Toward a More Responsible Nuclear Nonproliferation Strategy

By Levin, Carl; Reed, Jack | Arms Control Today, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

Toward a More Responsible Nuclear Nonproliferation Strategy


Levin, Carl, Reed, Jack, Arms Control Today


For nearly half a century, the United States has attempted to "delegitimize" the use of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. From John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson's support for the Limited Test Ban Treaty and nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), to George H.W. Bush's backing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, U.S. presidents from both parties have viewed arms control and risk reduction strategies as critical to the U.S. national interest.

As a presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush-claiming that he would continue that tradition-referred to nuclear weapons as "obsolete weapons of dead conflicts" and talked of making substantial reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. He offered some hope that nuclear weapons would be destroyed, delivery systems reduced, and programs designed to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons materials and technologies strengthened. He opposed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but pledged to continue a decadeold U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing.

Bush criticized the Clinton administration for failing to make reductions in the U.S. nuclear force posture-even though such reductions had actually been blocked by a Republican Congress-stating: "America should rethink the requirements of nuclear deterrence in a new security environment. The premise of Cold War targeting should no longer dictate the size of our arsenal.....I will pursue the lowest possible number [of nuclear weapons] consistent with our national security. It should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has already been agreed to under START II, without compromising our security in any way."

Time has powerfully demonstrated, however, that these bold statements were no more than campaign rhetoric. Bush is carrying out-and appears to be carrying forward-a departure from the bipartisan tradition of arms control. Despite his campaign promises, Bush has done little to truly cut U.S. nuclear arsenals and has resisted bipartisan calls to accelerate efforts to safeguard Russia's Cold War weapons. He has abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). He has pushed Congress to adopt measures and programs that will lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. Bush's nuclear weapons policies are part of a broader national security strategy that is heavily oriented toward preemptive military action.

The Bush administration is pursuing this agenda at a time when the need to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons-related technologies is more important than ever. Countries such as North Korea and Iran have taken steps to develop their own nuclear weapons and India and Pakistan have already succeeded. Because of the Bush administration's policies and rhetoric, the United States is now in the position of urging others to abandon nuclear programs while simultaneously increasing their allure and glamour.

In practical terms, North Korea and other tough proliferation cases defy quick military solutions. Military preemption is no substitute for a comprehensive and preventive arms control and nonproliferation strategy, which remains our first line of defense against the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Nonproliferation rules and standards of behavior establish the legal, political, and moral basis for organizing U.S. and international pressure to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials to states or terrorist groups. Proactive U.S. diplomacy, as well as limiting access to nuclear materials, nuclear testing, and nuclear weapons, help make such rules a practical reality. Because of new proliferation dangers, a more effective nonproliferation strategy requires strengthening and adapting-not abandoning-preventive diplomacy and arms control.

Expanding the Role of Nuclear Weapons

Even before Bush took office, Republican policies had stalled U. …

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Toward a More Responsible Nuclear Nonproliferation Strategy
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