Eliminating Nuclear Weapons

From the Foundation's 1994 Annual Report


The Secure World Program's central objective is to eliminate the threats posed by nuclear weapons. Achieving this objective will require progress on many fronts -- diplomatic, bureaucratic, technical, environmental and military. States possessing nuclear weapons must alter the military doctrines which rely on using these weapons in war. The industries and bureaucracies paid to design, develop, test and produce these weapons must be induced out of existence or into other roles. States that might aspire to acquire nuclear weapons for the first time must be persuaded and/or prevented from doing so. And, assuming the will is mustered to eliminate nuclear weapon stockpiles, breakthroughs are needed in the technology and economics of dismantling them and disposing of their dangerous materials, especially plutonium.

The Foundation's initiative for eliminating nuclear weapons encompasses the many facets involved in achieving this goal. The initiative is divided into four subcategories:

The first step is to devalue nuclear weapons as primary instruments of security and to end reliance on them in war-fighting plans. Unfortunately, the established nuclear weapon states -- the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France -- have not even begun to plan seriously for eliminating the nuclear weapon threat. The United States Defense Department's Nuclear Posture Review in 1994 recommended retaining essentially the same nuclear doctrine and force posture as was deployed during the Cold War, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Russian capability to invade Europe with conventional weapons. Paradoxically, Russian military planners acknowledge their nation's new conventional force weakness, and in 1994 adopted a first-use policy for nuclear weapons in response to potential Western conventional attack on Russia. The Cold War may be over but nevertheless both the U.S. and Russia retain plans to use nuclear weapons not only in retaliation to a nuclear attack, but also in a first-use mode against a conventional military attack.

On the positive side, there is increasing recognition at least among some American military analysts that nuclear weapons are essentially unusable and, in the age of high-tech conventional weapons, do not actually serve American military interests. In 1994 the Foundation made several grants to foster independent critiques of the nuclear weapon doctrines of the U.S. and other states in an effort to foment new thinking and policy debates on this major problem.

Even as nuclear doctrine lags badly behind political reality, the nuclear-weapon states do not now wish to invest major resources in developing and producing new generations of nuclear weapons. However,the bureaucracies and industries that live on nuclear weapons investments resist formal agreements to end the development, testing and production of nuclear weapons. In 1994, intense debates arose over the Comprehensive Test Ban negotiations in Geneva, with the nuclear weapon establishments of each of the five nuclear powers seeking loopholes that would allow some forms of weapon testing in perpetuity. Chinese and French weapon designers were eager to conduct new series of explosive tests, and their governments negotiated accordingly.

The salience of nonproliferation grew dramatically in 1994 as the world prepared for the April-May 1995 conference to extend the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. At the 1995 conference, parties to the Treaty must decide whether and for how long to extend its "life." The debate intensified throughout 1994 as a sizable number of non-nuclear weapon states insisted that the nuclear-weapon states had inadequately fulfiled their Treaty obligations to end the nuclear arms race and pursue effective nuclear disarmament. These states pointed out that the U.S. and Russia in 1994 possessed more nuclear weapons than they did in 1970 when the NPT entered into force. Other states charged that the nuclear-weapon states had not been forthcoming with assistance in developing nuclear power, as required under the Treaty's Article IV. For their part, the nuclear-weapon states led by the United States argued that nonproliferation was in everyone's interest and thus all states should support indefinite extension of the Treaty, especially given the recent arms reduction agreements between the U.S. and Russia.

In 1994 the Foundation supported individual organizations in the U.S. and abroad, as well as a major coalition of American nongovernmental organizations, to promote nonproliferation on national, regional and global bases.

As nuclear weapons are devalued, proliferation abated, and conflicts prevented, the opportunity and requirement to dismantle weapons will grow. But the nations that built nuclear arsenals never planned to dismantle them. They did not anticipate the costs involved, nor the technical and environmental problems that arise. The leaders of these countries do not really know what to do with the tons of plutonium extracted from these weapons. The material is so dangerous -- as a source of weapons for thiefs or black marketeers, a potential fuel for accidental explosions, or an environmental and human health hazard if not handled properly -- that no quick solution to its disposition is apparent. All of these unanticipated difficulties slow the process of nuclear disarmament under treaties that have already been negotiated.

The Foundation continues to support many projects on dismantlement, helping to persuade grassroots and national decision-makers that dismantling nuclear weapons is a good idea, and helping to devise dismantlement processes that protect the environment and health of surrounding communities while maintaining security against diversion of fissile materials.
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