Login/Logout

*
*  

ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Issue Briefs

Reassessing the Role of Nuclear Weapons

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

There is broad agreement that yesterday's nuclear doctrines are no longer appropriate for today's realities. If President Barack Obama wants to fulfill his promise to "dramatically reduce" U.S. and Russian arsenals, restore leadership needed to strengthen the nonproliferation system, and make the elimination of nuclear weapons "a central element of U.S. nuclear policy," he should redefine and radically reduce the role of nuclear weapons.

There is no conceivable circumstance that requires or could justify the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat. Given the United States' conventional military edge and the twin threats of proliferation and terrorism, nuclear weapons are a greater security liability than an asset.

As an eminent National Academies of Science panel concluded more than a decade ago, "[T]he only remaining, defensible function of U.S. nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era is 'core deterrence': using the threat of retaliation to deter other countries that possess nuclear weapons from using them to attack or coerce the United States or its allies."

According to the panel, which included Obama's new White House science adviser, John Holdren, this approach would also eliminate any need "to develop and test nuclear weapons of new types for new purposes."

If Obama directs the Pentagon to conduct a congressionally mandated nuclear posture review on the basis of this "core deterrence" mission, then Washington and Moscow could each slash their respective arsenals to 1,000 or fewer total warheads. This would open the way for Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge to initiate "a high-level dialogue among all the declared nuclear-weapon states on how to...move toward meaningful reductions and the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons."

Unfortunately, a bipartisan congressional commission formed last year to advise Obama on the nuclear posture review appears to be plagued by "oldthink." Its December 2008 interim report accepts antiquated assumptions about the value of nuclear deterrence and implies that the United States is on the brink of losing the capability to maintain its nuclear weapons.

Although acknowledging that the program to maintain the enduring U.S. stockpile "has been a remarkable success," the interim report incorrectly suggests that "support for this program is at risk" and, as time passes, "becomes more difficult to execute."

In fact, since the last U.S. nuclear weapons test in 1992, Congress has supported a robust stewardship program that now costs approximately $6 billion annually. Through regular surveillance and periodic upgrades of the conventional explosives and non-nuclear components, each of the major warhead types has been certified annually as safe and reliable.

Although Congress rejected the Bush administration's expensive, multidecade plan to replace each warhead type with a newly designed warhead, political support for core stockpile stewardship activities is strong. Independent technical assessments suggest that new replacement warheads are not necessary to maintain the reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Obama wants the Senate to reconsider and support "as soon as practical."

To maintain a smaller U.S. arsenal without resuming nuclear testing, the White House and Congress must ensure sufficient resources are focused on the core stewardship tasks, and the weapons labs must avoid unnecessary alterations to existing weapons during refurbishment.

The commission's interim report also claims that if the United States does not provide a nuclear deterrence umbrella for dozens of allies around the world, their leaders "would feel enormous pressure to create their own arsenals." Such claims exaggerate the value and ignore the risks of this approach.

For instance, with the end of the Cold War, U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe serve no practical purpose for NATO's common defense. Furthermore, many other factors mitigate against a decision by a U.S. ally to go nuclear, not the least of which is the diplomatic and conventional military support the United States can and would provide. There is also the possibility that nuclear-armed enemies of the United States may themselves threaten nuclear attack in the name of an ally's security.

It will be unfortunate if the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States cannot provide better guidance on nuclear weapons policy. It would be a grave mistake if Obama does not provide the leadership needed to usher in a new and more realistic nuclear risk reduction and elimination strategy.

Posted: January 16, 2009

CTBT: Now More Than Ever

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

Tragically, the Bush administration has stubbornly and actively resisted the CTBT's logic. The treaty now has 180 signatories but has not entered into force because the United States and eight other CTBT rogue states, including China, Egypt, India, Iran, and Israel, have failed to ratify.

Given the 16-year-old U.S. nuclear test moratorium and 1996 decision to sign the treaty, the United States bears most CTBT-related responsibilities. Yet, Washington's inaction diminishes its ability to prod other nations to join the treaty and refrain from testing, and it has severely undermined efforts to repair the battered NPT system.

At the same time, there is neither the need nor any political support for renewed U.S. testing for new nuclear warhead design purposes or for any other reason. The 2010 NPT review conference is fast approaching. Quite simply, it is time to ratify the CTBT.

