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"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
Issue Briefs

Beyond the 'Axis of Evil'

Daryl G. Kimball

In response to the rapidly worsening crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the George W. Bush administration has quietly reversed itself and agreed to restart direct talks with Pyongyang—and none too soon. Recently, North Korea has said it would unfreeze its plutonium facilities and withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The shift in the administration’s strategy, along with South Korea’s mediation offer, provides a stronger basis for a peaceful solution to end North Korea’s defiant and dangerous bid to become the world’s ninth nuclear-weapon state.

The Bush policy adjustment follows the failure of the administration’s attempts to coerce Pyongyang to implement its denuclearization commitments and threatening punitive economic measures if it does not. Upon its arrival in office, the Bush administration abandoned its predecessor’s policy of engagement, which had produced important, if limited, success in freezing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile activities. In early 2002, Bush also stoked North Korean security fears by naming it as one of three “axis of evil” states subject to the administration’s policy of pre-emption.

Following the Bush administration’s announcement that North Korea admitted it was pursuing prohibited uranium-enrichment capabilities in October, the White House organized a strong response, including cutting off heavy-fuel oil shipments. But the situation worsened as the United States stubbornly refused to talk with the North until it verifiably ended the uranium work. Not surprisingly, Pyongyang has reopened its more advanced plutonium-based nuclear weapons facilities and expelled international inspectors.

As of now, it is estimated that North Korea could—in less than six months—separate enough plutonium for six bombs. If North Korea builds nuclear weapons, a dangerous nuclear action-reaction cycle involving Japan, South Korea, and China would likely ensue. In addition, given Pyongyang’s propensity to proliferate dangerous weapons technology, that nuclear material could very well be sold to terrorists or other states seeking nuclear weapons.

Caught between North Korea’s brinksmanship and the absence of effective U.S. leadership, South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun has launched an important initiative to restart direct talks with Pyongyang and to develop a formula for a new agreement to end the crisis. Seoul is reportedly suggesting that if Pyongyang ends its nuclear weapons work and readmits international inspectors, Washington should offer a formal pledge of nonaggression and resume heavy-fuel oil supplies.

The initiative, and growing bipartisan congressional pressure for talks with the North, might help the White House move beyond its failed “axis of evil” policy and give North Korea a face-saving opportunity to cease its reckless defiance of international nuclear nonproliferation norms.

In line with this approach, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul issued a strong yet positive joint communiqué on January 7. It forcefully calls upon North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons program and fully comply with its nonproliferation commitments. It also endorses direct dialogue with the North. In contrast to the U.S. stance on Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction, the statement also says the United States “poses no threat and has no intention of invading North Korea.”

Although the White House is now willing to talk to North Korea, it has wisely stressed that it will not give way on the bottom line: the North must end its nuclear weapons work and comply with international nonproliferation norms. To compel North Korean compliance, however, Washington must also fulfill its earlier promises. As the South Korean formula suggests, Bush should formally reaffirm earlier U.S. security pledges and resume support for oil and economic assistance pledged under the 1994 Agreed Framework, which defused a similar nuclear showdown a decade ago.

Although the U.S. policy adjustment offers hope, many obstacles lie ahead. North Korea might continue to miscalculate and accelerate work to separate plutonium for weapons. Even as Washington focuses on the search for suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it cannot afford to wait to begin talks to halt North Korea’s known and more advanced nuclear bomb program. At risk is East Asian security, U.S. credibility, and the future of global nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

Tough rhetoric and finger pointing will seldom produce nonproliferation results, especially if the United States itself wields the nuclear-weapons stick. With a little help from our allies, the administration may have finally hit upon a strategy that can end the current crisis, or at least avoid making it worse.

National Insecurity Strategy

Daryl G. Kimball

Two years after taking office, the Bush administration has embraced a “new” National Security Strategy that relies heavily on counterproliferation and pre-emptive action to “deter, dissuade, and defeat” adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). To a greater extent than ever, the policy sets the United States above and apart from the rules other states are expected to follow.

In the long run, this approach is unsustainable and self-defeating. The strategy minimizes the role of diplomacy and arms control and seeks to maintain and even expand U.S. nuclear capabilities. This combination threatens to erode the credibility of the laws and norms against WMD upon which our security and the security of our allies depend.

The emphasis on pre-emption rests on the belief that diplomacy and nonproliferation cannot halt the weapons programs of outlaw states. Consequently, the Bush team wants to free the United States from entangling treaties and agreements that limit new military capabilities intended to counter emerging threats. To the extent that it does rely on arms control, the Bush policy supports only those treaties that limit the capabilities of other states.

For instance, the National Security Strategy appropriately calls for enhanced compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) through additional safeguards. However, the administration boldly rejects key U.S. nonproliferation and disarmament commitments under Article VI of the treaty—most notably the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which restricts the development of new nuclear weapons.

