There is much hand-wringing in the arms control trenches these days over the role and future of arms control in U.S. policy. Liberal supporters of arms control lament what they see as a decade of missed opportunities to pursue deep cuts in the world's nuclear arsenals and to strengthen the regimes for controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Those on the right, perceiving grave weaknesses in Cold War--era arms control regimes, prefers to move ahead with "assertive isolationism," happily unencumbered with the comprehensive test ban or soon, they hope, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. After a promising start in arms control at the beginning of the 1990s, both sides see U.S. arms control policy drifting in purpose and slackening in momentum, with arms control officials spread thin over a proliferating agenda. Even as arms control tasks have burgeoned, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), historically often a voice of restraint on arms matters, was dismantled by a housecleaning, anti-big-government Republican Congress in 1999 and its functions folded into the State Department. Arms control officials have been asked to do more with less, and, as Brad Roberts notes, "some would prefer that they do less with less." (1)
This state of affairs has a number of causes, including the more uncertain security landscape after the end of the Cold War, a Clinton administration more interested in economic than security issues, contentious domestic politics in the United States, and a profound skepticism on the part of ideologically minded Republicans about the value of international agreements generally. The more serious underlying problem is that, even as the security climate has shifted dramatically, there has been no comparable change in U.S. government thinking about the role of nuclear weapons and arms control in security policy. The U.S. government and other nuclear-weapons states remain mired in Cold War paradigms of threat and deterrence. The Cold War reigns, not only in the astronomical military budget but in the categories and concepts we use to think about arms control and security. Most new thinking on weapons today has come from citizens' movements and nonnuclear states, not from the U.S. president or his political advisers, Pentagon nuclear planners, Congressional policymakers, or other nuclear states.
In this essay, I review the current state of arms control and consider some emerging trends. I make three arguments. First, the current posture of the U.S. government is self-defeating. Arms control remains a central tool for enhancing U.S. security, but if arms control efforts are to succeed, the U.S. government must seriously reconsider the role of nuclear deterrence. Continued reliance on a nuclear threat and large nuclear arsenals undermines U.S. efforts to stem weapons proliferation, ultimately the greatest long-term security threat to the United States. Moreover, any global arms control scheme that continues to enshrine nuclear deterrence for some states but not for others is probably unsustainable and unstable over the long haul.
Second, the global arms control process is changing in important ways. It is becoming more transnational and pluralistic, and the major powers no longer entirely control the agenda. Citizens' movements, small and medium-sized states, and international organizations are increasingly asserting themselves in the arms control process and defining the agenda. This creates new sources of change but also new challenges for the United States.
Third, what is ultimately required for successful arms control is a fundamental cognitive and normative shift in how we think about weapons and their role. Specifically, arms control and disarmament will not be effective over the long run until discussions about weapons are removed from the exclusive grip and prerogative of a narrow national security discourse. If the discourse about weapons is recast as one of environmental, medical, and humanitarian issues rather than simply one of national security, it may be easier to ban and regulate weapons. This discursive shift, which is already evident in the campaigns to ban nuclear weapons and to regulate small arms and is driven largely by citizens' movements, challenges the hegemony of states' national security claims by calling for transnational, global accountability for the effects of national security policies.
The Scorecard on Arms Control
The 1990s began as a period of significant accomplishments in nuclear arms control and concluded as one of lost opportunities. At the beginning of the decade, it was widely expected that the end of the Cold War offered a historic opportunity to engage in deep cuts in nuclear arsenals and to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons. President George Bush and Russian leaders signed START I in July 1991 and START II in January 1993, the most sweeping arms-reduction pacts in history. START II, when implemented, would reduce each side's arsenals to about 3,000 to 3,500 warheads. Bush also negotiated and signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, which prohibits the manufacture, deployment, possession, and use of chemical weapons. It entered into force in 1997 after the United States and Russia finally ratified it.
There have been no truly deep cuts in nuclear weapons, however. President Bill Clinton achieved no further agreements on reductions in strategic nuclear arsenals, even though Russia was now a U.S. "partner for peace," the Russian nuclear missiles were rusting in their silos, and the Russians were being forced to cut back their arsenals for economic reasons. Clinton made any further progress on arms control hostage to ratification of START II by the Russian Duma, which sat on the issue until April 2000--the U.S. Senate ratified it in January 1996--angered by the expansion of NATO eastward, NATO's war in Kosovo in spring 1999, and U.S. efforts to create missile defenses that would violate the 1972 ABM Treaty and perhaps threaten the Russian nuclear deterrent. START II has not yet entered into force because the U.S. Senate must ratify a 1997 protocol, and START III talks have not begun. There was no lack of thoughtful ideas from the arms control community on how to make progress on strategic arms control, but the Clinton administration's attention seemed to be elsewhere. (2) As of July 2000, the United States still had approximately 7,520 strategic nuclear warheads and Russia 6,460. (3)
On nonproliferation also, progress early in the decade was followed by later setbacks. After the Cold War ended, there was a small stampede to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). South Africa, in a remarkable rollback, dismantled its secret nuclear arsenal and acceded to the treaty in July 1991, and China and France, two of the five declared nuclear powers, joined in 1992. All the states of the former Soviet Union (except for Russia) joined the NPT as nonnuclear states, including those--Ukraine, Belarus, and Khazakhstan--that had had Soviet nuclear weapons deployed on their territories. In 1990 Argentina and Brazil formally renounced the manufacture of nuclear weapons, joining the NPT in 1995 and 1998. In August 1994 even Cuba, after holding out for more than 25 years, announced its intention to join the Treaty of Tlatelolco--the nuclear-weapons-free zone in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1994, North Korea's secret effort to build nuclear weapons was bought off in a deal with the United States. The United States, Japan, and South Korea will take the lead in supplying energy in exchange for an end to North Korea's nuclear fuel reprocessing program. The NPT was extended indefinitely in April 1995 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was finally signed in 1996, after more than thirty years of negotiations. At the time of the April 2000 NPT review conference, only four states were not members: India, Pakistan, Israel, and Cuba.
Major setbacks also occurred. The nonnuclear states threatened to scuttle the 1995 indefinite extension of the NPT, angry over the nuclear states' lack of progress toward meeting their disarmament obligations under the treaty. The UN inspection regime to monitor Iraq's demolition of its weapons of mass destruction, after a successful first few years, fell apart because of divisions in the UN Security Council, and no inspectors have been at work in Iraq since 1998. In May 1998, India stunned the world by testing five nuclear weapons, and Pakistan followed by testing six of its own, ending decades of secrecy and suspicion about their nuclear projects. Many saw this as a failure of U.S. nonproliferation policy and a significant blow to the …