There is hope. During the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to "reach out to the Senate to secure the ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date and...then launch a diplomatic effort to bring onboard other states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force."

As a result of the 2008 election, at least 60 senators in the next Congress will already be inclined to support CTBT ratification. Convincing two-thirds of the Senate that the treaty enhances U.S. security, is effectively verifiable, and would not compromise future efforts to maintain a shrinking nuclear arsenal will be difficult but is possible.

As a first step, Obama should reiterate his commitment to CTBT ratification and appoint a senior official, backed with interagency support and resources, to coordinate the effort. Such a move will signal a dramatic shift in U.S. policy and demonstrate he is serious about winning senators' support.

Just as President John F. Kennedy did in 1963 with the Limited Test Ban Treaty, Obama should tap into the deep reservoir of public support for a complete end to testing. He must also engage the growing bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, including George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and dozens more, who have signaled their support for the treaty.

Most important, CTBT proponents will have to explain why the case for the treaty is even stronger today than when it was rejected by the Senate in 1999. For instance, the July 2002 report of a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel documents that, with the combined capabilities of the treaty's International Monitoring System, national technical means, and civilian seismic networks, no would-be CTBT violator can be confident that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection.

The same NAS report also found that the current Stockpile Stewardship Program provides the technical capabilities that are necessary to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing nuclear weapons stockpile, "provided that adequate resources are made available...and are properly focused on this task." According to the NAS panel, which included three former lab directors, age-related defects mainly related to non-nuclear components can be expected, "but nuclear testing is not needed to discover these problems and is not likely to be needed to address them."

Obama and his Senate allies must avoid the temptation to pursue unnecessary compromise measures that would undermine the purpose of the test ban. Some have suggested pursuing President George W. Bush's costly plan for new, so-called reliable replacement warheads to assuage CTBT skeptics.

Such bargains are risky and unnecessary and would contradict Obama's campaign pledge "not to authorize the development of new nuclear weapons." The U.S. capability to maintain existing stockpile warheads is more than adequate. The production of a new generation of warheads could lead to calls to test the new designs as well as undermine a principal benefit of the CTBT to disarmament and the NPT: ending new warhead development.

U.S. ratification of the CTBT is possible, necessary, and long overdue. It is now up to Obama to work with the Senate and CTBT supporters to execute a smart ratification campaign and restore U.S. leadership on nonproliferation before the opportunity slips away.

Posted: December 2, 2008

Jump-STARTing U.S.-Russian Disarmament

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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).

Worse still, the White House and the Kremlin have failed to come to terms on a follow-on to START, which is due to expire in December 2009. Without START's far-reaching verification system, neither side would be able to confidently assess the size and location of the other's nuclear forces, adding another dangerous irritant to strained U.S.-Russian relations.

The new president can and must do better. With the START deadline looming, his administration must work expeditiously with Russia to negotiate and conclude an agreement to dramatically and irreversibly cut their still-bloated nuclear stockpiles.

The good news is that, during the campaign, both presidential candidates called for deeper reductions through a new agreement with Russia. In a September 2008 response to Arms Control Today questions, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) called for "real, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.... [T]his process should begin by securing Russia's agreement to extend essential monitoring and verification provisions of START." Obama also pledged to "immediately stand down all nuclear forces to be reduced under [SORT]," which could involve hundreds of currently deployed warheads.

To be sure, implementation of these long-overdue steps is easier said than done. The new administration will be working overtime from day one to address multiple other foreign policy challenges. Yet, charting the future for START and a saner nuclear relationship with Russia cannot wait.

Soon after Inauguration Day, the new president should invite senior Russian leaders to resume nuclear arms talks. The goal should be to conclude a new START-plus deal that achieves dramatically deeper reductions of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads­, deployed and nondeployed, to 1,000 or less by 2012. If necessary, the U.S. and Russian presidents should agree to extend START until they can bring into force a new agreement.

To succeed, the new administration must adopt new approaches to resolve key issues that have stalled progress. Russia has shown interest in deeper reductions: less than 1,500 warheads each along with specific limits on delivery systems. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has rejected lower ceilings on deployed warheads and further limitations on missiles and bombers.

