In each month's issue of Arms Control Today, executive director Daryl Kimball provides an editorial perspective on a critical arms control issue.
The meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama later this month at the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries presents the two leaders with an important chance to achieve a win-win breakthrough on missile defense and accelerate nuclear arms reductions. Putin and Obama must seize the opportunity.
Last year in South Korea, President Barack Obama declared that “[t]he massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited for today’s threats, including nuclear terrorism.” He noted that his administration is reviewing U.S. nuclear strategy but that we can “already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”
A ban on nuclear testing has long been and continues to be a key part of a comprehensive, effective U.S. nuclear risk reduction strategy. Four years ago on April 5, President Barack Obama said in Prague, “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”
North Korea’s third nuclear weapons test explosion, in defiance of its lone remaining ally, China, and the rest of the international community, should prompt a reappraisal of Beijing’s accommodating attitude toward its neighbor and rejuvenate U.S.-led diplomacy designed to freeze and reverse Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
In a dramatic speech in Prague less than 100 days after his 2009 inauguration, President Barack Obama warned that “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. The technology to build a bomb has spread.”
If Congress and the White House are serious about reducing the growing federal deficit, they must seize the opportunity to scale back costly schemes for building a new generation of strategic nuclear delivery systems and rebuilding tactical nuclear bombs.
By the end of this year, representatives from more than a dozen Middle Eastern states may come together for an unprecedented meeting in Helsinki on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Given their history of conflict; the presence of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the region; and the prospect of further proliferation, these states can ill afford to squander the opportunity.
Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, the threats posed by the bomb have changed, but still hang over us all. Today, there still are nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons, and there are nine nuclear-armed states. More countries have access to the technologies needed to produce nuclear bomb material, and the risk of nuclear terrorism is real.
The United States has relatively robust regulations governing international transfers of conventional arms and ammunition, but many other countries have weak or ineffective laws and policies, if they have any at all. In the absence of common international standards and national export controls, arms suppliers and brokers exploit the gaps for profit, allowing arms and ammunition to flow to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups.
Nearly 10 years have elapsed since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had secretly built a uranium-enrichment facility. Nearly seven years have passed since talks between Iran and the European Union stalled and Iran resumed its enrichment activities. Since then, Iran and the P5+1—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have fumbled fleeting opportunities to reach a deal that reduces the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran in exchange for a rollback of proliferation-related sanctions.
Late last month, UN officials confirmed that more than 100 Syrians—the majority women and children—were killed following artillery and tank shelling of civilians near the town of Haoula by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. Despite the brutality of the Assad regime over the 15-month conflict in which some 10,000 Syrians have been killed, Russia, Iran, and possibly others continue to sell weapons to Damascus.
After a long delay, serious negotiations to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its growing capacity to enrich uranium appear to be back on track. Although no breakthrough was achieved, the April 14 round of talks with Iran in Istanbul established a good foundation for progress.
Preventing the spread and buildup of nuclear weapons remains one of the highest priority international security challenges. Success depends on a multipronged global strategy, including a verifiable ban on nuclear explosive testing to prevent the emergence of new and more deadly nuclear weapons. U.S. leadership is critical.
Within his first 100 days in office, President Barack Obama delivered a stirring address in Prague on the steps necessary to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons. On April 5, 2009, he pledged to “put an end to Cold War thinking” by “reduc[ing] the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”
North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il may be gone, but the dangers posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs persist. Although the long-term future of the regime under the new young ruler, Kim Jong Un, remains uncertain, it is clearly in the United States’ interest to get the much-delayed denuclearization process back on track.