In each month's issue of Arms Control Today, executive director Daryl Kimball provides an editorial perspective on a critical arms control issue.
The world's most notorious nuclear proliferator is once again a free man. Worried about what he might reveal in court about Pakistan's complicity and eager to demonstrate its independence from Washington, the fragile government of Prime Minister Asif Ali Zadari allowed the release last month of the country's former nuclear weapons program chief, Abdul Qadeer Khan.
For more than a decade, Khan was the mastermind of a far-flung global black market network that delivered advanced nuclear weapons-related technology to Iran, Libya, North Korea, and perhaps others. (Continue)
Beginning Jan. 20, U.S. nuclear weapons policy can and must change. The U.S.-Soviet standoff that gave rise to tens of thousands of nuclear weapons is over, but the policies developed to justify their possession and potential use remain largely the same.
Previous post-Cold War efforts to update the U.S. nuclear posture fell woefully short. Deployed arsenals have been halved, yet the United States and Russia still retain approximately 5,000 warheads each, mainly to deter a surprise attack by the other. Current policies also call for the possible use of nuclear weapons to defend U.S. forces and allies against conventional attacks and counter suspected chemical or biological weapons threats. (Continue)
President-elect Barack Obama's November victory represents a clear mandate for change on a number of national security issues. One of the most decisive ways in which Obama can restore U.S. nonproliferation leadership and spur action toward a nuclear-weapons-free world is to win Senate support for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) within the next two years.
By banning the "bang," the CTBT limits the ability of established nuclear-weapon states to field new and more sophisticated warheads and makes it far more difficult for newer members of the club to perfect smaller, more easily deliverable warheads. The CTBT is one of the key disarmament commitments made by the nuclear-weapon states at the 1995 and 2000 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conferences. (Continue)
During his 2000 presidential campaign, Gov. George W. Bush pledged to "leave the Cold War behind [and] rethink the requirements for nuclear deterrence." Today, the United States and Russia each still deploy about 3,000-4,000 strategic nuclear warheads, many of which are primed for launch within minutes in order to deter a surprise attack by the other. The Cold War may technically be over, but the practical reality is that the weapons and outdated nuclear deterrence thinking of that era persist.
Although the United States is on track to deploy no more than 1,700-2,200 strategic warheads by 2012 as mandated by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), the agreement's limit expires the day it takes effect. It also allows each side to store thousands of reserve warheads and missiles as a hedge against unforeseen threats. The treaty fails to establish new verification mechanisms, relying instead on those contained in the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). (Continue)
In an unprecedented move that will undermine the value of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the already beleaguered nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the NSG reluctantly agreed Sept. 6 to exempt NPT holdout India from its guidelines that require comprehensive international safeguards as a condition of nuclear trade.
The decision is a nonproliferation disaster of historic proportions that will produce harm for decades to come. It severely erodes the credibility of global efforts to ensure that access to nuclear trade and technology is available only to those states that meet global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament standards. India does not. (Continue)
Decision time has arrived on the controversial proposal to roll back three decades of nuclear trade restrictions on India, which violated peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements by detonating its first nuclear bomb in 1974.
As early as Sept. 4-5, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will reconvene to consider a revised U.S. proposal to permit nuclear trade with India. At a special meeting of the 45-member group last month, the Bush administration proposed an India-specific exemption from NSG guidelines, which currently require full-scope IAEA safeguards as a condition of supply. Bowing to Indian demands, the Bush team called for a “clean” and “unconditional” waiver that would have allowed unrestricted nuclear trade with India at the discretion of each NSG member state. (Continue)
Within weeks of entering office, the next U.S. president will be confronted with dozens of pivotal choices. One of the most important will be whether to install untested missile defenses in eastern Europe to deal with an Iranian missile threat that does not exist.
The decision should be easy. Deployment should be deferred until the system is proven effective in realistic tests, allies are on board, and a new agreement with Russia delineates the size and capability of strategic missile defenses. (Continue)
Over the course of its 40-year existence, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has established an indispensable yet imperfect set of interlocking nonproliferation and disarmament obligations and standards. Rather than the dozens of nuclear-armed states that were forecast before the NPT was opened for signature in July 1968, only four additional countries beyond the original five possessors have nuclear weapons today. On the other hand, several states have abandoned nuclear weapons programs.
