A World without Nuclear Weapons Is a Joint Enterprise

By Goodby, James | Arms Control Today, May 2011 | Go to article overview
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A World without Nuclear Weapons Is a Joint Enterprise


Goodby, James, Arms Control Today


With the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between Russia and the United States, the time has come to widen the conversations about eliminating nuclear weapons to include other nuclear-armed states and states with advanced civil nuclear programs. Their support for creating the necessary conditions for achieving a world without nuclear weapons is essential in practice as well as in principle.

Russia and the United States have urgent unfinished business: reductions in the number of nuclear weapons beyond those scheduled in New START, including warheads associated with short-range delivery systems. Yet, talks limited to Russia and the United States alone cannot succeed in creating conditions conducive to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. The U.S. Senate, in its resolution of ratification for New START, "calls upon the other nuclear weapon states to give careful and early consideration to corresponding reductions of their own nuclear arsenals." That is good advice.

The nuclear weapons programs of other countries are major barriers to sustained Russian-U.S. reductions in nuclear weaponry and can encourage further proliferation in the absence of solid signs of commitment to the goals of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). These programs are cited again and again in critical commentary on the feasibility and even desirability of the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. If other states that possess nuclear weapons were to join in a reduction and elimination program, even with small initial steps, the effect on Russia and the United States would be catalytic. It would energize their efforts to move toward deep reductions and ultimately the elimination of nuclear weapons. It also would help with nonproliferation efforts around the world.

A Relic of the Cold War

Historically, the involvement of other nuclear-armed states in nuclear reductions negotiations has not been a high priority for the United States. The focus has been on U.S. negotiations with Russia because those two countries account for about 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. The involvement of other states has been seen as an obstacle in an already complex, bilateral U.S.-Russian negotiation. Furthermore, expanding the roster of countries in the negotiations has been seen as complicating U.S. relations with its allies, France and the United Kingdom. These arguments are now relics of Cold War circumstances.

Four years ago, an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal revolutionized thinking in the United States and elsewhere about the future of nuclear weapons. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn wrote that "reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America's moral heritage."1 They warned that the world is at a tipping point in its capacity to avoid nuclear catastrophe. The article identified several "agreed and urgent steps" that should be taken to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. Even before listing those steps, the authors called "first and foremost" for "intensive work with leaders of the countries in possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise."

During his first year in office, President Barack Obama accepted the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and the step-by-step method of achieving it. On September 24, 2009, he presided over a summit meeting of the UN Security Council on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament. In Resolution 1887, the council resolved "to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons" and called on parties to the NPT "to undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear arms reductions and disarmament."

The United States and Russia acted together to comply with that mandate.

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