Indeed, as Obama, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and others have argued, deeper warhead reductions are possible and prudent. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, there is no plausible reason for U.S. and Russian leaders to maintain thousands of strategic nuclear weapons with large numbers on high alert. Besides the United States and Russia, no state possesses more than 300 nuclear warheads. China currently only has about 20 nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking the continental United States.

Massive arsenals capable of annihilating entire nations within an hour are more of a liability than an asset because they breed mistrust and worst-case assumptions among other states and perpetuate the risk of accidental or unauthorized launch, nor do U.S. nuclear weapons serve a necessary or practical role in deterring threats from non-nuclear adversaries or in response to non-nuclear attacks.

Washington and Moscow also should establish lower limits on nuclear-capable delivery systems, including caps on how many warheads each system may carry. This would increase confidence that neither side could quickly reconstitute and field a far larger force. A schedule and process for verifiable warhead dismantlement should be addressed in a subsequent agreement.

Such an approach is feasible and practical. As outlined in a 2007 Arms Control Association report by physicist Sidney Drell and Ambassador James Goodby, the United States could quickly downshift to a strategic triad of some 288 warheads on a fleet of three or more Trident submarines on patrol, 100 warheads on 100 land-based Minuteman missiles, and about two dozen nuclear-capable strategic bombers. Comparable numbers of nondeployed warheads and delivery systems could serve as a "responsive" force.

Yesterday's nuclear doctrines and arsenals do not fit today's realities. The next president must seize his opportunity to dramatically reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, restore U.S. credibility on disarmament, and open a conversation with the world's other nuclear-armed states on joint measures to reduce and eventually eliminate global stockpiles.


Posted: October 31, 2008

Unfinished Business for the NSG

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

Furthermore, foreign supplies of nuclear fuel to India's civil nuclear sector will reduce or eliminate India's need to sacrifice electricity production to produce weapons-grade plutonium. This would enable India to increase the rate of fissile material production for bombs and worsen nuclear arms competition in Asia.

Compounding the error, the Bush administration rebuffed efforts by a group of responsible NSG states to incorporate into their decision provisions in U.S. law that severely restrict transfers of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle technologies to India and mandate a cutoff of nuclear trade if India resumes nuclear testing.

When the NSG meets again in November, the United States and other participating governments will have an opportunity to close one of the loopholes of their India-specific exemption: barring the transfer of uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technologies to states that have not joined the NPT or agreed to an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement, which gives international inspectors broader authority.

Tougher NSG standards on sensitive fuel cycle technologies are long overdue. In India's case, enrichment and reprocessing cooperation could actually help its nuclear bomb production program because international safeguards cannot prevent the replication or use of such technologies for weapons purposes.

In practice, it is unlikely that suppliers will transfer enrichment or reprocessing technology to India anytime soon. The NSG waiver for India maintains that NSG states must continue to "exercise restraint" with respect to transfers of sensitive dual-use technologies and enrichment and reprocessing technologies to India or any other state. And, according to the Bush administration, no NSG participating government intends to transfer enrichment or reprocessing technology to India. Yet, India continues to demand "full" access to the nuclear fuel and technology market, and supplier states intentions could change, especially if they smell a profit.

Before agreeing to consider the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement last month, the House and Senate should have demanded that the United States win support for tougher NSG guidelines on enrichment and reprocessing transfers. Under heavy political pressure to rush the flawed deal through, they failed to do so.

In exchange for quick House approval of the India agreement, however, Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged the NSG loophole in a personal commitment to Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rice promised that the United States will make its "highest priority" to achieve a decision at the next NSG meeting to prohibit the export of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology to states that are not party to the NPT.

NSG discussions on the matter predate the proposal for opening nuclear trade with India and are ripe for a decision. In 2004 the United States proposed a complete ban on sensitive fuel-cycle technology transfers to states without such capabilities. Many NSG states objected and suggested a criteria-based approach, but the United States said no.

Just ahead of the May 2008 NSG meeting, the United States adjusted its position and threw its support behind a proposal that would bar enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that:

  • have not signed the NPT;
  • have not agreed to an additional protocol to their International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement;
  • are not in compliance with their NPT or safeguards obligations; or
  • are located in regions in which such transfers might promote proliferation or undermine security.