Instead, the Bush strategy calls for improving U.S. nuclear warhead capabilities intended for pre-emptive strikes on underground facilities suspected of producing chemical or biological weapons. Congress has just approved funding for new research on a “robust nuclear earth penetrator” warhead. Using nuclear bombs for pre-emptive attacks on such targets is militarily impractical and morally wrong. The very pursuit of such weapons undermines norms against WMD and might prompt other states to follow our lead.

In defense of its NPT credentials, the administration claims that the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty helps meet U.S. disarmament commitments. But in contrast to U.S. policy goals prior to 2000, this treaty does not mandate the dismantlement of a single warhead or missile, provide for adequate verification measures, or reduce the readiness posture of U.S. weapons deployed against Russia and other states.

As a result, the United States will retain the flexibility to field at least 4,200 strategic warheads through the next decade. Some Bush officials are calling for reductions of Russia’s nonstrategic warheads, but the strategy document fails to list this or any further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions as an objective.
The Bush plan does acknowledge the value of continued efforts to assist Russia dismantle and secure its Cold War WMD stockpiles. President Bush’s tepid support for this vital endeavor, however, leaves funding for these vital programs at the mercy of annual congressional wrangling and executive branch infighting.

The Bush strategy correctly identifies biological weapons as a growing danger and professes support for Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) compliance. Unfortunately, the administration has blocked global consensus on a comprehensive verification protocol for the treaty. Instead, the national security plan calls for expanded U.S. biodefense research. Without the investigations the protocol would have authorized, BWC noncompliant states continue to escape scrutiny.

In the case of North Korea, key U.S. objectives—a verifiable freeze of Pyongyang’s missile program and an end to its uranium and plutonium weapons work—are only possible if leaders from Washington and Pyongyang meet. But for now, the administration refuses to negotiate until North Korea verifiably eliminates all nuclear weapons activity. This may be morally satisfying but will not likely produce good results.

In South Asia, the center of an ongoing missile race, the Bush administration has been inconsistent in the application of its own WMD principles. Washington has downplayed the urgent need for further Indian and Pakistani nuclear and missile restraints. Recently, the administration has turned a blind eye toward recent reports of illicit missile transfers to Pakistan from North Korea in exchange for uranium enrichment technology.

Diplomacy and arms control measures obviously cannot address every security threat, but today’s WMD challenges cannot be successfully met without consistent U.S. support for multilateral arms control. If the White House continues to underutilize diplomacy and arms control and to claim special exemptions, it denies the United States and its allies the tools essential for preventing, reducing, and eliminating chemical, biological, and nuclear dangers.

Prevention, Not Pre-emption

Daryl G. Kimball

Yielding to pressure from members of Congress and major U.S. allies, President George W. Bush made the common sense decision to appeal to the United Nations to address the chronic problem of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. As a result of the renewed international focus on its unfulfilled obligations to comply with UN Security Council disarmament resolutions, Baghdad agreed to allow UN inspectors back in the country “without conditions.”

But this is only the beginning of a difficult process. Now, all the key players must give the weapons inspectors the time, authority, and support necessary to allow them to freely operate in a manner that can eliminate and prevent the re-emergence of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs. Over the course of the next few weeks, the sincerity of Bush’s appeal to the United Nations, the will of the Security Council to uphold nonproliferation norms, and Iraq’s willingness to cooperate will be tested.

Despite Iraq’s past history of deceit and obstruction, in 1999 the United Nations assessed that “the bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated” by the previous inspections regime. But Iraq’s past behavior makes it clear that the Security Council should deliver a new resolution outlining more effective conditions for Iraqi compliance.

The Security Council should insist that Iraq provide, in a timely manner, a full and accurate declaration of its current and past weapons activities, that inspections rules should be changed to allow for a freer exchange of intelligence on prohibited weapons, and that interviews with Iraqi scientists be free of intimidation. UN inspectors must be also allowed to conduct inspections anytime and anywhere, including “presidential sites.”

In addition, the Security Council should clarify that the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—not Washington—should determine whether and when Iraq fails to meet the requirements of a strengthened inspections regime. If Iraq repeats its past pattern of blatant noncooperation, the council should authorize the use of force only to ensure the safety of the inspectors and the completion of their mission. Furthermore, because the work of the inspectors will take time to complete properly, the Security Council (and Iraq) must not set arbitrary deadlines for the inspection process.

Quick action is needed, but the evidence presented thus far does not suggest that Iraqi weapons capabilities pose an imminent threat that warrants immediate military action. Though Iraq apparently possesses dangerous chemical and biological weapons capabilities, the British government estimates that even if Iraq could obtain fissile material and other essential components from foreign sources, it would still need at least 1-2 years to build a nuclear device. Clearly, there is the time and the need to commence inspections.

