New Roles for Nuclear Weapons

Article excerpt

In "A 21st-Century Role for Nuclear Weapons" (Issues, Spring 2004), William Schneider, Jr. endorses the nuclear weapons policy of the current administration as promulgated in its Nuclear Posture Review and National Defense Strategy papers. He describes the primary motive for these policies to be "dissuasion" of presently unknown adversaries from accumulating weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Schneider asserts that if all hostile WMD stocks were held "at risk" by various means, then potential proliferators would be dissuaded from acquiring WMD, emphasizing that he distinguishes "dissuasion" from "deterrence." Yet deterrence continues to play a central role in the U.S. nuclear posture. Any state, including a socalled "rogue," would be deterred, as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, from using nuclear weapons, by realizing that the very existence of the state was at stake. However, should nuclear weapons or weapons-usable materials reach the hands of sub-state terrorists, deterrence has little value against those who believe that life in heaven is preferable to life on Earth.

The implementation of Schneider's dissuasion is to target all sites of storage or deployment of potentially hostile WMD. But can we know precisely where they are? Before 9/11, our intelligence agencies failed to provide the government information deemed to be actionable to prevent that attack. Conversely, initiation of the war against Iraq was supported by interpretation of intelligence provided to the administration concerning WMD whose very existence after 1991, let alone location, remains unsubstantiated today. Thus, I agree that intelligence collection, dissemination, and interpretation need improvement, but Schneider does not indicate how such an upgrade could be achieved to a degree sufficient to dissuade a WMD proliferator from pursuing his quest. Schneider's statement that "confidence in the inspection provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obscured efforts to obtain knowledge of clandestine WMD programs" hardly explains why those inspections provided information superior to that provided by U.S. intelligence.

Schneider downplays the value of international agreements, which he seriously misrepresents. He wrongly and repeatedly describes the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as having been terminated by "mutual consent" of the United States and Russia. The U.S. withdrawal was a unilateral act taken over the strong objections of all interested states, including Russia. In fact, Russia in response withdrew from the previously signed START II Treaty. Schneider also errs in stating that the Bush administration "reached a bilateral agreement with Russia to institutionalize a reciprocal reduction in numbers of nuclear delivery systems and their associated nuclear payloads." Neither is true. The termination of START II removed previously agreed limits on delivery systems, and the Moscow Treaty of May 2002 does not restrict the numbers of nuclear weapons beyond those "operationally deployed" on strategic systems. Even if it did, this treaty provides no mechanism for verification.

The NPT entered into force in 1970, with continued support by all U.S. administrations, including the current one. The 1995 Review Conference converted that treaty to one of indefinite duration: In that review, the United States agreed to ensure the irreversibility of international arms control agreements. That commitment was violated by the unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

Schneider states that "proliferation of WMD was stimulated as an unintended consequence of a U.S. failure to invest in technologies such as ballistic missile defense that could have dissuaded nations from investing in such weapons." But the United States has invested $130 billion in technologies to intercept ballistic missiles, which remain the least likely means by which a hostile actor would deliver nuclear weapons to U.S. soil. …