However, Washington also demanded that if enrichment or reprocessing transfers do occur, they should be executed only via "black box" technologies, wherein only the supplier can access and own the technology. Canada opposed this provision, thereby blocking consensus on the package.

If Washington and Ottawa can resolve their differences and if Brazil can be prevailed on to drop its misguided opposition to the additional protocol criterion, the NSG can adapt tougher enrichment and reprocessing transfer guidelines. This would plug one of the gaping holes in the September NSG waiver for India and ensure that other suppliers are more in line with U.S. policy.

The Bush administration must now follow through and rally NSG support for tougher NSG guidelines that would help mitigate some of the damage caused by the waiver for India.

Posted: October 6, 2008

Averting a Nonproliferation Disaster

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

To their credit, more than 20 states essentially said “no thanks” and proposed more than 50 amendments and modifications that would establish some basic but vitally important restrictions and conditions on nuclear trade with India. Many of these amendments track with the restrictions and conditions established in 2006 U.S. legislation regulating U.S. nuclear trade with India, which include the termination of nuclear trade if India resumes testing and a ban on the transfer of uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technology.

Incredibly, U.S. officials are resisting even these most basic measures. As the Department of State’s Richard Boucher said in an Aug. 19 interview, “[S]ome would like to see all the provisions of the Hyde Act legislated in some international fashion. We don’t think that is the right way.”

Although acknowledging India’s legitimate interest in diversifying its energy options, like-minded countries, including Austria, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland, correctly recognize that the Bush approach is deeply flawed and would effectively end the NSG as a meaningful entity. It is vital that these and other responsible states stand their ground.

Why? Any India-specific exemption from NSG guidelines would erode the credibility of NSG efforts to ensure that access to peaceful nuclear trade and technology is available only to those states that meet global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament standards.

Contrary to the Orwellian claims of its proponents, the deal would not bring India into the nonproliferation mainstream. Unlike 179 other countries, India has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It continues to produce fissile material and expand its nuclear arsenal. As one of only three states never to have signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), it has not made a legally binding commitment to achieve nuclear disarmament.

In order to maintain its option to resume nuclear testing, India is seeking bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements that help provide it with strategic fuel reserves and lifetime fuel guarantees. This flatly contradicts a provision in U.S. law championed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) that stipulates that fuel supplies be limited to reasonable reactor operating requirements.

Given India’s demands, the revised U.S. proposal will likely only pay lip service to the other NSG states’ concerns. Any such proposal should be flatly rejected as unsound and irresponsible. To be effective, NSG guidelines must establish clear and unambiguous terms and conditions for the initiation of nuclear trade and possible termination of nuclear trade.

If NSG states agree under pressure from an outgoing U.S. administration to blow a hole in NSG guidelines in order to allow a few states to profit from nuclear trade with India, they should at a minimum:

  • establish a policy that if India resumes nuclear testing or violates its safeguards agreements, trade involving nuclear items with India shall be terminated and unused fuel supplies returned;
  • expressly prohibit any transfer of reprocessing, enrichment, or heavy-water production items or technology, which can be used to make bomb material;
  • regularly review India’s compliance with its nonproliferation obligations and commitments; and
  • call on India to join with four of the five original nuclear-weapon states in declaring that it has stopped fissile material production and call on India to transform its nuclear test moratorium pledge into a legally binding commitment.

Some Indian officials have threatened they may walk away from the deal if the NSG establishes even these most basic requirements. If that occurs, so be it.

The Indian nuclear deal would be a nonproliferation disaster, especially now. The current U.S. proposal threatens to further undermine the NPT, the nuclear safeguards system, and efforts to prevent the proliferation of sensitive fuel-cycle technologies. Absent curbs on Indian nuclear testing and fissile material production, it would also indirectly contribute to the expansion of India’s nuclear arsenal with adverse consequences for the nuclear arms race in Asia.

For those world leaders who are serious about advancing nuclear disarmament, holding all states to their international commitments, and strengthening the NPT, it is time to stand up and be counted.

Posted: August 29, 2008

Rethink European Missile Defense

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

Yet, after years of partisan posturing on missiles and missile defense, few decisions on the subject have been rational or easy. For more than a decade, proponents of missile defense have hyped the threat of long-range missiles from the likes of Iran and North Korea and pushed for anti-missile systems that are not ready for prime time.

