"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Issue Briefs

Better Late Than Never on North Korea

Daryl G. Kimball

Of the several emerging nuclear threats in the world, the revival of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may be the most urgent and dangerous. Since late 2002, President George W. Bush has prudently maintained that he wants a “peaceful” and “diplomatic” solution to the crisis. There are no quick or easy military options.

But U.S. diplomacy has been ineffectual. Bush’s foreign policy principals have bickered over strategy. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has only fueled North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s security fears. Under pressure from allies anxious about North Korea’s ongoing nuclear activities, Bush has at last authorized a detailed and practical proposal. Negotiators must now get down to work and make up for lost time.

Unveiled at the fourth and latest round of multilateral talks in Beijing, the U.S. proposal is designed to reimpose a freeze of the North’s nuclear program and open the way toward verifiable dismantlement of its facilities and toward better U.S.-North Korean relations.

The U.S. plan would require North Korea to agree in writing to disclose and dismantle its programs and give it three months to seal all of its nuclear facilities. In exchange, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea would begin supplying fuel oil to the North. Meanwhile, the United States would extend a provisional security guarantee not to attack or overthrow the regime in Pyongyang.

If North Korea then admits inspectors to key sites and allows its nuclear weapons-related facilities to be dismantled, the United States would engage in bilateral talks on removing it from the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism, eliminating U.S. sanctions, and providing greater international economic assistance.

The proposal represents a major shift away from the administration’s earlier and more confrontational North Korea policy. Three years ago, Bush announced he would discontinue direct talks and denounced North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.” North Korea’s secret efforts to acquire uranium-enrichment capabilities and the U.S.-led decision to cut off fuel aid worsened the situation. In late 2002, Pyongyang ejected international arms inspectors and, in January 2003, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Since then, North Korea has most assuredly resumed plutonium production for weapons. It could already be the world’s ninth nuclear-weapon state and become a potential exporter of nuclear arms and material.

With savvy and energetic U.S. and allied diplomacy, this nightmare scenario might still be avoided. The administration’s new proposal is a good start. The White House has at last recognized the importance of offering North Korea political and economic inducements to give up its nuclear pursuits. By offering a nonaggression pledge conditioned on further progress, the White House has given Kim an alternative to the nuclear weapons program North Korea says is necessary to deter U.S. aggression, but which would seriously destabilize the region.

There will be more difficulties ahead, and the next few weeks are critical. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell must fend off administration hard-liners who may try to scuttle a deal in the false hope that the Pyongyang regime will soon collapse and that its nuclear and missile programs can be contained through economic sanctions and interdictions.
In Beijing, Kim’s representatives called the U.S. offer “constructive” and asked for time to evaluate it. The North Koreans have also made their own offer: to freeze and eventually dismantle their nuclear programs if provided with energy equivalent to a quarter of their annual production. To achieve a deal they also must be more flexible and forthcoming about their nuclear activities.

Unfortunately, the Pyongyang regime still refuses to clear up charges that it is also pursuing uranium enrichment for weapons. The existence of the effort is more certain as details of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s illegal nuclear supplier network have come to light. Though it represents a less urgent weapons threat than the plutonium facilities at Yongbyon, North Korea’s still-to-be-detailed uranium-enrichment project must be eliminated. By agreeing to call it a research program, negotiators might provide North Korea a face-saving way to reveal and dismantle any uranium activities.

At the same time, the Bush administration must accelerate the pace of negotiations with North Korea by pursuing immediate follow-up discussions. Bush must also give U.S. envoy James Kelly enough room to engage in the genuine give-and-take on timelines and inspection procedures necessary to secure a deal. The more time passes without inspectors on the ground to verify a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, the more its nuclear capabilities likely increase.

With serious proposals to end North Korea’s nuclear programs finally in play, leaders in Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, and Tokyo must continue to use the six-party format to press the United States and North Korea to make tangible progress. With high-level White House attention and a genuine commitment to eliminate Pyongyang’s stated motives to go nuclear, the United States may still be able to stop a new Asian nuclear arms race before it starts.







The Nonproliferation Credibility Gap

Daryl G. Kimball

You don’t get something for nothing. More than three decades ago, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) set into place one of the most important international security bargains of all time: states without nuclear weapons pledged not to acquire them, while nuclear-armed states committed to eventually give them up.

The treaty’s success depends on universal compliance with tighter rules prohibiting the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology. It also requires that nuclear-weapon states fulfill their disarmament obligations and give credible assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states that they will not be subjected to nuclear attack.

Tension regarding the mutual obligations of NPT members is nothing new. Yet, at the recently concluded Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, U.S. officials pushed for greater limitations on other states while arguing the United States needs to do little or nothing more on disarmament. As a result, states-parties are more divided than ever about how to enforce the treaty, deal with the three nonsignatories (India, Israel, and Pakistan), and tighten restrictions on the availability of nuclear weapons technology.

