In each month's issue of Arms Control Today, executive director Daryl Kimball provides an editorial perspective on a critical arms control issue.
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)