For instance, in 1998 an influential commission chaired by Donald Rumsfeld dismissed earlier intelligence findings and warned that any nation with a well-developed, Scud-based missile infrastructure would be able to flight-test a long-range missile within five years. A decade later, neither Iran nor North Korea have successfully flight-tested intermediate-range or long-range missiles.

Rumsfeld’s report spurred missile defense acolytes to argue that testing and development of strategic missile defenses should no longer be constrained by the U.S.-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Over Russian objections, Bush withdrew from the treaty in 2002. Since then, the administration has poured roughly $8 billion a year into the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, conducted limited testing, and rushed a handful of ground-based strategic interceptors into Alaska and California ahead of the 2004 election.

In 2007 the administration announced plans for a new ground-based, long-range anti-missile system in Europe. It wants 10 interceptors in Poland and a new radar in the Czech Republic by around 2011. In response to sharp objections from Moscow, Bush has said the deployment is not intended to counter Russia and would be limited. Leaders in Moscow remain unconvinced, and Congress has withheld full funding until the interceptors can be proven to be effective and the host countries approve basing agreements.

Like Bush, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain enthusiastically supports missile defense as a way to guard against rogue-state “blackmail.” He has gone even further and asserted that missile defenses also serve “to hedge against potential threats from strategic competitors like Russia and China.” The presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, has voiced doubts about the effectiveness of strategic anti-missile systems and called for a greater emphasis on more capable short- and medium-range interceptors. Neither has addressed the European missile defense issue directly.

No matter who enters the White House, a course correction on the European component of missile defense policy is in order. If it is not already clear, the next president will soon realize that the case presented for the system simply does not stand up.

Although intelligence assessments suggest that Iran’s nuclear program requires urgent diplomatic action, it is not predicted to have a long-range missile capability until 2015 or later. Even if Iran were to acquire and threaten the United States or its allies with nuclear-armed missiles, such aggression could be deterred by other means.

The new president also will learn that strategic missile defenses cannot be relied on to protect in a real-world crisis. The new, two-stage interceptor for the European site has not yet been built, let alone tested. An October report from the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation recommends at least three flights tests, a process that could not even begin until 2009 and would take several years to complete.

Meanwhile, the Polish government is demanding that the United States pay for costly upgrades to Polish air- and short-range missile defenses to counter Russian targeting of the proposed anti-missile site. Although other NATO allies have agreed to discuss the U.S. missile defense proposal, many are skeptical and have not endorsed it.

An open-ended deployment made over Moscow’s objections would also seriously impede work with Russia on a range of other vitally important issues, including strategic arms reductions, the prevention of nuclear terrorism, and curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Instead of choosing this path, the next administration should take the time needed to reach a new agreement with Russia for missile defense cooperation and avoid renewed strategic conflict. The key will be to agree to firm limits on the number of strategic missile interceptors that might be deployed in eastern Europe and elsewhere, as well as to complete a long-delayed joint early-warning center to build confidence and avoid miscalculation.

After decades of spending, ambitious timetables, and overstated threat warnings, it is past time to restore reason to missile defense policy by deferring deployment of a new anti-missile site on Russia’s border that is unnecessary and imprudent.

Posted: August 7, 2008

NPT: Past, Present, and Future

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

Yet, once again the nuclear nonproliferation regime is at a critical juncture. Nuclear and missile programs in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Korea, as well as the specter of nuclear terrorism, threaten regional and international stability. Several more states may get into the uranium-enrichment or plutonium reprocessing business, allowing them to become virtual nuclear-weapon states.

Since the end of the Cold War, strategic nuclear forces have been cut, but all of the nuclear-weapon states continue to rely on and modernize their nuclear arsenals. Washington has repudiated key NPT disarmament commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 NPT review conferences and has sought to carve out special exemptions from the rules for allies such as NPT holdout India.

As a result, a growing number of states believe the NPT is being applied unevenly and that the nuclear powers do not intend to fulfill their end of the NPT bargain. This has led the non-nuclear-weapon-state majority to become less willing to agree to further measures that would strengthen the treaty and the nonproliferation regime.