Recall that, in 1995, the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states pledged to a set of principles and objectives on nonproliferation and disarmament. They did so in order to win an indefinite extension of the treaty. These goals were reaffirmed and refined at the 2000 NPT conference. The extension of the NPT did not imply the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons. The United States can ill-afford to abdicate its disarmament responsibilities and interests.

Rather than build broad support for a plan to strengthen the treaty in all of its aspects, Bush administration officials chose to use this NPT meeting to level a blunt critique of illicit Iranian and North Korean nuclear activities. With Iran in mind, U.S. officials called on others to support proposals to limit the sale of nuclear technologies that can be used to make bomb material.

This initiative could produce useful but hard-to-win additional limitations on non-nuclear-weapon states’ access to some forms of “peaceful” nuclear technology. Iran’s previously undeclared uranium-enrichment activities do indeed create the possibility that it intends to become the next nuclear-weapon state. There is broad agreement that Iran must fulfill its pledges to allow more intrusive nuclear inspections and make its temporary uranium-enrichment halt permanent.

But achieving these outcomes involves heavy diplomatic lifting. Nonnegotiable U.S. ultimatums, however justifiable, will not do the trick. Nor will they make it any easier for an ongoing British-French-German initiative to convince leaders in Tehran that full compliance with the NPT is in their best interest.

U.S. delegates to the NPT meeting also did their best to block discussion of further disarmament measures, including the possibility of multilateral talks on weapons of mass destruction issues in the Middle East. In an April 27 speech at the conference, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton declared, “[W]e cannot divert attention from the violations we face by focusing on [disarmament] issues that do not exist.”

Or do they? Surely, the United States and Russia have made steady progress in dismantling and securing large portions of their Cold War nuclear stockpiles declared excess under treaties signed more than a decade ago. With the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, the two states have pledged to reduce deployed strategic nuclear forces to fewer than 2,200 warheads by 2012. Nevertheless, these actions are based on decisions taken years ago and are woefully behind pace.

The situation is even worse in other areas. Talks with Russia on verification measures and tactical nuclear weapons remain on the backburner. The administration has initiated research on new types of more “usable” nuclear weapons, stiff-armed progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and dithered on the fissile material cutoff treaty. President George W. Bush has also approved nuclear-use policies that undercut previous commitments to nonuse of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states in the context of the NPT.

Sensing that the Bush administration wants to erase any memory of earlier U.S. commitments to these and other disarmament commitments, leading non-nuclear-weapon states, including several U.S. allies, cried foul at the NPT meeting. Arab states continue to be frustrated by the failure to confront the reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal; perhaps as a consequence, they have said little about Iran’s transgressions. The impasse blocked agreement on next steps and even a basic agenda for next year’s Review Conference.

Although there is consensus on the need to strengthen and preserve the NPT, there must also be agreement on how to do so. In the coming months and years, the United States must pursue a more balanced and credible approach that addresses the fundamental obligations of all states. The president’s own nonproliferation proposals, the NPT’s future, and U.S. national security depend on it.





Curb Nuclear Weapons Excess

Daryl G. Kimball

More than a decade has passed since the end of the Cold War and President George H. W. Bush’s 1992 decision to end the production of new nuclear weapons. Today, U.S. military might is unrivaled. By far, its greatest security challenge is stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing the likelihood that they are someday used.

Yet, as the current Bush administration rightly calls on others to forswear nuclear weapons, it continues to pursue a costly and counterproductive campaign to research and develop new, more “usable” nuclear weapons. It also wants to significantly expand U.S. capabilities to build nuclear warheads. These moves run counter to accepted international norms of nonproliferation behavior and trends in military strategy that de-emphasize nuclear weapons.

The administration’s fiscal year 2005 budget proposes $27 million for ongoing research to modify existing types of high-yield nuclear weapons to destroy deeply buried and hardened targets (the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator). It seeks another $9 million for unspecified research on “advanced” concepts, including new types of low-yield nuclear bombs.

The rationale for the new weapons is based on flawed assumptions and ignores physics. According to a March report from the Departments of State, Energy, and Defense to Congress on the subject, the United States’ concern for minimizing collateral damage in war diminishes the credibility of its capability and will to respond to “aggression” with nuclear weapons. By enhancing earth-penetrating capabilities and reducing yields, the argument goes, adversaries may believe than an American president might actually be willing to use nuclear weapons to take out leadership and weapons targets.

