A Good Deal That Must Be Honored

Daryl G. Kimball

The nuclear nonproliferation regime is, once again, at a critical juncture. Nuclear dangers in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Koreas, as well as the specter of nuclear terrorism, continue to threaten regional and international stability. Adding to these substantial challenges, the Bush administration has made clear its plans to keep its nuclear weapons options open and resist lasting nuclear arms limitations. Bush’s approach threatens to undermine the foundation for global cooperation to stop the spread of nuclear weapons: the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

To date, the NPT has succeeded because it has made the production and acquisition of nuclear weapons technically challenging and almost universally unacceptable. Since its inception in 1968, only three additional countries have acquired nuclear weapons, while the treaty has led several states to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.

But the NPT does not simply aim to maintain the nuclear status quo. Article VI of the NPT requires that the original five nuclear-weapon states—Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States—pursue effective nuclear disarmament measures. Until now, U.S. leaders have grudgingly recognized that, to preserve the objective of global nonproliferation, the nuclear-weapon states need to pursue their disarmament commitments.

At the 2000 NPT review conference, the nuclear-weapon states reaffirmed this approach. They agreed to a 13-point program of action for nuclear disarmament, including a ban on nuclear testing, irreversible nuclear arms reductions, a fissile material production cutoff, and maintenance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This month, as delegates from the 187 NPT states-parties gather in New York for their first meeting since the 2000 conference, they will find that little progress has been achieved toward these and other nuclear security objectives.

The U.S. delegation will likely repeat its claim that “the United States understands its special responsibility under Article VI.” But recent U.S. actions suggest otherwise. Thus far, the Bush team has shown that it sees the NPT merely as a tool to constrain the nuclear capabilities of states such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea and improve the proliferation behavior of Russia and China.

At the same time, the administration seeks to maintain its current nuclear capabilities and keep open the option to develop new nuclear capabilities to deter, dissuade, and defeat existing and unforeseen threats, including those from the “axis of evil” states. Consequently, President George W. Bush and his national security team have systematically dismissed and disavowed virtually all the arms control and disarmament measures agreed upon at the 2000 NPT conference.

Not only has the Bush administration decided to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and pursue unproven missile defenses, but it has shelved—for the time being—the nuclear test ban treaty. The U.S. delegation to the NPT meeting will point to Bush’s current support for the nuclear test moratorium. Though important, the permanence of this commitment has been undermined by the administration’s plans to shorten the time needed to resume U.S. nuclear testing and develop new nuclear weapons capabilities to defeat hard and deeply buried targets. Efforts to enhance the credibility and range of options for the possible use of nuclear weapons blur the line between nuclear and conventional warfare. Such policies only undermine nonproliferation efforts by suggesting to other states that nuclear weapons are necessary for their defense.

President Bush has also abandoned START II and the follow-on START III framework, including the elimination of strategic launchers and dismantlement of warheads these agreements would have achieved. U.S. representatives will try to defend the Bush record by touting his effort to reach a “legally binding” agreement with Russia to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 2,200 each by the year 2012.

Unfortunately, the U.S. proposal is less than meets the eye. In keeping with the nuclear posture review, the proposal would allow Washington to rapidly redeploy 2,400 stored warheads. Thousands of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic warheads would remain unregulated. Further eroding its security value, the current U.S. proposal would allow either side to exceed the numerical limits on deployed warheads by simply notifying the other party.

The United States, and indeed the world, has benefited from the NPT. As a nuclear-weapon state-party to the treaty, the United States has assumed solemn disarmament obligations that are in its own security interests, but it has failed to fulfill them, as have the other nuclear-weapon states. The Bush administration’s emphasis on nuclear weapons and its failure to take concrete steps to reduce their saliency jeopardizes long-term U.S. nonproliferation goals and the NPT itself. To work, the NPT requires good-faith implementation by all parties. To survive, the NPT must serve the interests of all treaty partners, not just a few.