To re-establish the U.S. nonproliferation leadership needed to repair the system, the next president must act quickly to verifiably reduce still-bloated U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and end the pursuit of new nuclear warheads. Leaders in Washington and elsewhere must also recognize some fundamental lessons of the nuclear era in order to prevent the erosion of the NPT regime:

The possession of nuclear weapons by some states may lead others to pursue development of their own. A world of nuclear haves and have-nots cannot be sustained indefinitely. Nuclear weapons are dangerous no matter who possesses them. Although the vast majority of states have neither the resources nor the motivation to build nuclear weapons, some will hedge their bets so long as nuclear weapons are used to threaten or intimidate.

The overwhelming destructive capacity of nuclear weapons renders them useless as instruments of military power, whether against states or nonstate actors. Nuclear weapons, even "low-yield" weapons, cause unacceptable and indiscriminate damage. So long as they exist, nuclear weapons should only serve to deter the use of nuclear weapons by others. Consequently, there is no need for any state to possess more than a few hundred such weapons, if that many. The sooner the major powers act to verifiably and irreversibly eliminate their stockpiles and pledge not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states, the stronger the nonproliferation taboo will become.

Nonproliferation requires sustained diplomacy to resolve regional disputes. Nuclear weapons look more attractive to those who feel threatened or disrespected, and the NPT cannot by itself fix long-standing rivalries or perceived inequities. For that, the United States and other countries must engage in a comprehensive dialogue to help remove the underlying causes of conflict and establish the conditions for zones free of weapons of mass destruction.

NPT holdouts must be encouraged to meet the commitments expected of NPT members. It is unlikely that the three states that never acceded to the NPT (India, Israel, and Pakistan) will do so anytime soon. Yet, it is a mistake to ignore their responsibility to prevent proliferation and join with others to halt and reverse their weapons programs. To start, India, Israel, and Pakistan, along with China, should be lobbied to enter the mainstream by ratifying the CTBT and officially capping fissile material production.

Nuclear energy must not be promoted in a way that proliferates sensitive nuclear technologies. Since 1968, new states have acquired the capacity to produce nuclear bomb material through "peaceful" nuclear programs, which are guaranteed by Article IV. To reduce the risk of diversion, it is essential that nuclear fuel-cycle facilities come under multilateral or international control. Nuclear suppliers should also tighten access to a broader range of sensitive technologies. To improve transparency and confidence, all states should agree to more effective safeguards under the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.

The NPT is not doomed to failure. In response to earlier setbacks, leading states have come together to fortify the regime. But in order to survive well into this century, states must renew, strengthen, and fulfill the NPT bargain-and soon.

Posted: June 6, 2008

North Korea and the Incident in the Syrian Desert

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

In the past year, the six-party negotiations have finally yielded significant results. In July 2007, the IAEA confirmed that North Korea shut down its Yongbyon reactor and plutonium-separation plant. Since October, U.S. officials have been on the ground with North Korean scientists to disable those facilities.

Now, under a tentative deal, North Korea has agreed to produce a declaration on its weapons program and acknowledge U.S. concerns about its proliferation activities and alleged uranium-enrichment program. Within weeks, U.S. experts may begin the process of verifying North Korea's declaration. In exchange, the Bush administration has pledged to seek to remove Pyongyang from the state sponsors of terrorism list and lift certain sanctions.

Some fear the Syria revelations make it appear as if Washington is rewarding bad behavior. Instead, the United States should remain focused on the priority task of taking out of circulation whatever nuclear bombs, bomb material, and uranium-enrichment items North Korea has and redirecting its scientists to nonlethal pursuits.

When confronted with a similar situation in 2002, the Bush team miscalculated. On the basis of preliminary intelligence, Washington accused North Korea of pursuing a uranium-enrichment program in violation of previous denuclearization commitments. To show his displeasure, President George W. Bush cut off delivery of heavy fuel oil shipments to North Korea, even though it was clear this might lead Pyongyang to kick out IAEA inspectors and restart plutonium production, which had been frozen eight years earlier.

Pyongyang's plutonium supply grew from one to two bombs worth to about 10. Then, after delays in the six-party talks and U.S. financial sanctions in 2006, Pyongyang engaged in a fit of missile tests and set off a nuclear test explosion. Only after a February 2007 agreement outlining an "action-for-action" series of steps to achieve denuclearization and the normalization of relations has the situation somewhat eased.