However, the notion that nuclear weapons can be developed to destroy targets with little collateral damage is highly misleading and dangerous. To contain the fallout of a relatively small, five-kiloton nuclear bomb, it would have to be detonated about 350 feet underground—nearly 10 times the depth that existing materials and force capabilities allow. Even if smaller weapons were used against suspected chemical or biological weapons sites, errors in intelligence and targeting could disperse rather than destroy deadly material.

The proposed Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator is far larger, with a yield likely more than 100 kilotons. A 1962 nuclear test blast of the same size, detonated 635 feet below the surface, ejected 12 million tons of earth and formed a crater 320 feet deep and 1,280 feet wide.

Nuclear weapons should not be seen as simply another weapon in the vast U.S. arsenal. So long as nuclear weapons exist, their role should be limited to deterring the use of nuclear weapons by others—a mission that hardly requires a new generation of weapons.

Last year, in an effort to win support from wavering members of Congress, the administration claimed that it was only seeking money and authority to research new and modified weapons. Congress was persuaded, but decided that further work would require its explicit authorization. Assurances aside, the administration’s intention to go further is now clear. In February, the Energy Department’s five-year budget outlined a plan for further research and, if Congress allows, development of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator at a cost exceeding $485 million.

As a part of its multibillion-dollar plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, the administration also wants a “Modern Pit Facility” to remanufacture (and possibly produce new) plutonium cores for warheads. It could cost up to $4 billion to build and $200-300 million a year to operate. Plans call for annual production levels of 125-450 plutonium pits. However, if the United States stays on track to reduce its nuclear stockpile to 3,000 warheads or less, such an enormous production capacity is unnecessary.

Although the administration claims new weapons and production capabilities are needed to reinforce the believability of U.S. nuclear threats and its ability to respond to threats, it claims this will only “slightly complicate” nonproliferation efforts. The reality is that these projects invite similar activity from former adversaries and proliferators.

Referring to the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Feb. 18, “As other countries increase the number and quality of their arms and military potential, then Russia will also need to ensure it has new-generation arms and technology.” We can expect that hard-liners in Pyongyang, Tehran, Islamabad, and New Delhi will also use new U.S. nuclear weapons work as a cynical excuse to develop or improve their own nuclear strike capabilities.

In order to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, it is vital that Congress and the president exercise greater leadership in diminishing the allure of nuclear weapons and the myth of their utility. They can start by curbing their own nuclear weapons excesses.





Act Now on Fissile Material Treaty

Daryl G. Kimball

International efforts to curb the spread and buildup of nuclear weapons arsenals greatly depend on controlling the production and stockpiles of the key ingredients for the bomb: highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium. Negotiating a global agreement to cut off the production of these fissile materials for weapons purposes has long been a goal of the United States. Now, however, the Bush administration may be reversing its support for this common sense proposal.

Since the early 1990s, states at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) have sought to begin formal talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). FMCT negotiations have been stymied by China since 1999 in an attempt to gain leverage on its priority issue: a treaty for the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Unwilling to constrain its ambitious plans for missile defense systems that could include space-based weapons, the United States has said there is no arms race in outer space and will only allow exploratory discussions on the subject.

Successive presidents of the CD and, more recently, a group of five ambassadors have tried to bridge the political differences by proposing to start negotiations on a FMCT in an ad hoc committee, as well as to simultaneously begin substantive discussions on PAROS and general discussions on nuclear disarmament.

Last August, China indicated it could agree to this formula. The United States has since balked. In November, the U.S. representative to the UN voted for a resolution supporting a FMCT but noted that the United States had, after nine years of support, initiated a “review” of the concept. In January, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Steve Rademaker told Arms Control Today, “We are looking at the threshold question, does a FMCT make sense?”

From the U.S. perspective, moving ahead on FMCT negotiations is a no-brainer. A universal measure, it would reinforce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and voluntary nuclear export controls, as well as help contain the nuclear programs of the three NPT holdout states: India, Israel, and Pakistan.

The five major nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have all indicated they are no longer producing fissile material for weapons purposes. On the other hand, India and Pakistan have active production programs for both HEU and plutonium, and it is likely that their stocks of weapon-grade material are increasing. It is not clear whether Israel is continuing to produce fissile material for weapons purposes. Under the guise of civilian nuclear power research, other states, including Iran, have built facilities capable of producing fissile material for weapons.

A FMCT and its additional verification system would augment existing efforts to detect and deter clandestine nuclear bomb production and acquisition efforts. In addition, FMCT talks could also produce confidence-building declarations from all states with nuclear weapons and/or HEU or plutonium stockpiles, as well as associated fabrication, reprocessing, and storage facilities.