Because Russia, France, and China eroded vital support for earlier UN inspections, they now have a special responsibility to help craft a resolution calling for inspections under new and more effective rules. In light of recent Bush administration statements, however, they are right to be concerned that Washington is seeking a resolution that is cynically designed to trigger and justify a pre-emptive invasion aimed at “regime change” in Baghdad.

Since the president’s UN speech, administration officials have said that disarming Iraq is only a part of their aim, which is ultimately to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The White House initially asked Congress to give the president authorization “to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force,” to enforce UN resolutions and “restore international peace and security in the region.”

Such language would amount to a blank check for US military adventurism well beyond the core issue of getting rid of Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs. In light of Bush administration nuclear-use policy, it could also leave the door open to US nuclear strikes in retaliation for Iraqi chemical or biological attack or to the preemptive destruction of suspected weapons caches. Two weapons of mass destruction wrongs do not make a right.

Given the likely human toll of an all-out war and the current status of Iraq’s weapons programs, for now the most prudent and feasible means to deny Saddam Hussein access to weapons of mass destruction is a strategy of multilateral prevention through effective UN weapons inspections. If, on the other hand, President Bush is really seeking UN approval for regime change through a preemptive unilateral attack, he will have undermined the very institutions and the norms against weapons of mass destruction he seeks to enforce. In the long run, such an approach will increase, not decrease, global weapons threats.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Daryl G. Kimball

As tensions mounted in recent months between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, massive troop deployments, cross-border shelling, and tough talk in New Delhi and Islamabad brought the two nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of war. Though leaders in both countries had professed confidence that neither side would deliberately resort to nuclear weapons, they have said in recent days that they were prepared to wage nuclear war.

The international community, including the United States, realized the danger of a deliberate or accidental nuclear exchange between the rival states and sought to remind both sides of the grave consequences of such a war. Mindful of the possibility that Pakistan might be tempted to use nuclear weapons to counter India’s overwhelming conventional forces, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he told the leaders of both states, “I can see very little military, political, or any other kind of justification for the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in this day and age may serve some deterrent effect, and so be it. But to think of using them as just another weapon in what might start out as a conventional conflict in this day and age seems…to be something that no side should be contemplating.”

Despite the wisdom of Powell’ s words, the Bush administration apparently subscribes to a different set of rules for its own nuclear arsenal. The Pentagon’s recent nuclear posture review asserts that nuclear weapons “provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and large-scale conventional military force.” The review calls for contingency plans for nuclear strikes against non-nuclear weapon states or in conflicts that may begin as conventional wars. It calls for new nuclear weapons capabilities to destroy targets, such as deeply buried bunkers.

Worse still, in a speech this June President George W. Bush said that the United States will take the battle “to the enemy…and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” This implies that President Bush may be willing to use nuclear weapons not only in retaliation for a WMD attack but also to pre-empt possible WMD attacks. These attempts to reinforce the believability of U.S. threats send mixed and dangerous signals to allies, adversaries, and would-be proliferators.

Current U.S. efforts to enhance the credibility and range of options for the use of nuclear weapons blur the bright line that has separated nuclear and conventional warfare since the bombing of Nagasaki. Coming from the United States, the world’s pre-eminent military and political power, such policies only undermine nonproliferation efforts by suggesting to other states that nuclear weapons are legitimate and necessary tools that can achieve military or political objectives.

To date, no nuclear-weapon state has declared as a matter of national policy that it would respond to or pre-empt the use of chemical or biological weapons with nuclear weapons. It is one thing to threaten a “devastating response” to a biological or chemical weapons attack. It is quite another to say explicitly that the United States is prepared to counter or attempt to pre-empt such attacks by striking with nuclear weapons.

When preventive diplomacy and arms control fail to head off proliferation (and from time to time they will), military force backed with the rule of law and supported by the international community can be the option of last resort. But force should not become the sole or even the primary policy option, and in no case should nuclear weapons be employed. As a primary solution, all nations must work to strengthen, effectively implement, and universally adhere to the nonproliferation norms established by the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

If the Bush administration fails to follow through on U.S. NPT disarmament commitments, and if it renounces its longstanding pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states in good standing with the NPT, some states may see that the rule of law is breaking down and conclude that they too need nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons to ward off attack. And if the United States asserts that pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against terrorist-related WMD threats is justified, a state such as India might assert the same right and consider launching its own pre-emptive strike against Pakistan.

Rather than explore new roles for U.S. nuclear weapons—even in the name of WMD counter-proliferation—American leaders have a practical and moral responsibility to practice what they preach. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last month, “These are not just larger weapons, they are distinctively different weapons.” Consequently, the role of nuclear weapons, until they are eliminated, must be strictly limited to deterring a nuclear attack by other nuclear-weapon states.

