The Washington, DC-based New America Foundation (NAF) hosted a June 29 panel discussion on the possession, proliferation, disarmament and future of nuclear weapons in the international community. Moderated by Peter Bergen, director of NAF's national security studies program, the panel featured several experts on nuclear policy including Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund. Cirincione began the discussion with an overview of American and Russian nuclear arsenals, which together compose 95 percent of the entire world's nuclear capacity. For these two states, he pointed out, "arms control is the new realism" for political and military figures alike, and both states will continue to make strides toward reducing nuclear arsenals.
The anachronistic nature of nuclear warfare for Washington and Moscow, however, is not equally applicable to the Middle East and Asia, where nuclear weapons continue to occupy key roles in national defense and foreign policies, specifically for China, Pakistan and India. Sustained military exchanges between these countries, Cirincione warned, undoubtedly would constitute a "world war" and carry economic and ecological consequences affecting the entire globe.
Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at MIT, emphasized that Pakistan's military perceives nuclear arms as an essential deterrent against either an Indian or U.S. invasion. As a result, Pakistan, with China's assistance, is expanding its nuclear program faster than any other state, primarily to dissuade India from building up its conventional military. Narang described Beijing's policy of nuclear cooperation with Islamabad and the level of support it is providing as "unprecedented in the annals of nuclear proliferation," adding that it may be the model for nuclear proliferation across states in the future. The security of Pakistan's and India's nuclear arsenals is vulnerable in both countries to internal threats, he acknowledged.
However, Cirincione pointed out, even given internal instability in both India and Pakistan, it is highly improbable that a terrorist organization would ever gain access to nuclear weapons. It would be far more likely-given their shared border and history of multiple armed exchanges in the past century-to see India and Pakistan caught in nuclear war. The environmental effects alone of such an encounter would have the potential to destroy the world's agriculture, he noted.
Trita Parsi, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council, provided insights on Iranian nuclear proliferation and the public view from within Iran on nuclear weapons. America has a core assumption about Iranian nuclear aspirations, Parsi observed-specifically that Iranians, recognizing Israeli and Pakistani nuclear capabilities, must want nuclear weapons as well, and that this desire cannot be eliminated (although Iran's capability to create nuclear weapons can be). …