All Together Now

By Kimball, Daryl G. | Arms Control Today, October 2009 | Go to article overview

All Together Now


Kimball, Daryl G., Arms Control Today


Global problems require global solutions, along with effective leadership and cooperation. For years, as leading players have failed to agree on how to bolster the beleaguered nonproliferation system, the threats posed by nuclear weapons have become more complex and difficult to solve.

But in a welcome shift, President Barack Obama won UN Security Council backing last month for a practical and comprehensive action plan to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons. Whether this special Security Council meeting and Resolution 1887 mark a true turning point depends on the steps taken in the next few weeks and months. Nonetheless, it is a rare step forward that comes at a critical time.

Although not perfect, the document should help build support among nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) member states, especially non-nuclear-weapon states, around a balanced set of nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear material security initiatives ahead of the pivotal May 2010 NPT Review Conference

Resolution 1887 builds on Obama's nuclear risk reduction agenda out- lined in Prague in April and further commits those nations with nuclear weapons to reduce them and work toward their elimination. In a wel- come shift, the resolution embraces key nuclear risk reduction initiatives weakened by the Bush administration, including negative nuclear security assurances and a commitment to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Obama's call for the treaty and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's participation in a concurrent UN CTBT conference are promising signs of the administration's serious commitment to securing U.S. ratification sometime in 2010.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly, Obama said he would a pursue a new Nuclear Posture Review that reduces the role of U.S. nuclear weapons and opens the way for deeper nuclear reductions, meaning below the target level of 1,500 strategic deployed warheads set for the current round of U.S. -Russian arms talks. This strongly suggests he intends to transform, not simply tinker with, the outdated U.S. nuclear thinking still prevalent in Washington.

The broad support for the resolution is largely a result of a new and more constructive U.S. approach to dealing with cases of noncompliance. Instead of singling out bad actors, which has led various countries to take sides, the administration is reinforcing a universal set of updated standards that the vast majority of countries can support.

The resolution does not name Iran, North Korea, or Syria, but it reinforces the rules that should apply in those cases. The resolution's call for adherence to more intrusive international nuclear safeguards is timely and important, coming a day before new revelations that Iran has secretly built a second uranium-enrichment facility at Qom. …

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