A Beginning, Not an End

Daryl G. Kimball

The May 24 signing of the new Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin is a welcome, though incomplete, step toward reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear dangers. In their zealous pursuit to maintain strategic nuclear flexibility well into the next decade, U.S. negotiators have spurned a historic opportunity to verifiably eliminate excess nuclear weaponry, leaving behind numerous dangers that demand further action.

The new agreement is short. It requires each side to reduce its number of deployed strategic warheads to no more than 2,200 by 2012. It places no restrictions on strategic missiles and bombers and allows each side to determine the composition of its deployed nuclear forces. The treaty does not spell out what is to be done with warheads removed from service.

The White House asserts that this formulation suits the more amicable U.S.-Russian relationship. But the treaty’s limited scope and lack of detail reflect the fact that negotiators simply could not agree on core issues, including how to count deployed warheads. On the whole, the new treaty does not significantly alter the number of existing nuclear delivery systems and therefore only marginally affects the residual nuclear potential of the United States and Russia. The allowance for storage of thousands of reserve warheads undercuts the treaty’s verifiability and makes it more difficult to forecast future force levels. The agreement’s emphasis on flexibility detracts from its predictability, lessening its value in building a more stable and secure U.S.-Russian relationship.

As the Senate reviews the treaty in the coming weeks, it will surely applaud the treaty’s mandate for deployed nuclear force reductions. But the Senate should also press the administration to explain the gaps left in the treaty text and seek action from Bush on a more comprehensive and effective nuclear risk reduction strategy vis-à-vis Russia.

First, the Senate should examine why the old premises of Cold War nuclear targeting continue to dictate the size of the U.S. arsenal. Clearly, the United States and Russia are no longer enemies and have no reason to go to war, but the Bush administration’s proposed nuclear force size and posture are still very much based on deterring and defeating Russia’s nuclear and conventional military forces. As a result, the condition of mutual assured destruction persists. Absent such requirements, there is no plausible threat scenario that requires the deployment of more than a few hundred nuclear warheads, let alone 2,200, with thousands more available for rapid redeployment.

If Putin follows Bush’s policy of warehousing, rather than eliminating, excess warheads, the long-term burden of safeguarding Russia’s already vast and insecure nuclear weapons complex will only grow. The United States should pursue a policy of minimizing reserve forces and offering Russia more assistance to safeguard and demilitarize their excess warheads and nuclear materials.

The treaty promises to remove some but not all strategic warheads from ready launch status. Consequently, the Senate should press the administration to seek further operational changes in the alert status of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces to guard against the risk of accidental launch or miscalculation.

Though verification provisions from the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty will remain in effect until 2009, the new treaty provides no additional verification or transparency measures. Proposals to expand data sharing and improve monitoring of treaty compliance were on the table, but the two sides failed to close a deal. Senators should task U.S. negotiators to work with Russia on new mechanisms to enhance transparency and establish a better baseline on weapons holdings through the Bilateral Implementation Commission established by the new treaty.

Given the pursuit of nuclear weapons by terrorist organizations, it is troubling that Russia retains thousands of poorly accounted-for tactical warheads, which are relatively more vulnerable to theft or diversion than strategic warheads. For now, tactical nuclear weapons are not a top Bush administration priority. Meanwhile, the administration is contemplating the development of new types of—and new uses for—tactical nuclear weapons, a policy that only makes the control of such weapons more challenging. Negotiations leading to the verifiable elimination of tactical nuclear weapons should be high on the U.S.-Russian agenda.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has said that the new treaty is “a transitional measure to a day when arms control will play a very minor role in U.S.-Russian relations, if a role at all.” But because this treaty fails to lock in strategic nuclear reductions and does not address the vast array of other Cold War-era dangers, that day remains far too distant. The task now is for the United States and Russia to pursue the much-needed next steps with a more comprehensive and lasting nuclear risk reduction strategy.

The Test Moratorium's Uncertain Future

Daryl G. Kimball

It has been nearly 10 years since the United States has conducted a nuclear test explosion. After 1,030 U.S. nuclear detonations, Congress, following the Soviet Union’s lead, legislated a halt to nuclear testing in the fall of 1992. This test moratorium has served U.S. and international security interests well. But now, a decade after the moratorium helped defuse the U.S.-Soviet nuclear rivalry, the Bush administration is pursuing new policies that put at risk the moratorium and the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The moratorium and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) it helped produce created an important obstacle to the induction of new warhead types by nuclear-weapon states. At the same time, the United States has been able to continue maintaining its remaining nuclear weapons stockpile through robust non-nuclear testing and evaluation programs. The United States’ test halt and its commitment to finalize the CTBT also provided the diplomatic leverage needed in 1995 to extend the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty indefinitely. Furthermore, the moratorium and the CTBT helped convince India and Pakistan to exercise nuclear restraint following their 1998 test explosions.

