Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” That certainly is the case when it comes to many of the political and diplomatic battles over how to deal with the world’s most dangerous weapons and technologies.
Nearly three decades ago, the United States swore off the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel because it cost too much and put separated plutonium, capable of being used as the explosive material in nuclear weapons, into circulation. That basic rationale has only been strengthened since, as Steve Fetter and Frank N. von Hippel point out in our cover story. After all, the United States is now striving to prevent additional countries from employing this technology and block terrorists and “rogue” states from getting their hands on significant quantities of plutonium. Yet, Congress is once again considering reprocessing as a means of dealing with spent fuel piling up at the nation’s nuclear plants.
Nearly four years ago, the Bush administration unveiled its nuclear posture review, claiming that it would significantly change U.S. nuclear policy and reduce the role of nuclear weapons. Yet, as Hans M. Kristensen reveals, the new U.S. nuclear doctrine falls far short of fulfilling the administration’s publicly stated goals. Instead of replacing the role of nuclear weapons, the new doctrine merely calls for conventional forces and missile defenses to complement them.
Ramping up their public relations campaign before the invasion of Iraq two years ago, U.S. officials derided UN inspectors as ineffectual. As Trevor Findlay writes in this issue, however, the post-war failure to find nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in Iraq has shown that the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) was remarkably effective. With the assistance of nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it largely verified that Iraq had essentially disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction and rid itself of associated capabilities. In doing so, UNMOVIC has provided a model for how a new, permanent UN verification body might address other such crisis. Yet, U.S. officials now want to abolish it.
Of course, the United States is not the only player on these issues. Another is the European Union, which has taken on a larger role recently, as the Europeans have sought to strike a diplomatic bargain with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. EU nonproliferation chief Annalisa Giannella talks with ACT about how the 25-member union plans to address arms control issues and find common ground with the United States.