There is no practical reason for the White House not to support initiation of FMCT negotiations under the compromise formulation. So far, however, it has not. In his February 11 speech outlining steps to restrict access to nuclear bomb material and related technologies, President George W. Bush failed even to mention a FMCT.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) has called a FMCT “an essential supplement” to the president’s proposals. In recent weeks, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and key U.S. allies have also urged the United States to support FMCT negotiations. Though some states may not be enthusiastic, no other nation has registered its opposition.

The absence of continued strong support for a FMCT would doubtless undermine the legitimacy of other, vital U.S. nonproliferation objectives. Completion of a FMCT by 2005 and informal discussions on nuclear disarmament at the CD were two of 13 action steps to which all NPT states-parties committed themselves in May 2000. Yet, since taking office, the Bush administration has undermined almost every one of those measures and has sought to keep its nuclear weapons research, production, testing, and deployment options open.

In his speech about nuclear proliferation challenges, Bush cautioned that rising awareness and condemnation “means little unless it is translated into action.” The president would do well to heed his own advice and seize the opportunity to begin negotiations on a verifiable, global ban on the production of fissile materials for weapons.







Broaden the Nonproliferation Campaign

Daryl G. Kimball

Following last month’s disclosures of illicit Pakistani nuclear assistance to Libya and Iran, President George W. Bush outlined new measures to restrict the trade of key equipment that can be used to make bomb material. However, Bush’s proposals, as well as his overall nonproliferation strategy, are too limited and contradictory to address current and future nuclear weapons dangers adequately.

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) guarantees non-nuclear-weapon states the right to nuclear technology for energy and other nonmilitary purposes under international safeguards. Decades of nuclear trade, however, have led to the broad diffusion of uranium-enrichment and spent-fuel reprocessing technologies, which can also be used to make bomb-grade uranium and plutonium. Some states, such as Iran and North Korea, have abused the system and acquired the means to produce these fissile materials.

In response, Bush has proposed that the 40-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) not sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any state that does not already have the capability. He has also proposed that these nuclear supplier states not provide equipment to nations that have failed to agree to a tougher set of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. This proposal is mostly designed to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Although a push for new and tighter nuclear export restrictions through the NSG is long overdue, long-term success requires the application of the same standards to all states and more aggressive efforts to eliminate other means of fissile material production. Several important, additional steps should be considered.

First, those states currently without enrichment or reprocessing capabilities, such as Brazil and Iran, will strongly resist efforts to deny them access to such technologies. If these and other states are to be expected to agree to tougher restrictions, their access to low-enriched uranium fuel for light-water reactors (LWRs) will need to be guaranteed. The solution requires the creation of a long-term, multinational fuel supply that would make national possession of uranium-enrichment plants unneeded and uneconomical.

This could be accomplished in a number of ways, each of which presents challenges and requires more visionary U.S. leadership. As IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has suggested, one approach is to develop a new protocol to the NPT that would bar enrichment and reprocessing capabilities but continue to guarantee access to nuclear fuel supplies and regulate spent-fuel disposition under the supervision of the IAEA. Another option is low-cost access to fuel for LWRs through market-based consortia.

Second, the Bush formula would allow significant nuclear suppliers not part of the NSG, such as Pakistan, to continue to peddle their wares. The recent disclosures about transfers of uranium and uranium-enrichment equipment from the Khan Research Lab warrant, at the very least, revisions to Pakistan’s lax export-control system.

Third, Bush should immediately quash two ongoing Department of Energy “nuclear research” programs that actually promote the spread of reprocessing technology and the means to produce plutonium. Spent-fuel reprocessing is an uneconomical, polluting, and unnecessary way to harness nuclear energy. Currently, global stockpiles of separated civilian plutonium exceed 195 tonnes and pose a long-term proliferation threat.

Fourth, the United States should reaffirm its long-standing support for negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty. The treaty would verifiably halt the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons by all states; establish baseline information on global stockpiles; and help bring India, Israel, and Pakistan into the nonproliferation system. A shift in China’s position opens the way to revive the long-delayed negotiation, but now the Bush administration has announced it is reviewing the U.S. position.

Finally, Bush’s call for others to abide by tougher nonproliferation rules rings hollow as his administration continues to reject meaningful limits on U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. Bush remains opposed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to verifiably dismantling excessive U.S. and Russian nuclear bombs and missiles. Worse still, the administration has outlined plans for developing new earth-penetrating nuclear weapons at cost of nearly a half-billion dollars over the next five years. Not only are such weapons impractical and unnecessary, but they invite hard-liners in other states to keep their nuclear weapons options open.

The evolving nature of the nuclear threat requires a more comprehensive and robust global nonproliferation strategy than the work in progress outlined by Bush. In the end, it requires more than just pressure on a few of the nuclear “have-nots”—it requires greater restraint and leadership from the nuclear “haves.”