The six-party process is imperfect but invaluable because it also provides much needed leverage to snuff out North Korea's nuclear proliferation activities. In the wake of the Sept. 6, 2007, Israeli strike on Syria's facility, the United States demanded and got North Korea to reaffirm "its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how" in an October 2007 six-party statement.

As Bush said Sept. 20 when he was asked a question about reports of North Korean-Syrian ties, "[T]o the extent that they are proliferating, we expect them to stop that proliferation if they want the six-party talks to be successful." Now, U.S. leaders and allies need to back up this demand with tough diplomacy.

Indeed, any North Korean-Syrian nuclear or missile cooperation would be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 of October 2006, which requires states to cease trade of these items with North Korea. If Syria was in fact building a reactor, it would also have been a clear violation of its safeguards obligations because it failed to inform the IAEA of the project.

Following Israel's September raid, any such assistance would appear to have ended, along with the facility. Israel's action, however, will make it far more difficult for the IAEA to find any hard physical evidence of the existence of a reactor, which Syria denies. It also increases the risk of a possible future attack on Israel's secret military reactor at Dimona.

Israeli concern about Syrian nuclear activities is understandable. But rather than launching a risky and illegal airstrike, Israel or the United States should have used their information about the al-Kibar reactor to call on the IAEA or the Security Council to demand an inspection and the dismantlement of the facility, as well as other potential secret nuclear sites in Syria.

Policymakers should use the release of the intelligence on the Syrian facility to increase pressure on North Korea to accept measures that help verify it has ceased its proliferation activities, rather than use it as a pretext to delay or derail the process of verifiably denuclearizing North Korea.

Click here to comment on this article.

Posted: May 11, 2008

Getting Real About Nuclear Disarmament

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

As George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and more than two dozen other former Republican and Democratic government officials have written in essays in The Wall Street Journal, we are approaching “a nuclear tipping point.”

If Washington is not serious about disarmament, states in the non-nuclear-weapon majority will continue to resist new measures to restrict the spread of bomb-making technologies, improve verification, and enforce NPT compliance. This is a chief reason why Shultz et al. have called on the United States to reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and pursue immediate steps toward that end.

Each of the three remaining presidential candidates have expressed rhetorical support for renewed U.S. action on disarmament. To reestablish U.S. legitimacy on nonproliferation, the next president must translate words into dramatic and meaningful action in three key areas.

First, the next president must pursue dramatic and irreversible reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which together total more than 10,000 warheads. The White House and the Kremlin have not been able to agree on follow-on measures to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and verification provisions, which are due to expire in December 2009. This is due in large part to President George W. Bush’s resistance to Russian proposals to reduce deployed strategic nuclear forces below 1,700-2,200 warheads. To “hedge” against unforeseen and unspecified dangers, Bush also opposes treaty-mandated missile reductions and seeks to build new warheads and bolster the U.S. weapons production complex.

Yet, with the end of the Cold War, there is no plausible reason for the U.S. and Russian leaders to maintain thousands of strategic nuclear weapons on high alert. Besides the United States and Russia, no state possesses more than 400 nuclear warheads. Massive arsenals capable of annihilating entire nations within an hour are more of a liability than an asset because they breed mistrust and worst-case assumptions among other states and perpetuate the risk of accidental or unauthorized launch.

New thinking can and should lead to a new treaty that results in dramatically deeper reductions of all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads­to 1,000 or less­and lower ceilings on the strategic missiles. With streamlined START-style verification, the agreement could restore confidence that each country will actually dismantle, not simply warehouse, warheads and missiles. To avoid missteps, each state also can move to increase the time necessary to launch nuclear strikes.

Second, as Shultz and others suggest, the next president must lead a new, bipartisan effort to reconsider and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at an early date, which is considered to be a litmus test of the commitment of nuclear-weapon states to disarmament. Convincing the Senate of the nonproliferation value and verifiability of the treaty, as well as the ability of the United States to maintain its existing stockpile under a permanent CTBT, is difficult but possible.

Unfortunately, some have offered unnecessary compromise measures that would undermine the purpose of the test ban. Former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, former CIA Director John Deutch, and others have suggested adopting Bush’s costly plan for new, so-called “reliable” replacement warheads to buy support from CTBT skeptics.

