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Pursuing a Nuclear Weapons-Free World
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Reviewed by John Holum

Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

Edited by George P. Shultz et al.

Hoover Institution Press, 2008, 510 pp.

It is no revelation that, for the past eight years, the U.S. approach to formal arms control has been a backwater left mostly to the not-so-tender mercies of its ideological opponents. As a senator and then as a presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) signaled that this policy area is one of many slated for dramatic change. It is heartening that, as Reykjavik Revisited confirms, serious leaders, thinkers, and practitioners have concerned themselves in the meantime with what to do when the tide turns. Particularly important has been a bipartisan initiative led by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). Set out in two Wall Street Journal editorials, this effort explicitly endorsed the goal of a "world free of nuclear weapons" and laid out practical steps toward its realization.[1]

Reykjavik Revisited draws its title from the famous 1986 summit meeting in Iceland, where President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev shared a vision of a nuclear weapons-free world. The volume compiles papers prepared for and revised after an October 2007 conference at Stanford University where participants assumed the "zero nukes" goal and set to work on the practical means of getting from here to there.

The goal of zero nuclear weapons is not new. As Ambassador James Goodby observes in his contribution, it was envisioned in the Acheson-Lilienthal report of 1946, which also proposed an international authority to manage atomic energy. More recently, in the context of nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conferences, the treaty's five nuclear-weapon states have recommitted themselves to their NPT Article VI obligation to eliminate nuclear arsenals.

What is new in Reykjavik Revisited is the treatment of this commitment not as a distant vision but as a working goal. The contributors collectively recognize that the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism in today's world outweigh the security value of nuclear arsenals and, more importantly, that answers to those urgent threats are undermined by the fact that some countries still cling to nuclear arsenals. They then elaborate a range of specific steps-some familiar, some less so-that reinforce and build on each other as integral parts of a program for a nuclear weapons-free world.

Broadly speaking, that entails several broad clusters of daunting issues: verifiable elimination of existing deployed nuclear arsenals, dismantlement of warheads and bombs, and control of weapons-usable fissile material and, to the extent possible, the knowledge and techniques that could be used to create new nuclear weapons. That is certainly a tall order. Reykjavik Revisited offers a wealth of ideas for policymakers, far too many to summarize coherently. A sampling may suffice to underscore the book's richness.

As he has elsewhere, Bruce Blair makes a persuasive case for reducing the imminent danger inherent in deployed weapons through de-alerting and evaluates a series of potential measures, such as on-site de-mating of weapons from delivery vehicles, for their impact on strategic stability, transparency and verifiability, progress toward a nuclear weapons-free world, and other criteria. On another preliminary matter, Ambassador Max Kampelman and Steve Andreasen analyze in depth what would be the best diplomatic mechanism for getting all nuclear states to agree on a program of action toward a nuclear weapons-free world.

Focusing first on the world's largest nuclear arsenals, David Holloway draws on work by Goodby and Sidney Drell, among others, in defining an approach to phased reductions in U.S. and Russian deployed strategic forces, first replacing the current 1,700-2,200 limit on warheads with 1,000 warheads, then going to 500 deployed warheads and 500 warheads still available in a responsive force, then to a 500-warhead responsive force only, then to variants of a final stage in which other states with nuclear weapons would have to be involved. In a separate paper, Rose Gottemoeller takes up the thorny but unavoidable problem of removing the distinction between strategic and nonstrategic nuclear warheads and lays out a path for addressing Russia's comparatively greater reliance on short-range forces to make up for its conventional weakness.

Arms control agreements thus far have featured limits on delivery vehicles and attribution rules to conclude what each missile and bomber is assumed to carry. Going to "zero" will entail the largely unprecedented task of applying and verifying direct controls on warheads and bombs. Edward Ifft draws on experience distinguishing between nuclear and non-nuclear warheads under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and envisions a range of measures, including the use of radiation portal monitors and baseline radiation signatures for each type of warhead, to track warheads out of the force.

Matthew Bunn develops an approach to warhead dismantlement, beginning from the painful observation that neither the United States nor Russia has told anyone how many warheads they have (an estimated combined total of 25,000), nor has either country verified the dismantlement of "a single one of the other country's nuclear warheads." He discusses techniques, such as pit stuffing, to disable warheads pending dismantlement and lays out dramatically enhanced transparency standards that would release or exchange all information except that related to weapons design or that could substantially contribute to planning a nuclear theft.

Of course, it is not possible to get even close to eliminating nuclear weapons without involving the other nuclear-armed states. Ambassador Jack Matlock examines the variety of reasons why countries have, seek to have, or may seek to have nuclear weapons and suggests strategies for changing their minds, insisting in the process that we avoid the error of assuming that other countries think like we do. As a fundamental step, he says, "nuclear weapons must be devalued as a source of power and prestige." Matlock traces the reasons why Argentina, Brazil, Iraq (clandestinely), Libya, and South Africa terminated their nuclear weapons programs and makes the case for direct engagement even with distasteful regimes, such as Iran and North Korea. He also takes on the touchy subject of U.S. policies, including support for Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO and planned national missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic, that make Russia less cooperative on arms control and nonproliferation priorities. Why not a joint U.S.-Russian missile defense program?