Despite these accomplishments, senior Bush officials announced shortly after taking office that they would not ask the Senate to reconsider the CTBT, which was rejected in October 1999 after a hasty and highly partisan debate. The administration has tried to deflect domestic and international criticism of this policy by insisting that there are no immediate plans to resume testing. But the White House has condoned a series of moves that further undercut the test ban treaty, call into question the permanence of the U.S. moratorium, and undermine efforts to detect and deter nuclear testing by other states.

Last year, the administration unilaterally decided to end its technical and financial support for short-notice, on-site inspections that will only be available under the test ban treaty. The White House then decided to boycott an international conference to promote the treaty’s entry into force, which was supported by all major U.S. allies.

In recent weeks, it has become clearer that the Bush administration’s test ban unilateralism is, in part, motivated by the misguided belief that new types of nuclear weapons are useful and necessary. The Pentagon’s latest nuclear posture review calls for the development of new nuclear weapons capabilities to provide a wider range of options to defeat “hardened and deeply buried targets.” The president asked Congress for $15.5 million for fiscal year 2003 for research on modifying existing warheads for this purpose. In addition, the posture review calls for reducing the time necessary to resume nuclear testing from the current 24- to 36-month requirement, and the administration has requested $15 million more to improve Nevada Test Site readiness.

Despite administration assurances that there are no plans for new weapon types that require testing, the Bush policies seek to establish a stronger rationale and technical capability for future U.S. testing. Pro-testers in the Pentagon want to go even further and have been pressing the White House to repudiate formally the CTBT and end U.S. funding for all international test ban treaty organization activities. Their aim is to free the United States of its international legal obligations as a signatory to the treaty, which prohibits actions contrary to its basic purpose—to ban nuclear weapons test explosions.

Repudiation of the CTBT would have far-reaching, adverse effects on U.S. relations with allies and rivals as well as on U.S. nuclear nonproliferation goals. Cutting off U.S. support for the treaty’s international monitoring system would also hamper U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities, which depend on the unique capabilities of international stations placed in sensitive regions, including China and Central Asia.
If the United States continues to undermine the moratorium and stiff-arm the test ban treaty, it will only increase the risk that some other state will resume testing. A U.S. decision actually to resume testing would provide no real U.S. security benefit and would lead only to other nuclear-weapon states following suit, setting off a dangerous global action-reaction cycle.

If President George W. Bush is truly concerned about nuclear proliferation—including weapons development that would be facilitated by further Chinese or Russian nuclear detonations—he should direct his advisers to reconsider, not repudiate, the CTBT. Regardless of his stance on the treaty, the U.S. nuclear test moratorium must be reinforced, not rejected.

Toward this end, President Bush should reaffirm his father’s 1992 policy decision not to conduct nuclear tests for new nuclear warhead development, provide full U.S. support for international test ban monitoring and inspections, and immediately pursue Russian proposals for bilateral transparency measures to clarify concerns about ongoing test site activities. To do otherwise moves the United States back toward, not beyond, obsolete Cold War thinking.

A Good Deal That Must Be Honored

Daryl G. Kimball

The nuclear nonproliferation regime is, once again, at a critical juncture. Nuclear dangers in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Koreas, as well as the specter of nuclear terrorism, continue to threaten regional and international stability. Adding to these substantial challenges, the Bush administration has made clear its plans to keep its nuclear weapons options open and resist lasting nuclear arms limitations. Bush’s approach threatens to undermine the foundation for global cooperation to stop the spread of nuclear weapons: the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

To date, the NPT has succeeded because it has made the production and acquisition of nuclear weapons technically challenging and almost universally unacceptable. Since its inception in 1968, only three additional countries have acquired nuclear weapons, while the treaty has led several states to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.

But the NPT does not simply aim to maintain the nuclear status quo. Article VI of the NPT requires that the original five nuclear-weapon states—Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States—pursue effective nuclear disarmament measures. Until now, U.S. leaders have grudgingly recognized that, to preserve the objective of global nonproliferation, the nuclear-weapon states need to pursue their disarmament commitments.

At the 2000 NPT review conference, the nuclear-weapon states reaffirmed this approach. They agreed to a 13-point program of action for nuclear disarmament, including a ban on nuclear testing, irreversible nuclear arms reductions, a fissile material production cutoff, and maintenance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This month, as delegates from the 187 NPT states-parties gather in New York for their first meeting since the 2000 conference, they will find that little progress has been achieved toward these and other nuclear security objectives.

The U.S. delegation will likely repeat its claim that “the United States understands its special responsibility under Article VI.” But recent U.S. actions suggest otherwise. Thus far, the Bush team has shown that it sees the NPT merely as a tool to constrain the nuclear capabilities of states such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea and improve the proliferation behavior of Russia and China.

At the same time, the administration seeks to maintain its current nuclear capabilities and keep open the option to develop new nuclear capabilities to deter, dissuade, and defeat existing and unforeseen threats, including those from the “axis of evil” states. Consequently, President George W. Bush and his national security team have systematically dismissed and disavowed virtually all the arms control and disarmament measures agreed upon at the 2000 NPT conference.

