The greatest nuclear danger that I am concerned with is not the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other states, though that is a grave danger. Of even greater concern is the invidious belief of policy makers in a small number of states that they have a right to maintain nuclear weapons indefinitely, and that in their hands nuclear weapons do not constitute a threat either to their own citizens or to the remainder of humanity. This is a foolish belief that discounts the principle that if something can go wrong it will go wrong. It is also a belief that is likely to encourage proliferation to other states and possibly to terrorist groups as well.
There is no reason to be assured that nuclear weapons in the hands of the current nuclear weapons states will not result in tragedy surpassing all imagination. One can only wonder what it is that makes most citizens of nuclear weapons states so complacent under these circumstances. Clearly, for the most part, otherwise normal people have learned to live with the terror of nuclear weapons and, in doing so, have become accustomed to condoning terrorism at a national level.
It is this situation that compounds the danger because without the vigorous protests of citizens in the nuclear weapons states, there is no impetus to change the status quo. And if the status quo with regard to reliance on nuclear weapons does not change, there will surely be proliferation and it will be only a question of time until nuclear weapons are again used in warfare.
Due to the intransigence of the nuclear weapons states, there has been virtually no progress toward nuclear disarmament in the past five years. The START II Treaty, which was agreed to by Presidents Bush and Yeltsin in January 1993, called for reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 3,500 on each side by January 1, 2003. Since then, Presidents .Clinton and Yeltsin have agreed to move this date back five years to December 31, 2007.
The total number of nuclear warheads in the arsenals of the U.S. and Russia at the completion of START II, if it is completed, will be around 10,000 on each side.
For decades India has made it clear that it supports complete nuclear disarmament, but that it is not willing to live in a world of “nuclear apartheid.” Indian leaders have stated that if all states will renounce nuclear weapons and agree to go to zero, India will happily join them. On the other hand, Indian leaders have said that if the nuclear weapons states insist on maintaining nuclear arsenals, India will do so as well.
As we know, India gave the world a wake-up call in May when it tested nuclear weapons, followed a few weeks later by Pakistan’s tests. In light of the testing by India and Pakistan, I would like to offer five propositions.
My first proposition is that the nuclear testing by India and Pakistan does not constitute nuclear proliferation. Both states have long had nuclear weapons. India first tested a nuclear device, which it said was for peaceful purposes, in 1974. The world largely ignored the possession of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan by referring to them, along with Israel which also has a nuclear arsenal, as “threshold states.” This was simply a euphemism to perpetuate the denial that nuclear proliferation had already occurred.
It is interesting to note the reactions to the recent nuclear testing in South Asia. President Clinton responded to the Indian tests by stating, “To think that you have to manifest your greatness by behavior that recalls the very worst events of the 20th century on the edge of the 21st century, when everybody else is trying to leave the nuclear age behind, is just wrong. And they clearly don’t need it to maintain their security.”
There are several points worth noting in President Clinton’s response. Haven’t the United States and the other nuclear weapons states sought to manifest their greatness in just this way? Isn’t this the basis for UK’s or France’s claim to great power status, whatever that is, at this point in time? Where is the evidence that “everybody else is trying to leave the nuclear age behind”? Certainly it is almost impossible to find that evidence in President Clinton’s own record. And if India does not need nuclear weapons to maintain its security, wouldn’t that argument be even stronger for the United States and other countries infinitely more militarily powerful than India?
Referring to this reaction by President Clinton, Henry Kissinger, who many would argue should rank among the greatest war criminals of the latter part of the 20th century, stated, “But he [Clinton] destroys the U.S. case by using hyperbole that cannot be translated into operational policy: by claiming a special insight into the nature of greatness in the 21st century; by the dubious proposition that all other nations are trying to leave the nuclear world behind (what about Iran, Iraq and North Korea?), and by the completely unsupported proposition that countries with threatening nuclear neighbors do not need nuclear weapons to assure their security.”
Mr. Kissinger has perhaps always felt that only he has “special insight into the nature of greatness.” Unfortunately for humanity, the United States has allowed him an operational platform on which to act upon his insights in Chile, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and elsewhere. Clearly all other states are not trying to leave the nuclear world behind, but why does he pick out only Iran, Iraq, and North Korea? What about the nuclear weapons states themselves? And their NATO allies that join in a common nuclear strategy? What about Japan accumulating tons of reprocessed plutonium suitable for making nuclear weapons? What about Israel?