One hopes the top U.S. national security team will advise the president someday that the country's last batch of nuclear warheads is about to be dismantled and he or she will ask, "Are you absolutely confident that no one else has any left?" Raymond Juzaitis and John McLaughlin address that baseline question, beginning from the reality that as numbers go down, the security implications of any weapons slipping through steeply rise. Encouragingly, their overall answer on verification of a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons is affirmative but heavily qualified, depending on effective use and coordination of all intelligence techniques and on such factors as investments in advanced monitoring capabilities and close coordination between negotiators and the intelligence community.

Limiting and then eliminating nuclear weapons is only the first part of the job. We are, as Holloway points out, facing a "post-nuclear world, not a pre-nuclear world"; so the knowledge, processes, skills, and materials for making nuclear weapons would remain as a "latent" weapons capability, posing a massive monitoring and verification challenge. Compounding the complication are such factors as a resurgence in interest in nuclear energy, the emergence of more efficient uranium-enrichment technologies, and the determination of many countries, including friends such as France, India, Japan, and the United Kingdom, to pursue plutonium-based nuclear power. The result, as Robert Einhorn notes, is that the world's stockpile of civil plutonium is actually growing by roughly 10 tons per year and may soon exceed stocks of plutonium produced for weapons.

A first task is to deal with the fissile material that already exists. In his second paper, Bunn says controlling stockpiles of weapons and the materials needed to make them is "the single most effective step...to reduce the deadly risk of nuclear terrorism-and to block a major potential shortcut for states seeking nuclear weapons as well." He lays out a comprehensive strategy for securing such materials, beginning with presidential leadership and a joint U.S.-Russian "global nuclear security campaign." The core of the strategy would be the development of meaningful common standards and methods pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which already obliges each state to provide "appropriate effective" security and accounting for nuclear stockpiles. He would also pursue an accelerated worldwide cleanup of vulnerable sites.

Einhorn offers creative ideas on formal negotiations to control fissile material and in particular on breaking or eluding the logjam that has prevented negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). If it is considered not in isolation but as part of broad program to eliminate nuclear weapons, for example, an FMCT might ban not only production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons but civil production as well, and a parallel process might address the vast stocks of material existing outside of weapons, at least partially addressing the "scope" objections of Egypt and Pakistan that have helped immobilize the CD.

In separate thoughtful papers James Timbie and Goodby take up the knotty problem of weapons risks associated with civil uses of nuclear energy, in particular electric power production. Reactor fuel is problematic at both ends of the fuel cycle. The same increasingly accessible technology that makes low-enriched uranium for power generation can make HEU for bombs, and spent reactor fuel can be reprocessed to make plutonium that can be used either for further power generation or weapons. For countries that are uninterested in nuclear arms, the logical answer would seem to be to offer an assured supply of reactor fuel in exchange for a commitment to forgo domestic enrichment or reprocessing. Perhaps not unexpectedly, Iran has shown no interest in such an arrangement, but neither have Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and others, including supplier states such as Canada, who cite the Article IV peaceful-use rights of all NPT members and bridle at any hint of a further NPT division between haves and have-nots.

Timbie and Goodby raise additional incentives that conceivably could tip the balance. Timbie concentrates on those laid out in the July 2007 U.S.-Russian Declaration on Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation. These include assistance in developing appropriate reactors, a global mechanism under the International Atomic Energy Agency to back up commercial fuel supplies, access to fuel blended down from HEU reserves, help with infrastructure and financing, and instruction in spent fuel management as ways to create an attractive alternative to acquisition of sensitive fuel-cycle technologies. Goodby lays out a similarly broad range of ideas, including U.S. leadership in establishing uranium-enrichment facilities under international control and the prospect of part ownership of multinational enrichment facilities for countries in compliance with their NPT obligations, even possibly including Iran.

Among the weapons-enabling elements, knowledge is the least controllable, but Raymond Jeanloz evaluates the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as an integral part of the nonproliferation bargain and as a vehicle for constraining the miniaturization of weapons for delivery on missiles as well as more sophisticated and devastating designs. More than a decade of successful experience in stockpile stewardship and further development of the international monitoring system, including notable advances in the underlying science, build an overwhelming case for CTBT ratification.

The contributors of Reykjavik Revisited are experienced arms control, nonproliferation, and intelligence professionals, and as the foregoing suggests, they do not sugarcoat the issues or minimize the obstacles. Many of those, seen from today's perspective, seem insurmountable. Given present conditions, some essential objectives, such as internationalizing the nuclear fuel cycle, seem well nigh impossible. Yet, a common thread running through the book is that unconditional adoption of the ultimate goal and then pursuit of each individual step as a component of that larger endeavor will dramatically change the dynamic. Progress will beget progress to bring the ultimate goal ever closer.

Persuading President Obama on these issues should be equivalent to pushing on an open door. He has already recognized that the top priority of combating nuclear terrorism depends on progress in nonproliferation and arms control and has embraced the goal of zero nuclear weapons and the elements of the approach of Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn.

That does not necessarily mean much will happen quickly. In the first instance, all will depend heavily on whether the president can align U.S. nuclear doctrine with the goal of zero nuclear weapons, specifically whether he can guide the nuclear posture review now underway in his administration away from war-fighting and toward the limited role of nuclear deterrence so that the only reason to have nuclear weapons is if others do. Count on that to be contentious.

If that fundamental change prevails, it will be possible to pursue aggressively the strategies defined so well in Reykjavik Revisited, which will prove to have made vital contributions to an essential global cause.

John Holum was the last director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and became the first undersecretary of state for arms control and international security when the ACDA was merged into the Department of State in 1999.



1. See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "Toward a Nuclear-Free World," The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13.


Posted: March 31, 2009