Not only has the Bush administration decided to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and pursue unproven missile defenses, but it has shelved—for the time being—the nuclear test ban treaty. The U.S. delegation to the NPT meeting will point to Bush’s current support for the nuclear test moratorium. Though important, the permanence of this commitment has been undermined by the administration’s plans to shorten the time needed to resume U.S. nuclear testing and develop new nuclear weapons capabilities to defeat hard and deeply buried targets. Efforts to enhance the credibility and range of options for the possible use of nuclear weapons blur the line between nuclear and conventional warfare. Such policies only undermine nonproliferation efforts by suggesting to other states that nuclear weapons are necessary for their defense.

President Bush has also abandoned START II and the follow-on START III framework, including the elimination of strategic launchers and dismantlement of warheads these agreements would have achieved. U.S. representatives will try to defend the Bush record by touting his effort to reach a “legally binding” agreement with Russia to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 2,200 each by the year 2012.

Unfortunately, the U.S. proposal is less than meets the eye. In keeping with the nuclear posture review, the proposal would allow Washington to rapidly redeploy 2,400 stored warheads. Thousands of U.S. and Russian nonstrategic warheads would remain unregulated. Further eroding its security value, the current U.S. proposal would allow either side to exceed the numerical limits on deployed warheads by simply notifying the other party.

The United States, and indeed the world, has benefited from the NPT. As a nuclear-weapon state-party to the treaty, the United States has assumed solemn disarmament obligations that are in its own security interests, but it has failed to fulfill them, as have the other nuclear-weapon states. The Bush administration’s emphasis on nuclear weapons and its failure to take concrete steps to reduce their saliency jeopardizes long-term U.S. nonproliferation goals and the NPT itself. To work, the NPT requires good-faith implementation by all parties. To survive, the NPT must serve the interests of all treaty partners, not just a few.

Name-Calling or Nonproliferation?

Daryl G. Kimball

In a potent political one-liner delivered in January, President George W. Bush prominently labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an “axis of evil” that is supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. While the threat of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction is real, the problems of terrorism and proliferation are not identical and cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

The president is to be commended for focusing attention on the ongoing threat of nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile proliferation in dangerous regions. But his gratuitous name-calling in the absence of practical, country-specific nonproliferation strategies has complicated the task of addressing proliferation problems, particularly in North Korea.

Bush’s statement puts North Korea and Iran in the same category as Iraq and has raised concerns about military action against all three. Our friends and allies may eventually agree to collective military action to enforce Security Council mandates for UN weapons inspections in Iraq, but leaders in South Korea, Japan, and Europe correctly understand that the most effective approach to Pyongyang is resuming the North-South-U.S. dialogue.

While in Seoul for a February state visit, Bush had to clarify that the United States “has no intention of invading North Korea,” and he reiterated his administration’s willingness to talk “anytime, anywhere” with Pyongyang on a range of security issues. Yet, in the same speech, he repeated harsh recriminations that substantially undermine the possibility that the North will re-engage. The president’s tough talk may play well in Washington’s conservative political circles, but it has plunged the United States and North Korea into another cycle of mistrust and missed opportunity.

Rather than launching verbal jabs and waiting for the North to resume the security dialogue, the United States should take concrete steps on the most significant issues: averting a looming crisis on the implementation of the 1994 Agreed Framework to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and resuming negotiations on a verifiable freeze of the North’s ballistic missile enterprise. To start, Bush should appoint a new, high-level coordinator for North Korea policy. The coordinator’s first task would be to bring some practical ideas and proposals—not harsh recriminations—to the bargaining table.

The Agreed Framework is a good, but imperfect, deal that both parties must honor. Under the agreement, the United States is facilitating construction of two safeguarded light-water nuclear power reactors, and, in exchange, North Korea is to verifiably abandon its nuclear weapons program. So far, this deal has effectively frozen Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but difficulties lie ahead.

North Korea will soon be obligated to comply with all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, which prohibit military nuclear activities. It must do so when a “significant portion” of the two light-water nuclear power reactors are completed but before delivery of their nuclear components. Due to construction delays, a significant portion of the reactors will not be built until approximately 2005. IAEA inspection of declared and undeclared nuclear facilities in North Korea could take two to three years. Further slippage could set off a new high-stakes confrontation.

Prompt initiation of inspections is important, even though the Agreed Framework does not yet require North Korea to admit the IAEA. If the Bush administration is interested in results, it should re-affirm its support for the Agreed Framework, not threaten to stop implementation as some in Congress have suggested. Working with South Korea and Japan, Bush should, if necessary, be prepared to offer incentives—including in-kind food and electricity aid—for North Korean cooperation on early inspections. Such an arrangement could simultaneously improve the likelihood of completing the inspections and address shortcomings in the Agreed Framework’s implementation.

