In each month's issue of Arms Control Today, executive director Daryl Kimball provides an editorial perspective on a critical arms control issue.
Five years ago at the signing ceremony for the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), President George W. Bush claimed the agreement “liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility” between the United States and Russia. Think again. Although SORT calls for deeper reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads, to 1,700-2,200 each by 2012, it has not liquidated the weapons nor mutual nuclear suspicions.
The treaty’s emphasis on flexibility detracts from its predictability, lessening its value in building a more stable and secure U.S.-Russian relationship. Unlike the earlier Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) approach, SORT does not require the destruction of strategic delivery systems. SORT also allows each side to store nondeployed warheads. The treaty fails to establish new verification mechanisms, relying instead on those contained in START. (Continue)
The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) faces enough difficulties without the additional burden of preferential treatment for NPT holdout states. Nevertheless, the George W. Bush administration won congressional approval last December for an ill-conceived nuclear trade bill that would blow a hole in U.S. and global nonproliferation rules. The legislation would allow India-specific waivers to U.S. laws designed to prevent the misuse of U.S. nuclear technology to build weapons, as India did in the 1970s.
Yet, the deal is not done. The United States and India must still conclude a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation, and U.S. leaders must win the consensus approval for changes to the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), which restrict trade with states that do not accept comprehensive nuclear safeguards. (Continue)
Forty years ago this month, the Senate approved the Outer Space Treaty, which bars signatory states from placing into orbit any objects carrying nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Although it has helped protect space for peaceful uses by all countries, the treaty has not closed off all threats to the safety of military and civilian space assets and the pursuit of other types of space-based weapons.
For instance, some countries have developed offensive weapons capabilities that can shoot down satellites in orbit using ground-based ballistic missiles. The United States is now contemplating “defensive,” space-based, kinetic-energy missile interceptors. The time has come once again for states to engage in dialogue on space security and avert a new and dangerous arms competition in the heavens. (Continue)
The Cold War may be over, but the nuclear-armed missiles and suspicions remain. Now, Washington’s plan to deploy ground-based missile interceptors in the former Eastern Bloc—coupled with the expansion of NATO and the Bush administration’s resistance to further offensive nuclear reductions—are increasing Moscow’s anxieties about U.S. strategic missile capabilities.
U.S. officials say their anti-missile systems are designed to deal with a potential Iranian missile force not Russia’s. They correctly note that even if 10 U.S.-controlled missile interceptors are eventually stationed in Poland, Russia’s missiles could overwhelm and evade the defenses with far cheaper countermeasures. (Continue)
For years, some scientists and policymakers have worried that the reliability of U.S. nuclear warheads could diminish as their plutonium components age. Such concerns have led some to argue the United States should resume nuclear testing, rebuild its older warheads, or both. Most recently, plutonium aging has been used by the Bush administration to justify an ambitious new proposal for remaking the weapons complex and the nuclear arsenal.
Think again. A new set of government studies finds that the plutonium primaries, or pits, of most U.S. nuclear weapons “will have minimum lifetimes of at least 85 years,” which is about twice as long as previous official estimates. The findings have led the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) to admit that “the degradation of plutonium in our nuclear weapons will not affect warhead reliability for decades.” (Continue)
What is the most serious weapons-related security threat? The answer depends on who you are and where you live. For many Westerners, the biggest worry may be catastrophic nuclear terrorism. But for millions of people in conflict-ridden developing regions, the greatest threat emanates from the free flow of and trade in conventional weapons. With global arms sales soaring to more than $44 billion in 2005 and hundreds of thousands of people dying annually from weapons and war, tough new controls on international arms sales are urgently needed.
U.S. and global leaders recognize the high-consequence dangers posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. As a result, they have established a patchwork system of legally binding treaties restricting the possession, proliferation, and use of “unconventional” weapons. However, there is no international treaty regulating the export of conventional arms, which produce more misery and carnage on a day-to-day basis. (Continue)