Reinventing the Arms Race: While the United States Maintains Its Nuclear Arsenal, Other Nations Call for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

Article excerpt

The nuclear rests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 were a reminder to the world that the dangers posed by nuclear weapons are still very much with us. Most of the analyses that followed these tests paid little attention to the nuclear weapons states and their reluctance to keep up their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that came into force in 1970. (1) Throughout its nuclear history, India has repeatedly pointed out the inequity of the international Arrangement--nuclear apartheid, as some Indian commentators have termed it. This arrangement allows some nations to possess hugely destructive nuclear arsenals, while other nations are denied that choice. (2)

On May 28, 1998, following the first set of nuclear tests by Pakistan, President Clinton said, "I cannot believe that we are about to start the 21st century by having the Indian subcontinent repeat the worst mistakes of the 20th century, when we know it is not necessary to peace, to security, to prosperity, to national greatness or personal fulfillment." (3) This is perhaps the closest a president of the United States has come to officially stating, albeit grudgingly, that nuclear weapons are not necessary for peace or security. Actions taken by the United States send out a different message, however, and recent decisions taken by the administration and the U.S. Department of Energy indicate that the U.S. leadership intends to keep its nuclear arsenal around for the foreseeable future and thereby to perpetuate the arms race.

At the same time, a number of initiatives in the international arena, as well as recommendations by various national and international bodies, advocate the elimination-or at least rapid reductions in numbers--of nuclear weapons. If serious steps are not taken towards abolition of nuclear weapons, this growing polarization between the nuclear weapons states and the vast majority of nonnuclear countries could lead to unraveling of the current international regime, which may have dire consequences.

After the CTBT

The long-sought Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signed by President Clinton in 1996, was the first major nuclear agreement negotiated after the Cold War. In the preamble to the treaty, the signatories-including 152 nonnuclear states and the five nuclear weapon states-declared that they intended to take effective measures towards nuclear disarmament. They stressed the need for continued systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons worldwide, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons. Most of the countries that joined the treaty believed it would indeed hasten elimination. But Stephen Ledogar, the U.S. ambassador to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations, revealed a different picture about the beliefs of the nuclear weapons states. While most countries believe banning nuclear tests will by itself reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles, "all five nuclear weapons states believe that without testing, we can nevertheless maintain for the foreseeable future the viability, the safety and t he reliability of our nuclear stockpiles." (4)

Stockpile Stewardship

The safety and reliability of the U.S. arsenal are to be maintained through a multi-billion dollar program called the "Science Based Stockpile Stewardship" program. Stockpile Stewardship is seen by many as a way of buying off the nuclear weapons laboratories to get their consent to the United States signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. By retaining "all historical capabilities of the weapons laboratories, industrial plants and the Nevada Test Site," Stockpile Stewardship will provide design capabilities potentially greater than during the Cold War. (5)

The plan calls for maintaining weapons, weapons components, and research and development facilities such as Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and the Nevada Test Site. Stockpile Stewardship also supports a National Ignition Facility that attempts to achieve nuclear fusion. …