In each month's issue of Arms Control Today, executive director Daryl Kimball provides an editorial perspective on a critical arms control issue.
The global nuclear disarmament and risk reduction enterprise is at a crossroads as U.S.-Russian relations have reached perhaps their lowest point in more than a quarter century. Nevertheless, it remains in U.S. and Russian interests to implement existing nuclear risk reduction agreements and pursue practical, low-risk steps to lower tensions. Present circumstances demand new approaches to resolve stubborn challenges to deeper nuclear cuts and the establishment of a new framework to address Euro-Atlantic security issues.
Last month, negotiators from the United States, its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), and Iran agreed to a framework for talks on a “comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.”
Since the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons have motivated ordinary citizens to push their leaders to pursue arms control and disarmament measures to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons use.
After years of on-and-off negotiations, the Obama administration’s negotiating team, along with its diplomatic partners, secured a breakthrough agreement with Iran that sets back that country’s nuclear potential and increases international oversight of Iran’s nuclear activities.
The United States and its “P5+1” negotiating partners are scheduled to resume talks with Iran on Nov. 7-8 in Geneva to seek a lasting resolution to the high-stakes standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. These ongoing talks represent the best chance in years to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. A framework deal could be achieved by early next year.
The large-scale use of chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on Aug. 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again in Syria or elsewhere.
In the 10 years since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) first confirmed that Iran had secretly built a uranium-enrichment plant, the Islamic Republic has expanded its enrichment program and other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle activities.
In his June 19 address in Berlin, President Barack Obama sought to jump-start progress on his second-term nuclear risk reduction agenda. The president declared,”[S]o long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be. Complacency is not in the character of great nations.”
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.