UPI Outside View, January 24, 2008


Since the beginning of the Atomic Age, policymakers and scholars have attempted to come up with formulas to constrain the nuclear genie. In mid-January, in an effort to move this ambition forward, former senior decision-makers — Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, Defense Secretary William Perry and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Samuel Nunn — released “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” a report published in the Wall Street Journal designed to advance nuclear abolition.

The timing would seem propitious. In December 2007, in voting down a new nuclear weapon (the reliable replacement warhead), Congress mandated that President Bush and his successor rationalize the U.S. nuclear arsenal by the end of 2009 to justify future appropriations. As a result, a disarmament proposal advanced by such statesmen and endorsed by dozens of prominent experts should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it cannot.

At first blush the Shultz et al. proposal appears to be promising for nuclear-arms controllers, who could object to extension of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, deeper nuclear reductions beyond those promoted by the Bush administration or increasing the warning time for the initiation of nuclear use. Likewise the call for cooperative ballistic missile defense, increased security at nuclear materials sites, strengthening non-proliferation verification and implementation of the treaty banning nuclear weapons testing. If constraining nuclear development or use marks the objective, the answer is no one.

However, if the aim truly is the elimination of nuclear arms — the authors declared an objective to eradicate the “threat to the world” — the proposal falls far short. A review of what could be done versus what the authors say should be done supports this conclusion.

— Set a timeline for the elimination of nuclear arsenals, not an “agreement to undertake further substantial reductions.” The authors’ call for extension of the monitoring provisions of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty coupled to undefined reductions below the 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear warheads allowed under the 1992 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty with Russia may be admirable, but it does not amount a “nuclear-free world.” Absent weapons elimination benchmarks — including disposal of non-deployed warheads — the authors’ plan amounts to maintenance of diminished but still substantial weapons caches.

— Separate nuclear warheads from delivery systems. To reduce the risk of nuclear war prior to abolition, the authors advocate increased warning and decision time for nuclear initiation. They speak abstractly about mutually agreed upon “physical barriers in the command-and-control sequence” to prevent premature nuclear launch. Only warhead separation from missiles meets the objective. Certainly, if Pakistan can separate its bombs from delivery vehicles to allow time for prudent decisions, so can the United States, Russia and others.

— Eliminate long-range ballistic missiles except those used for commercial and scientific research. Such an approach nullifies the authors’ promotion of ballistic missile defense. A precedent for negotiated missile elimination includes the 1987 Reagan-Gorbachev Intermediate Force Reduction Treaty. Elimination also finds precedent in the unilateral withdrawal and destruction of obsolete delivery systems from arsenals.

— Eliminate all high enriched uranium and separated plutonium rather than enhance security at sites holding such material. The authors call for countries to apply the highest standards of security to nuclear materials. But only removal and disposal will prevent access by terrorists or nuclear ambitious nations.

— Ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. The U.S. Senate failed to do so during the Clinton administration. The authors propose a “process” to get the treaty implemented but fail to call upon the most prominent hold out to adopt the agreement it gave birth to.

— Go beyond the Additional Protocol to verify that countries are not using civil nuclear programs for military purposes. The protocol allows International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of all suspect nuclear sites. Many countries have yet to adopt it, but the protocol itself is imperfect. Placing all atomic plants under IAEA co-management would do a better job to prevent nuclear breakouts.

— Provide teeth to deal with nuclear violators. The authors fail to furnish a strategy to combat atomic cheats. Given the gravity of an attempted nuclear breakout, the international community must have “in place” a dedicated military capacity to stop any nuclear fudging.

Shultz and his colleagues conclude, “Progress (toward a nuclear-free world) must be facilitated by a clear statement of our ultimate goal.”

Unfortunately the goal is muddled by the authors’ own formulation. If nuclear disarmament is the objective, we can do far better.

Bennett Ramberg, Ph.D., J.D., served in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration. The author of three books and editor of three others on international security, he has written for such prestigious journals as Foreign Affairs and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Ramberg’s Op-Eds have appeared in all major newspapers in the United States and many around the world.