Through dialogue, not diatribes, Bush also has an opportunity to halt North Korea’s ballistic missile program—a prime source of global missile proliferation. In the final days of the Clinton administration, negotiators reportedly came “tantalizingly close” to an agreement. Sadly, the Bush administration has failed to pursue this possibility, though it is clearly in U.S. security interests. Given the North’s pledge to halt missile testing through 2003, there is still a window of opportunity to secure a sufficiently verifiable agreement that bans further missile exports, production, and testing and that bars further missile deployments.

Though Kim Jong-Il’s regime is difficult, undemocratic, and uninterested in its people’s welfare, history shows that pragmatic, principled engagement with such states can produce results that enhance U.S. security. Unless he is willing to seriously pursue such a course, Bush may fumble one of the United States’ better opportunities to solve one of the world’s thorniest nuclear and missile proliferation challenges.


New Strategic Experiment

Daryl G. Kimball

After a year of preparation, President George W. Bush announced his intention to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the Pentagon delivered to Congress its revised nuclear posture review. With these actions, the Bush administration has set into motion a radical new effort to deploy unproven strategic missile defenses and to “reduce” strategic nuclear arsenals without arms control agreements.

The administration’s ostensible goal is to provide a wider range of conventional and nuclear capabilities to respond to an increasingly unpredictable threat environment no longer dominated by Russia. But, in seeking greater flexibility, the administration’s approach creates new uncertainties and obstacles to efforts to reduce the dangers posed by residual U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles.
Some of the proposals are clearly positive. The administration’s plan could lead to a common-sense reduction in the number of U.S. deployed strategic nuclear weapons, which now number 6,000. The posture review also calls for a greater emphasis on advanced conventional weapons rather than on nuclear weapons to deter threats.

However, in the absence of agreed constraints on nuclear arsenals, U.S. and Russian planned nuclear force reductions, even if fully implemented, could be easily reversed. By requiring a Cold War-sized force of 1,700-2,200 strategic deployed nuclear weapons, the posture review also falls short of the president’s worthy goal of moving beyond mutual assured destruction. If, as the Pentagon says, U.S. nuclear force planning is not driven by the “immediate” threat of attack from Russia, no more than a few hundred survivable nuclear weapons are needed to deal with plausible threat scenarios involving Russia or any other state. In addition, the Pentagon’s plan suggests that nuclear weapons can play a role in our response to non-nuclear threats—a notion that is unnecessary given U.S. conventional military superiority and dangerous because it may encourage other states to follow suit.

The administration also claims that introduction of strategic missile defenses will deter other countries from seeking long-range missiles and, if that fails, will defend against a limited future attack. The posture review makes the bold assertion that potential rogue-state missile attacks cannot be as easily deterred by the United States’ overwhelming offensive strike capabilities. These conclusions come despite the fact that the intelligence community considers U.S. territory to be far more vulnerable to attack involving weapons of mass destruction delivered by nonmissile means.

Advocates of missile defense claim that the absence of severe criticism from Russia, China, and Europe proves that the ABM Treaty withdrawal decision will not damage relations among the major powers. But, just as it is too soon to tell whether the United States will deploy strategic missile defenses, it is too soon to rule out a future Chinese or Russian military response. Russia’s relatively subdued reaction was based, in part, on the possibility that promised nuclear force reductions might be codified in a written agreement rather than through unilateral declarations.

Reaching such an agreement will be complicated by Bush’s plan to maintain a sizeable “responsive” force as a hedge against Russian rearmament or other new and unforeseen threats. The Pentagon-generated study calls for the storage—not the dismantlement—of many of the approximately 4,000 warheads that would be removed from operational status by 2012, which would allow for their redeployment within “weeks, months, or years.”

By creating a larger stockpile of unaccountable, nondeployed nuclear weapons, the Bush administration will achieve flexibility, but it will also compound Russia’s concerns about U.S. capabilities and intentions. As a result, Russia may act on worst-case assumptions and retain a sizeable multiple-warhead-armed missile force and store, rather than dismantle, its nondeployed warheads. This could increase the difficulties of securing and safeguarding Russian nuclear stockpiles, which already include thousands of unaccountable tactical nuclear warheads and more than 1,000 metric tons of fissile material.

Despite a number of missed opportunities over the last three decades, the ABM Treaty helped facilitate agreements to limit and eliminate strategic nuclear weapons. Now, it is incumbent upon President Bush to demonstrate that lasting nuclear arms reductions can be accomplished in the absence of the ABM Treaty.

Over the next few months, the president will have a historic opportunity to secure a lasting agreement to verifiably remove from deployment and dismantle excess warheads, exchange detailed information on weapons holdings, and augment cooperative threat reduction programs. Without such an agreement, the security benefits of Bush’s planned reductions will remain limited and reversible. As a result, the administration’s experiment with nuclear weapons policy could perpetuate—not reduce—Cold War nuclear dangers.

