Strategic Nuclear Policy and Non-Proliferation

Arms Control Today, May 1994 | Go to article overview

Strategic Nuclear Policy and Non-Proliferation


A year from now, in April of 1995, a conference will be convened to consider the extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is mandated by the treaty itself, which provides that 25 years after its effective date, March 5, 1970, the parties are to meet to determine the length of any extension.

The announced U.S. objective at that conference is to secure an indefinite and unconditional extension. In his United Nations speech last September, President Clinton set nuclear non-proliferation as one of the nation's highest priorities. The current concern about North Korea's nuclear intentions is just the latest proof of the importance of pursuing policies that discourage additional national nuclear arsenals. The urgency of this objective had already been underscored by the discovery that Iraq was well on the way to acquiring nuclear arms before the Gulf War and that South Africa had actually built a half-dozen nuclear weapons, which Pretoria has since destroyed.

But the chances of obtaining indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT and achieving global adherence to its terms will be significantly affected by the strategic policies and the actual conduct of the current nuclear-weapon states.

'PERM-5' NPT OBLIGATIONS

The strongest inhibition on nuclear proliferation is the NPT, under which more than 155 countries have now committed themselves not to acquire nuclear weapons. A major vulnerability of the treaty is the fact that it is inherently discriminatory. It allows the five declared nuclear-weapon powers to maintain--and even augment--their nuclear arsenals while requiring non-nuclear-weapon states to forego joining the nuclear club. In an effort to shore up this weakness, Article VI obligates the nuclear powers "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament." And the preamble to the treaty expressly pledges efforts "to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time."

The pledge to end all nuclear testing is also contained in the preamble of the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963. That treaty bans nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. This treaty fell far short of President Dwight Eisenhower's objective of a complete ban on testing, which was also set forth by President John F. Kennedy in his speech at American University in June 1963 calling for an end to all nuclear weapons tests. Kennedy compromised, however, because of unresolved differences with the Soviet Union over the number of permitted on-site inspections for verification purposes and because of the strong insistence of many powerful senators, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nuclear laboratories, that at least underground testing was essential to preserve the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

The willingness of the non-nuclear weapon state parties to commit themselves indefinitely to observe their part of the NPT bargain will depend in large part on how they think the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia have lived up to their treaty commitments. And they will be very interested in how the nuclear powers view their doomsday weapons in the new world order. Are nuclear arms seen as a troublesome vestige from the Cold War, or as enduring symbols of power and prestige? The non-nuclear-weapon state parties may find the answer in the progress made toward a comprehensive test ban (CTB) and in what has been done about nuclear testing while the test ban negotiations are conducted.

STRONG U.S. LEADERSHIP

In this regard, the United States has recently exercised sound and strong leadership. The Congress, in late 1992, enacted legislation preventing nuclear tests until July of last year. President Clinton extended the moratorium until September of 1994 or, alternatively, until another country conducted nuclear weapons tests. Although China exploded a nuclear weapon last October, the U. …

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