. As recent events in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea show, when international arms inspectors have the political and legal authority to visit relevant sites and investigate suspicious findings, they can detect and deter cheating and, if necessary, help mobilize international action against violators. In many cases, the IAEA can visit and take measurements at sites and facilities about which national intelligence agencies can only raise suspicions.

So, what is really behind the reluctance to negotiate an effectively verifiable FMCT? The policy is yet another symptom of this administration’s strong allergy to multilateral arms control. It also reflects the Bush administration’s insufficient regard for the effect of Israel’s and Pakistan’s unregulated nuclear weapons programs on regional security and nonproliferation objectives. Pressing forward with a verifiable FMCT would help bring those states, along with India, into the nonproliferation mainstream and enhance efforts to ensure that other states comply with their treaty obligations.

The Pentagon has resisted FMCT negotiations altogether. Officials there fret about protecting information related to Navy programs that supply enriched uranium fuel for nuclear-powered ships, despite the fact that the FMCT would not prohibit production for such purposes.

This is not the first time the Bush administration has torpedoed verification provisions designed to improve compliance with arms control treaties. In 2001 the Bush administration blocked approval of a verification regime for the Biological Weapons Convention. In 2002 it declined to seek additional monitoring and inspection measures as part of its Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty with Russia. Absent better verification, illicit national bioweapons programs may continue, and our knowledge about the size and security of Russia’s nuclear arsenal will be far less certain.

President George W. Bush said in February that he is committed to stopping weapons of mass destruction “at the source.” The United States cannot achieve this objective by itself or without more new and verifiable initiatives such as the FMCT. Tragically, the Bush approach on the FMCT and other nonproliferation agreements denies our nation and the international community the chance to more effectively monitor and enforce compliance with the global nonproliferation standards essential to our security.


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