Kissinger’s final point about countries with threatening nuclear neighbors needing nuclear weapons to assure their security is a clear recipe for proliferation as well as disaster. Would he advise the countries of the Middle East to develop nuclear arsenals in response to Israel having done so? Perhaps Mr. Kissinger has calculated that the nuclear weapons of the United States and its allies are not threatening. Other states, with other experiences, may view U.S. nuclear weapons and those of its allies somewhat less benignly.
My second proposition is that proliferation of nuclear weapons is virtually assured given the continuation of present policies by the nuclear weapons states. So long as the nuclear weapons states maintain that nuclear weapons are necessary for their security, we can expect that other countries will desire to have these weapons. Statements condemning proliferation by leaders of nuclear weapons states, like Mr. Clinton’s response to India’s testing, will not be taken seriously so long as the U.S. continues its current policy of maintaining its nuclear arsenal for the indefinite future.
There is only one way to prevent nuclear proliferation. That is for the nuclear weapons states to make an unequivocal commitment to the elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to take steps, such as de-alerting their arsenals, separating warheads from delivery vehicles, and so on, to show that they are serious about their commitment. Short of moving rapidly in this direction and bringing all nuclear warheads and nuclear weapons materials under strict international controls, nuclear proliferation is assured.
My third proposition is that nuclear weapons do not provide security. If you possess nuclear weapons, you will be the target of a threatened nuclear weapons attack. I wonder if the citizens of nuclear weapons states really understand the jeopardy in which they are placed by their governments’ policies. Of course, there is also the risk to the security of the world. By the obscenely large arsenals created and maintained by the U.S. and Russia, the entire world is jeopardized — the future of humanity, the future of most forms of life. It always amazes me that many people calling themselves environmentalists don’t seem to understand that nuclear weapons pose a manmade environmental threat that exceeds all bounds of reason.
Deterrence is simply a theory. It is not a shield. One cannot prove that a nuclear war has not occurred because of deterrence. There is no clear cause and effect linkage. In fact, it is not possible to prove a negative — that because of one thing, something else does not happen. We may be just plain lucky that a nuclear war has not occurred since two or more countries have been in possession of nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan, countries that have warred three times in the past 40 years, will certainly put additional strain on the theory of deterrence.
My fourth proposition is that arms control agreements have served largely as a “figleaf” of respectability for maintaining the two-tier structure of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty actually enshrines the proposition that there are two classes of states — those that possessed nuclear weapons before January 1, 1967 as one class, and everyone else as the other class. The only way around this situation is for the nuclear weapons states to pursue good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament as set forth in the treaty. Unfortunately, the nuclear weapons states have not done this despite the strong reinforcement of this treaty provision by the World Court in its 1996 Advisory Opinion on the general illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty may also be viewed as a treaty that supports the favored position of the nuclear weapons states. After conducting over 2,000 nuclear tests, the nuclear weapons states agreed to stop testing. However, they have interpreted this prohibition as not applying to so-called “sub-critical” tests that use conventional explosives around a nuclear core but do not result in a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The U.S. has already conducted three sub-critical tests, and Russia has announced that it also has plans to conduct such tests this year.
My fifth and final proposition is that terrorism has become an accepted and integrated part of the national security policies of the nuclear weapons states. Terrorism is the threat to injure or kill innocent people unless the terrorist’s demands are met. Nuclear weapons threaten to injure or kill innocent people. That is what they are designed to do. That is what they did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is what the nuclear weapons states threaten to do with them as a matter of policy. The nuclear weapons states, no matter how they argue their intentions, have become terrorist states. They have made their citizens either willing or unwilling accomplices in acts of terrorism. In time, if nothing is done to alter the present situation in the world, other states or criminal groups will obtain nuclear weapons and they too will act as terrorists.
The current situation is fraught with danger. There seems to be a loss of moral bearing in the world. What is most tragic is that an opportunity to abolish nuclear weapons is being squandered in the nuclear weapons states by leaders with a lack of vision and citizens caught in an amoral drift of complacency. In order to change the world before it is too late, these citizens must awaken to their responsibilities as members of the human species and demand change from their governments. Otherwise significant progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons is unlikely to occur, and the result will be increased nuclear proliferation and terrorism and, as a certainty, disastrous consequences.
*David Krieger is the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. You can contact him at Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 1187 Coast Village Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108-2794. The quotes by Clinton and Kissinger were in an op-ed by Henry Kissinger, “Hyperbole Is Not a Nonproliferation Policy,” Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1998.