Such proposals are politically risky and shortsighted. Not only is the U.S. capability to maintain its existing stockpile more than adequate, but the production of a new generation of warheads could lead to calls to test the new designs and would undermine the chief value of the CTBT to disarmament and the NPT: ending new warhead development. If pursued, other states would see the United States as circumventing the CTBT and conclude it is of little benefit.

Third, the next president must also reassess and radically reduce the role of nuclear weapons. Today, there is no conceivable circumstance that justifies the use of U.S. nuclear weapons to fight a non-nuclear adversary. Policies that assert a war-fighting role for nuclear weapons only deepen the risk of proliferation. The next president should declare that the United States will not use nuclear weapons first or against states that do not possess such arms.

Not surprisingly, the cynics and supporters of the nuclear status quo believe action toward a nuclear weapons-free world is an exercise in wishful thinking. The real fantasy, however, is to expect nuclear restraint and greater commitment to nonproliferation from other states in the absence of bold U.S. action on disarmament.

Posted: April 1, 2008

Contradictions Still Plague U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal

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)

Daryl G. Kimball

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.

Although many states are willing to bend some rules to help India buy new reactors and the additional fuel needed to run them, there is growing resistance to forms of nuclear trade that could indirectly enable India’s nuclear weapons program or that would allow continued nuclear trade if India breaks its pledge not to resume nuclear test explosions. There is good reason for such concern because India violated past agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation when it tested its first nuclear device in 1974 and has refused to allow comprehensive IAEA safeguards.

Contrary to claims of its proponents, the deal does not bring India into the nonproliferation mainstream. In fact, given India’s refusal to join the five original nuclear-weapon states in halting the production of fissile material for weapons, foreign supplies of nuclear fuel could free up New Delhi’s existing (and limited) uranium stockpile and increase its capacity to produce more nuclear bomb material. Unlike 177 other states, India has not yet signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Meanwhile, Indian officials are highly sensitive to concerns that the deal could affect its nuclear weapons program. To preserve India’s military options, the Singh government has bargained hard for unprecedented fuel supply assurances and unspecified “corrective measures” in the new safeguards agreement to offset disruptions that might occur if India resumes testing.

Indian leaders are also demanding terms of trade with other nuclear suppliers that sidestep the minimal but vital nonproliferation conditions and restrictions established by Congress in 2006 implementing legislation. The law, known as the Hyde Act, would require the termination of U.S. nuclear trade if New Delhi resumes nuclear testing or violates its safeguards commitments.

To improve its fuel production and spent fuel reprocessing capabilities, the Singh government has fought tooth and nail to secure access to uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies. The Hyde Act effectively bars the transfer of these sensitive nuclear technologies, which India could potentially use to enhance its military nuclear program.

Yet, India is demanding an NSG exemption without any of these and other conditions or restrictions. To date, the Bush administration has carried India’s water. The current U.S. draft proposal calls for a “clean” exemption, and the bilateral U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement contradicts the Hyde Act in several areas.

But at a hearing Feb. 13, the new chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), challenged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on this approach, noting that would give other nuclear suppliers, such as France and Russia, a commercial advantage and undermine U.S. nonproliferation objectives. Rice told Berman that the United States would pursue India-specific nuclear trade guidelines that are “completely consistent” with the Hyde Act.

Days later, India’s special envoy, Shyam Saran, contradicted Rice, saying that “it is our expectation that there would be a fairly simple and clean exemption from these guidelines, without any conditions or even expectations regarding India’s conduct in the future.” He asserted that India has “no problem with permanent safeguards provided there are permanent supplies of fuel.”

Saran noted that, in the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement, the Bush administration pledged to help India amass a strategic fuel reserve and provide fuel supplies for the lifetime of its safeguarded reactors. Yet, at the urging of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Hyde Act stipulates that fuel supplies should only be “commensurate with reasonable reactor requirements.”

Now is the time for Congress and responsible members of the NSG to hold the Bush administration to Rice’s pledge to support international guidelines for trade with India that, at the very least, incorporate the minimal requirements mandated by U.S. law. If India’s leaders cannot even abide by these minimal standards and decide to reject the deal, that is their choice. Additional concessions to India will only further compromise the already beleaguered global nonproliferation system.

Posted: March 1, 2008

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Issue Briefs