Reality Check: Libya and Iran

Daryl G. Kimball

In the past month, two states long suspected of pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—Iran and Libya—have been persuaded to allow intrusive international inspections. Although some in the Bush administration believe the threat of pre-emptive war forced the issue, the reality is different and more complex. Rather, each case demonstrates the importance of preventive diplomacy, international nonproliferation treaties and inspections, and economic sanctions and incentives designed to compel compliance.

Last year, special International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections revealed that Iran has conducted secret nuclear activities with bomb-making potential. The Bush administration and a tough IAEA report kept the matter on the front burner. Yet, it was French, German, and British diplomats who ultimately persuaded Iranian leaders to agree to an additional protocol allowing tougher IAEA inspections and temporarily stop uranium enrichment activities. In return, the Europeans are offering closer technical and economic ties.

Libya went even further. President Moammar Gaddafi announced December 19 that Libya would verifiably dismantle its biological and chemical weapons capabilities. Gaddafi also agreed to eliminate Libya’s aging Scud missile force, as well as halt suspected nuclear weapons-related activities.

Libya’s announcement is clearly part of a broader effort to end years of suffocating sanctions for its past support for terrorism and WMD ambitions. Early last year, Libya finally settled claims concerning its role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, prompting the United Nations to lift sanctions. British and U.S. officials deserve credit for closing the deal, but Gaddafi initially contacted officials in London with the hope that discarding his WMD programs might lead to better relations with the United States and Europe.

Both states must now follow through on their important nonproliferation commitments by fully and promptly cooperating with IAEA inspectors. Iran should be pressed further. Even with strict compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran might someday withdraw from the treaty and build nuclear weapons. To remove doubts about the peaceful purposes of its nuclear program, Iran should permanently freeze uranium-enrichment activities, which could be used to make bomb material.

Verifying Libya’s pledge to end its biological and chemical weapons capabilities and ballistic missile work will require a more creative approach. There is no standing inspectorate for ballistic missile control and, due to U.S. opposition, there is no verification system for the 1972 Biological Weapon Convention. Libya has not yet signed the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which allows for on-site inspections. The UN Security Council should consider giving the job to the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission, which was created to deal with the same types of weapons in Iraq.

The United States should respond with positive measures, including the lifting of remaining WMD-related sanctions, if these states demonstrate that they have indeed chosen to forswear these dangerous, destabilizing, and expensive weapons. Such a course would make it clear to others that compliance with the nonproliferation regime is more beneficial to their security than the pursuit of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

At the same time, U.S. and European policymakers must address weaknesses in their nonproliferation strategies, highlighted by the Iranian and Libyan cases. The IAEA’s investigations will certainly show that the Iranian and Libyan nuclear programs received vital technical assistance from other states, including Pakistan.

Unfortunately, past and current U.S. administrations have chosen not to deal with all proliferators with the same vigor. As Undersecretary of State John Bolton boldly stated to Arms Control Today in a November 14 interview, “There are unquestionably states that are not within existing treaty regimes that possess weapons of mass destruction legitimately. We’re not trying to have a policy that attempts to cover each and every one of those circumstances.” The United States can no longer afford to focus on the WMD programs of its adversaries while ignoring the proliferation behavior of its friends and allies, especially the three nuclear-weapon states that are not NPT members: India, Israel, and Pakistan.

The international community should build on recent progress in Iran and Libya with energetic diplomatic efforts in other areas of tension around the globe. The United States and the international community must also work harder to achieve a more open, transparent, and secure world through tougher inspections everywhere. By promptly ratifying the IAEA Additional Protocol, reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its own security policy, and following through with its own NPT disarmament commitments, the United States can help encourage others to join the protocol and turn away from nuclear weapons.




Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) are members of the Senate Armed
Services Committee. Levin is the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Top of page






The New Nuclear Proliferation Crisis

Daryl G. Kimball

For over five decades, the United States has sought to make the acquisition and development of nuclear weapons more technically challenging and less acceptable. Republican and Democratic leaders alike have worked to restrain unbridled nuclear weapons competition and to stop the spread of these deadly weapons through the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 and associated diplomatic strategies.

Even as the nonproliferation system has become more sophisticated, the challenges it confronts have become more complex. Over the last decade, the NPT has endured successive crises involving Iraqi and North Korean nuclear weapons programs. Iran now appears to be on the verge of a nuclear weapons capability. Non-NPT member states India, Pakistan, and Israel have advanced their nuclear weapons programs with relative impunity. The possibility of terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons has added a new layer of risk.

In the face of these problems, it has become fashionable for many U.S. policymakers to dismiss arms control and nonproliferation as ineffective. Instead, they emphasize the role of pre-emptive military action and the pursuit of new nuclear-weapon capabilities to dissuade and destroy adversaries seeking weapons of mass destruction. Such an approach would forfeit essential nonproliferation tools and provide a false sense of security.