Fuzzy Nuclear Math

Daryl G. Kimball

At November’s Washington-Crawford summit, President George W. Bush announced his intention to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces from today’s 6,000 deployed warheads to 1,700-2,200 deployed warheads within 10 years. The proposal, along with the Texas-style hospitality extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was intended to signify Bush’s desire to move beyond the Cold War. By the administration’s strategic calculation, the United States and Russia are now “friends,” who should size and orient their respective strategic offensive and defensive arsenals to meet the threats of the future, not one another.

Unfortunately, the president’s numbers do not add up to his commendable rhetoric. The size of the deployed U.S. arsenal 10 years from now would be only 300 fewer than the 2,000-2,500 START III framework ceiling approved by the U.S. Strategic Command in 1997. The vast majority of these weapons would still be assigned to striking Russia’s nuclear arsenal and industrial infrastructure. In other words, under Bush’s plan, friends would target friends with nuclear weapons.

The administration’s proposal fails to factor in other key variables, including the presence of the already large and growing stockpile of nondeployed “hedge” warheads. This reserve of some 4,500-5,000 strategic and tactical warheads was once mostly intended to provide the United States with the capability to quickly reverse reductions of its deployed arsenal to guard against a Russian buildup. Now, the presence of the hedge creates a strong disincentive for Russia to implement cost-saving nuclear reductions.

In addition, Bush has apparently rejected ideas contained in the START III framework that would make reductions irreversible through the verifiable dismantlement and destruction of delivery systems and warheads. As a result, Bush’s formula would simply lead to the reassignment of warheads from the deployed to the nondeployed side of the ledger. Bush’s handshake-brand of unilateral, voluntary arms restraint would not only make nuclear stockpiles more opaque, it would also do little to decrease their overall size.

President Putin welcomed Bush’s proposal and reiterated Russia’s offer to cut both sides’ strategic deployed forces to 1,500 warheads through a verifiable treaty. But the Bush administration has—so far—turned down the opportunity to codify U.S. and Russian reductions, arguing that negotiations and treaties are tedious, time-consuming, and unnecessary. Citing his father’s 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives with Mikhail Gorbachev, Bush suggests that meaningful reductions can be achieved more quickly through unilateral reciprocal action.

The unilateral withdrawal and consolidation of tactical nuclear forces was a bold and clearly necessary tactic, especially in the midst of the Soviet Union’s collapse. If Bush sought to jump-START the arms control process through an immediate stand-down of a substantial number of U.S. strategic deployed nuclear forces, an informal rather than a formal approach might make sense. Instead, Bush proposes a drawn-out 10-year implementation period for U.S. reductions—time enough for negotiation and ratification of a firm agreement to make the cuts irreversible and verifiable.

Bush’s plan should nevertheless provide some renewed momentum for the arms reduction process. It will likely force congressional Republicans to allow the removal of a 1998 law prohibiting U.S. reductions prior to START II’s entry into force. However, Bush and Putin’s failure to reach an understanding on strategic missile defenses leaves open the possibility of unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Absent reasonable constraints on national missile defense, Russia will be tempted to maintain higher levels of strategic nuclear weapons to overcome a future U.S. missile shield. Although its nuclear forces are headed for lower levels, Russia is capable of maintaining a sizable deployed arsenal—as many as 3,800 warheads—including destabilizing multiple-warhead missiles, many on hair-trigger alert.

Some anti-treaty ideologues at the Pentagon have tried—and will try again—to convince President Bush that he must withdraw from the treaty to allow more robust missile defense testing. This argument simply does not stand up, given the fact that several more years of treaty-compliant developmental testing is necessary before beginning the operational tests required to demonstrate real-world effectiveness. In seeking an agreement with Putin on future U.S. missile defense testing and strategic offensive reductions, Bush would be wise to maintain the basic framework of the ABM Treaty.

Given the long history of adversarial relations and persistence of Cold War-era strategic thinking, it is unlikely that a gentleman’s agreement between two leaders can last beyond their terms in office. As a result, President Bush’s unwillingness to lock in reductions on all strategic weapons through a formal, verifiable agreement unnecessarily perpetuates vestigial Cold War-era nuclear dangers. Those who believe nuclear arms control has no place in the post-Cold War context should think again.

At November’s Washington-Crawford summit, President George W. Bush announced his intention to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces from today’s 6,000 deployed warheads to 1,700-2,200 deployed warheads within 10 years. The proposal, along with the Texas-style hospitality extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was intended to signify Bush’s desire to move beyond the Cold War. By the administration’s strategic calculation, the United States and Russia are now “friends,” who should size and orient their respective strategic offensive and defensive arsenals to meet the threats of the future, not one another. (Continue)

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