The NPT, bolstered by nuclear export controls and a safeguards system, makes it far more difficult for non-nuclear-weapon states to acquire or build nuclear weapons. Equally important, NPT Article VI commits the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China to achieve nuclear disarmament. (Continue)
Seven months after Israeli Air Force jets bombed a remote facility near al-Kibar in Syria, the United States released intelligence information April 24 suggesting that the site housed a nuclear reactor for a military program being built with assistance from North Korea. The assessment comes as Pyongyang and Washington have reached a tentative agreement on a declaration of North Korea's nuclear program, an issue which has stalled talks aimed at verifiably denuclearizing North Korea.
The charges of a Syrian-North Korean nuclear connection raise new and troubling questions about Pyongyang's past proliferation behavior and Damascus' intentions, which must be fully investigated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Yet, it would be a grave mistake to allow it to derail the ongoing diplomatic process that has led to the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and still provides important, if limited, leverage to halt further North Korean proliferation activities. (Continue)
For nearly 40 years, American presidents have expressed their intention to fulfill the U.S. obligation under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue “effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
Still, few presidents have taken that goal seriously, and those who did missed historic opportunities to move closer toward a nuclear weapons-free world. Beginning with the next U.S. president, that can and must change, or else the global effort to reduce the risk of nuclear war, curb proliferation, and prevent catastrophic terrorism will falter. (Continue)
Two and a half years after President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced their proposed U.S.-Indian civil nuclear cooperation deal, the ill-conceived arrangement faces a highly uncertain future. In the next few weeks, decisions will likely be made at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that will determine whether the deal occurs at all and, if so, at what cost to the global nuclear nonproliferation system.
As soon as this month, the IAEA Board of Governors may be convened to consider a new India-specific safeguards agreement. If approved, the 44 other members of the NSG might then act on a U.S. proposal to exempt India from long-standing guidelines that require comprehensive IAEA safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply. If these bodies agree, the United States and other suppliers could finalize bilateral nuclear trade deals with India. (Continue)
Effecting change in Washington, and nuclear weapons policy in particular, is exceedingly difficult, requiring strong presidential leadership and a working bipartisan majority. Yet, recent congressional actions and trends will give the next occupant of the White House a rare opportunity to initiate sweeping changes in outdated U.S. nuclear weapons and arms control policies.
Congress in December struck down the Bush administration’s ill-conceived plan for new “replacement” nuclear warheads and an additional plutonium pit production facility to help build them. Although President George W. Bush may try to revive these projects and insist that the nuclear arsenal is as small as possible, there is growing support and a strong security rationale for fewer, not newer, nuclear weapons. (Continue)
A mere 20 years ago, massive numbers of conventional and nuclear forces stood poised for attack on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. NATO and Soviet bloc countries were finally able to draw down their arsenals, ease tensions, and build trust with verification through a series of landmark arms control agreements concluded in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Much attention has been focused on the impact of the treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear forces and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in solidifying the end of Cold War hostilities. No less important is the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which slashed NATO and Warsaw Pact armies and their equipment and effectively eliminated the possibility of a blitzkrieg-style land attack across the East-West frontier. (Continue)
Since Iran’s leaders two years ago rejected a multilateral package of incentives to halt their uranium-enrichment program, the United States and Europe have adopted a strategy of targeted sanctions. But this effort has failed to slow progress on Iran’s most worrisome nuclear projects.
Rather than engage Iran in a broad-based dialogue, the Bush administration has said it will only negotiate if Iran complies with UN Security Council calls to suspend its nuclear program. At the same time, the president and vice president have suggested that they may be willing to use military force to prevent Iran from “acquiring the knowledge to make nuclear weapons.” (Continue)
Two decades ago, President Ronald Reagan proposed a simple yet bold idea to reduce the risks of nuclear-armed ballistic missile attacks and “mutual assured destruction.” At the October 1986 Reykjavik summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan suggested that both countries eliminate all offensive ballistic missiles within 10 years while researching and developing strategic missile defenses.
Although Gorbachev rejected Reagan’s proposal, the exchange set the stage for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which scrapped all of their ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and eased Cold War hostilities. (Continue)