In practical terms, military pre-emption is no substitute for a comprehensive and consistent preventive approach. As the recent U.S. experience in Iraq shows, wars cost lives and money and lead to unintended consequences; nonmilitary solutions should not be undervalued. Iraq’s nuclear program was actually dismantled through special international weapons inspections, which likely could have contained the Iraqi weapons threat if they had been allowed to continue.

Proliferation problems in North Korea and Iran defy easy military solutions. In both cases, multilateral diplomacy aimed at the verifiable halt of dangerous nuclear activities is the preferred course. Nuclear proliferation must be met with firm resolve but not in a way that creates an even more uncertain and dangerous future. Rather, the United States must strengthen and adapt—not abandon—preventive diplomacy and arms control. Nonproliferation efforts have succeeded when U.S. leadership has been consistent and steadfast.

The NPT security framework has led several states to abandon their nuclear weapons programs. The NPT is so broadly supported that, in addition to the original five nuclear-weapon states, only three clearly have nuclear arsenals and they are outside the NPT. Cooperation with international inspections and safeguards against proliferation are now a standard expectation of all states. U.S.-Soviet agreements corralled their nuclear arms competition and increased transparency, thereby reducing instability and the risk of nuclear war.

Nevertheless, the evolving nature of the nuclear threat requires a more comprehensive and robust global nonproliferation strategy. First, the United States should fully support strengthened international monitoring and inspection capabilities, which aid U.S. intelligence and provide the basis for collective action against noncompliance. Evidence of North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons work was discovered in 1992 as a result of that country joining the NPT and agreeing to inspections. The dangerous extent of Iran’s nuclear program has been revealed only through new international inspections.

Second, all cases of nuclear proliferation must be addressed. The United States and other global powers can no longer ignore the possession of nuclear weapons by their allies and friends. Although India and Pakistan are not a direct threat to the United States, they do threaten one another, and so long as Israel possesses nuclear weapons, others in the region will likely seek them too. China has aided Pakistan’s nuclear program, and in turn, Pakistan has aided North Korea and Iran.

It is also time for the international community to consider new ways to restrict access to dangerous nuclear technologies. The NPT guarantee of access to “peaceful” nuclear technology and the broad diffusion of that technology has allowed states such as Iran to acquire uranium-enrichment or plutonium-production facilities useful for weapons. The availability of the most weapons-relevant technologies can be limited without denying access to basic and legitimate nuclear power technology.

Finally, the United States and other nuclear-weapon states must reduce the role of nuclear weapons. To comply with their own NPT disarmament commitments, they must actually dismantle—not test and improve—their deadly stockpiles. In the long run, the continued possession and threat of use of nuclear weapons by a few undermines the security of all. Without more effective U.S. leadership in each of these areas, the struggle against proliferation will fall short and leave a more dangerous world for generations to come.





Course Correction on North Korea?

Daryl G. Kimball

Wearing a somber gray suit, North Korea’s number two leader entered the White House and met with President Bill Clinton for 45 minutes. The unprecedented visit produced a joint communiqué and put efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programs back on track.

The joint statement pledged that North Korea would grant U.S. and international inspectors better access to its nuclear facilities. In turn, the United States vowed to accelerate the normalization of relations and to provide a negative security pledge stating that it bears “no hostile intent” toward the military-controlled regime.

That was three years ago. Since 2000, the security situation on the Korean peninsula has deteriorated badly. President George W. Bush’s decision to delay additional talks and his infamous “axis of evil” remarks did not help. North Korean efforts to acquire uranium-enrichment capabilities and the subsequent U.S.-led decision to cut off fuel aid poisoned the relationship further. Pyongyang escalated the crisis by ejecting international inspectors and restarting its advanced plutonium-production facilities.

Bush has prudently maintained that he seeks a “peaceful” and “diplomatic” solution. This makes sense. North Korea can potentially churn out enough material to make six bombs in a year, and pre-emptive military action against the North’s nuclear sites could lead to catastrophic war. Yet, the president’s advisers have thus far failed to provide him with a practical and effective negotiating strategy. A midcourse correction is now essential.

At the previous multilateral meetings in April and August of this year, Bush’s envoy essentially told the North Koreans that they must dismantle their nuclear programs before discussions on other issues could begin. Disappointed, the other states involved in the talks—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—have pressed the United States to develop a workable proposal. North Korea threatened not to engage in further talks.

Now, as a possible third and final round of talks approaches, Bush has stepped into the policy void by suggesting that the administration is interested in discussing multilateral security guarantees not to “attack” or “invade” North Korea. Like the 2000 meeting and no-hostile-intent pledge, a formal negative security pledge from Bush could jump-start progress.

