In a January 4, 2007 Wall Street Journal opinion piece by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, the four former Cold Warriors argued, “Nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity. US leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage – to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.”
Our continued reliance on nuclear weapons only incites non-nuclear countries to acquire or develop nuclear weapons of their own. These include states willing to sell their technology and know-how to terrorist organizations who make no pretense of stockpiling nuclear weapons for deterrence, and in turn cannot be deterred from using the weapons. Therefore, initiating negotiations to ensure the phased, verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear arsenals under strict international control is of the utmost urgency. Such negotiations, in fact, are mandated by Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and by the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons. The latter states, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
In accord with assuring its own security from nuclear attack, as well as setting an example for other nations with a principled legal and moral position, the United States should then commit to leading the world away from the nuclear precipice. A number of current US nuclear policies are in need of either renewed commitment or a new direction.
1. The US and Russia, between them, currently maintain some 3,500 nuclear weapons on high alert status. Thus, we’re in constant danger of an unintended missile launch.
Policy recommendation: Negotiate with Russia to remove all nuclear weapons from high alert status and create additional safeguards to prevent an accident which would lead to nuclear war.
2. The US currently maintains the option of not only using nuclear weapons first, but against non-nuclear weapons states. This is an open invitation to nuclear proliferation.
Policy recommendation: The US should make a commitment that legally binds it from first use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, assuring that we retain them only for deterrence. Further, the US should sign an agreement that under no conditions would it nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states.
3. The US is planning to replace every nuclear weapon in its arsenal under the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. While ostensibly intended to increase nuclear security, the RRW program is actually costly, dangerous and unnecessary. By sending the message that the US plans to continue to base its security on nuclear weapons indefinitely, it serves only to encourage nuclear proliferation.
Policy recommendation: Eliminate funding for and cancel the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.
4. Contributions on the part of the US to prevent the theft of nuclear weapons and weapons-grade materials in the former USSR and other countries around the world have been far from adequate.
Policy recommendation: Increase US funding for: programs that secure all nuclear weapons and weapons-grade fissile materials in Russia and other countries; the Global Threat Reduction Initiative and other programs for preventing nuclear proliferation; security upgrades, including anti-theft technology, for all countries in possession of nuclear weapons or weapons-grade nuclear materials. Funds freed up by canceling the RRW program might be allotted to these ends.
5. The US has not yet ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The US was the first country to sign the CTBT in 1996, but failed to ratify it, even though 138 other states have, when it came before the Senate in 1999. Nor has the Bush administration seen fit to resubmit the treaty for ratification since.
Policy recommendation: Submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification again, and encourage the other nuclear-capable states that have not signed or ratified it to do so. Further, the US should close the Nevada Test Site.
6. Some countries, including the US, are continuing sub-critical nuclear tests, which stop short of producing a nuclear chain-reaction explosion. Continued nuclear testing, even in the form of computer simulations, sends a message to the world that nuclear testing is necessary and encourages other countries to follow suit.
Policy recommendation: Cease testing of nuclear weapons by any means and urge other nations to emulate us.
7. The US currently maintains some 480 nuclear weapons in Europe and hundreds more on submarines in the oceans.
Policy recommendation: Repatriate all US nuclear weapons from foreign soil, and negotiate with the other nuclear weapons states for the removal of all nuclear weapons from ocean-going vessels. It’s imperative that the seas retain their status as the common heritage of humankind.
8. The US military currently espouses a policy of “full spectrum dominance” over not only land, air, and sea, but outer space.
Policy recommendation: The US should join other countries, including Russia and China, in negotiating a treaty to keep outer space beyond the limits of earthly hostilities.
9. The US is proceeding with a plan called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which provides for reprocessing nuclear waste to render its plutonium usable in nuclear power plants. Though advertised as proliferation-resistant, GNEP only increases the odds of plutonium falling into the hands of criminals and terrorist organizations.
Policy recommendation: Eliminate funding for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership program, prohibit the reprocessing of nuclear wastes, and house waste from nuclear power plants where it’s generated in hardened on-site storage facilities. Require a low-density, open-frame layout for spent fuel pools, and provide protection for these pools. Mandate periodic review of these facilities.
10. Most significantly, the US has shown virtually no leadership in fulfilling its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.
Policy recommendation: Pursue negotiations without further delay on a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, transparent and irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons globally, as required by Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We call upon candidates seeking the presidency of the United States and current representatives and candidates seeking seats in the Congress to adopt the recommendations of this ten-point platform designed to assure compliance with US obligations under international law. Thus will a commitment be demonstrated to US leadership in ending the nuclear weapons threat that hangs over humanity.
We call upon candidates seeking the presidency of the United States and current representatives and candidates seeking seats in the Congress to adopt the recommendations of this ten-point platform designed to assure compliance with US obligations under international law. Thus will a commitment be demonstrated to US leadership in ending the nuclear weapons threat that hangs over humanity.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). Please send comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.