Stopping a Dangerous Drift in U.S. Arms Control Policy

By Spratt, John M., Jr. | Arms Control Today, March 2003 | Go to article overview
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Stopping a Dangerous Drift in U.S. Arms Control Policy

Spratt, John M., Jr., Arms Control Today

The United States is facing an increasingly diverse set of threats from weapons of mass destruction. War is looming in Iraq, a crisis is developing on the Korean Peninsula, and Iran is moving to develop nuclear weapons. The terrorists who assaulted the United States on September 11, 2001 may have lacked nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, but they did not lack the malevolence to use them. We find ourselves in a new arms race: one between the efforts of terrorists and rogue states to acquire them and our efforts to stop them.

There may never have been a more appropriate time to ask how we can more effectively reduce the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and to assess how our nuclear policies help or hinder that goal. Clearly, business as usual is not enough, but we should not slight the steps we have taken-they have helped. A prime example is the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, initiated by former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), which seeks to secure the arsenals of Russia and other former Soviet states in order to prevent proliferators from obtaining nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

The Nunn-Lugar program, based in the Department of Defense, and its companion nonproliferation programs at the Energy and State Departments are entering their second decade, and they have made major progress. As of November 2002, the Pentagon's threat reduction programs had helped to deactivate 6,020 warheads, destroy 486 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and eliminate 347 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and 97 strategic bombers. Perhaps the best known of the Energy Department efforts, the Material Protection, Control and Accounting (MPC&A) Program, has also established a strong track record. With only a modest budget, the MPC&A program has improved safeguards for 192 metric tons of fissile material, enough for some 8,000 nuclear devices.

Still, much remains to be done. It may seem evident that these programs have proven their mettle and merit more funding, but it is not clear to everyone. From the start, those protective of the defense budget looked upon Nunn-Lugar as an interloper, a way of siphoning money off real defense programs and into "foreign affairs." A few years ago, when I sponsored the second step of this bill, called Nunn-Lugar-Domenici, I could not convince a single Republican on the House Armed Services Committee to join me as a co-sponsor. And when threat reduction measures are passed, they have often been hampered by "certifications" requirements that have held up funding. ?

Today's emerging dangers not only validate the concerns that gave rise to those programs; they call for us to do more. Unfortunately, instead of accelerating our nonproliferation efforts, we are allowing threat reduction to tread water. Perhaps worse, after more than a decade of arms control progress, U.S. policy is now drifting in a dangerous direction as the Bush administration contemplates a resumption of nuclear testing and the development of new "bunker-busting" nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration and the Congress need to boost threat reduction activities and halt efforts to increase the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy. Morally, these steps will enhance our authority as we move to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Practically, they will help strengthen safeguards and keep weapons of mass destruction from terrorists and rogue states.

Tepid Support for Nonproliferation

Cooperative threat reduction efforts are slowly but surely undoing the legacy of the Cold War. They are succeeding in spite of impediments, and they deserve more money, more emphasis, and more recognition for what they have accomplished. These programs represent a text-book example of how Congress can innovate and initiate national security policy, but in our system there is no substitute for presidential commitment. Although the Bush administration is officially supportive, its support is hardly zealous.

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