A peaceful way out of the latest North Korean nuclear crisis requires that the United States address the North Korean regime’s perceptions of insecurity. North Korea has indicated that it will verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, but it will not do so if its concerns are not met. Bush’s willingness to discuss a security pledge should signal to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that he is not only being responsive to his negotiating proposals but to his fears about U.S. aggression.

So long as North Korea agrees to give up its entire nuclear weapons program, allows re-entry of inspectors, and suspends further plutonium separation or uranium enrichment, the Bush administration should pledge not to attack North Korea. The pledge should continue as long as the North is actively dismantling any nuclear weapons and fissile-material production facilities, according to the terms and timetable of a new agreement.

Even if a negative security pledge changes North Korea’s behavior in the short term, the path forward remains littered with hazards. Conducting effective diplomacy requires more than issuing non-negotiable demands. The president and his closest advisers must overcome internal differences about its negotiating stance and begin to engage in a genuine give-and-take with North Korean officials. In addition, the White House cannot afford to allow senior U.S. officials to jeopardize progress by leveling gratuitous personal criticism against North Korea’s leaders, as Undersecretary of State John Bolton did on the eve of the August round of talks.

If progress remains slow, as it most likely will be, hard-line skeptics within the administration will lobby the White House to impose tougher political and economic sanctions, hoping this will produce regime change in Pyongyang. Sanctions would do little to stop North Korea’s advanced nuclear programs and could provoke even more destabilizing actions, such as a demonstration nuclear-test explosion.

As William Perry, former secretary of defense and special envoy on North Korea, said in 1999, the United States must remain focused on the most urgent threat: North Korea’s plutonium program. As Perry noted, success would require that U.S. leaders work with our allies to meet North Korea’s basic security and economic concerns.

Bush finally appears to have recognized the wisdom of Perry’s formula. Now, the administration must put this plan into action. Otherwise, it will have failed to prevent the emergence of a new and dangerous nuclear power in Asia.





A Foundation to Strengthen, Not Erode

Daryl G. Kimball

Forty years ago this month, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom began observing the first major arms control agreement of the nuclear age. The Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which took effect on October 10, 1963, not only led to the end of poisonous atmospheric nuclear testing but, in the words of President John F. Kennedy, was a first “step towards reduced world tension and broader areas of agreement.”

The LTBT laid the foundation for later treaties designed to control the number and types of existing nuclear weapons, end all nuclear testing, and prevent the spread of nuclear arms. The result is an imperfect but vital framework of legal, political, and technical barriers that have reduced the dangers of unbridled nuclear weapons competition. To one degree or another, Republican and Democratic presidents since Kennedy have all worked to strengthen these interlocking nonproliferation and disarmament treaties, verification mechanisms, and related export control systems.

Today, President George W. Bush faces the daunting challenge of persuading Iran and North Korea to forswear nuclear weapons and strictly comply with the standards of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Likewise, he needs to dissuade rivals India and Pakistan, which never joined the NPT, from deploying and improving their limited nuclear arsenals. Yet, the Bush team appears to believe that diplomacy and nonproliferation strategies cannot work.

Instead, the Bush administration is reviving a Cold War-era program of research and development on a new class of nuclear weapons designed to counter emerging nuclear and non-nuclear threats. Bush is seeking congressional authorization and funding for research and development of new “low-yield” nuclear weapons intended to incinerate chemical or biological weapons caches and higher-yield “robust nuclear earth penetrators” to destroy deeply buried and hardened enemy targets.

Not only are such weapons militarily impractical, but in the long-run, they are self- defeating. As President Kennedy noted in 1963, “A nation’s security does not always increase as its arms increase … and unlimited competition in the testing and development of new types of destructive nuclear weapons will not make the world safer.” The pursuit of new nuclear weapons erodes the nonproliferation norms established over the last four decades and will likely encourage other states to match or counter the U.S. bid.

Proponents argue that, by reducing the weapons’ explosive yields, collateral damage can be minimized to the point that they become “usable.” But a “small” nuclear blast, with just 1/13 the power of the Hiroshima bomb, detonated at a depth of 20-50 feet, would eject more than a million cubic feet of radioactive debris. If used to target chemical or biological weapons, nuclear strikes would probably spread, rather than destroy, the deadly material.

It is possible to improve the depth of penetration of weapons to destroy deeper targets, but these weapons are hardly “usable.” The “robust” bunker-busting nuclear warheads now under study—the B61 and B83—are not small, but rather high-yield, city-busting behemoths with yields exceeding 100 kilotons.

A nuclear weapon, however big or small, is still a weapon of mass destruction. So long as nuclear weapons exist, their role should be limited to deterring their use by others. The key to holding such buried chemical or biological targets at risk is better intelligence and more effective conventional munitions, not the threat of nuclear attack.

If left unchecked by Congress, the proposals for new nuclear capabilities might well lead to the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing in the next two to three years. This would defy the de facto global test moratorium and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty—a central U.S. nonproliferation commitment. The result would be a new action-reaction cycle of arms competition and renewed nuclear testing by other countries.

Like the LTBT itself, which allowed the nuclear arms race to continue through underground testing, existing arms control and nonproliferation measures do not address every security threat. But to meet today’s proliferation challenges, the nonproliferation regime must be strengthened, not abandoned.

The international community must bolster and expand verification capabilities to detect and deter cheating, countries must work better together to deal with cases of noncompliance, and all states must make good faith progress on their nuclear disarmament obligations. But if the White House continues to underutilize diplomacy and arms control and to claim special exemptions, it will undermine the rules upon which U.S. and global security depend.

Iraq's WMD: Myth and Reality

Daryl G. Kimball

The 2003 “pre-emptive” war against Iraq has been lauded by its proponents as a new model to address growing dangers posed by “rogue” states with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). To this day, senior U.S. officials such as Undersecretary of State John Bolton insist that the war was necessary because “the international regime that tried to enforce restrictions on Iraq obviously didn’t succeed.” Or did it?

A far different story has emerged than the one told by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Although Iraq clearly failed to fully comply with UN disarmament mandates, by March 2003 it was apparent from the work of the UN inspectors that Iraq did not retain weapons of mass destruction that could pose an urgent threat. Years of intrusive UN inspections had dismantled the bulk of Iraq’s unconventional arsenal and effectively contained what remained of its WMD capabilities.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British intelligence did not uncover reliable, new information about Iraqi WMD activity to justify the abandonment of inspections. Nevertheless, senior U.S. and British leaders systematically misrepresented earlier national intelligence assessments in order to exaggerate the Iraqi threat and cast doubt on the utility of inspections. Over the last few weeks, each of their key charges has been discredited.

An ongoing public inquiry in the United Kingdom has shown that the September 2003 British claim that Iraq could “deploy some WMD within 45 minutes” was based on questionable single-source intelligence and was included over the objections of some British intelligence analysts. To date, no chemical or biological weapons have been uncovered.

In Washington, a similar pattern of deception occurred. National Security Council officials repeatedly ignored high-level CIA and State Department objections to the charge that Iraq was seeking processed uranium for weapons from Africa. As a result, the discredited uranium allegation was not only repeated in Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address but in numerous other prewar statements and op-eds by top officials.

Another contested U.S. claim was that Iraq sought high-strength aluminum tubes for enriching uranium. In a classified October 2002 intelligence estimate, however, State and Energy Department intelligence agencies dismissed that interpretation as “highly dubious.” Nevertheless, Bush and his cabinet repeated the claim without qualification. When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigated the claim and found that the tubes probably were for rockets, U.S. officials questioned the IAEA’s credibility.

The administration also charged that Iraq had unmanned aircraft “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent” and could be used to carry out attacks on U.S. cities. The Air Force intelligence office, however, disagreed, saying that the small aircraft were for reconnaissance. Fresh evidence from Iraq now supports the Air Force assessment.

Another major U.S. charge was that Iraq had mobile facilities to produce biological weapons agents. In April and May, the United States discovered two mobile labs, and claimed they were used for bioweapons agent production. But the Defense Intelligence Agency now indicates the trailers were used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons.

A defensive White House might be hoping that the U.S. Iraq Survey Group will discover new proof of prewar WMD programs. Such findings would not alter the fact that the administration’s most dramatic claims about unconventional Iraqi weapons were wrong. The key question before the war was not whether Iraq had WMD programs in the past. Rather, did Iraq have active programs or weapons posing an imminent threat?

Taken together, the evidence shows that after a decade of inspections and sanctions, Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was dormant. Its chemical and biological weapons programs, while illegal and potentially dangerous, were probably geared to support rapid production capabilities rather than maintaining active stockpiles.

Intelligence is meant to inform government decision-making, not to be invoked or discarded selectively to justify predetermined political decisions. The conduct of the Bush and Blair administrations on Iraq has severely damaged the credibility of their governments, their intelligence assessments, and their leadership on other global issues.

The Iraq episode underscores the fact that international weapons monitoring and inspections are vital to augment limited national intelligence capabilities and provide an objective, factual basis for collective international enforcement of the nonproliferation regime. As the United States faces the next round of WMD proliferation challenges, it cannot afford to abandon its first and best line of defense against global WMD dangers: intrusive inspections and the arms control rules and institutions that make them possible.


Subscribe to RSS - Issue Briefs