Return to the W. Alton Jones Foundation Home Page
ProgramsGrantsNewsLinksJoin Us  


Grant Search

Tech Assistance

Getting Involved


Site Map

About Us


Contacting Us

Annual Report 1999

General Intro

Sustainable World

Secure World


Common Security

Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

Prevent the Massive Release of Radiation

Establish the costs of Being a Nuclear State

Financial Info

Secure World Intro

Not long into the superpower nuclear arms race, leaders and security specialists around the world recognized that major initiatives were needed to keep this race from spinning the world out of control. Without rules and controls, the arms racers could exhaust themselves in frantic and unending production of more and more weapons of greater and greater destructiveness. The illusion that a useable advantage could be gained by one side over the other made such a race tempting-the idea that you could fight and win a nuclear war. Experience eventually showed that such advantages could not be sustained. Others would catch up or find new ways to make threats. In any case, "gains" were illusory given the consequences of nuclear war even to the "winner."

Thus, the United States and the Soviet Union began a process of building an international security system to protect themselves and others against nuclear dangers. Three of this system's cornerstones took the form of principles that have been or can be enshrined in treaties. These security-enhancing treaties emerged from intense bureaucratic and political fights within governments and long, difficult negotiations between them. Yet, these cornerstones would not have been cut and emplaced without the work of skilled nongovernmental actors who could make the scientific, strategic and diplomatic cases for cooperative security measures.

In 1999 these treaties and the international security system that they support began to fracture badly, proving that even seemingly robust achievements are fragile. Indeed, as we move into the 21st century, the most fundamental accomplishments of Secure World grantees are under siege.

Ending Nuclear Testing

One of the earliest objectives of people interested in stopping the nuclear arms race was a comprehensive test ban. In the 1950s, '60s, '70s and early '80s, the nuclear powers steadily developed more sophisticated nuclear weapons, expanding their arsenals along the way. Without full-scale explosive testing, this form of arms racing would not have occurred, because military and political leaders would not have spent billions on unproven weapons. And given that one country's weapons ostensibly were being improved to match other countries' weapons, if all stopped testing, none would be worse off and the wasteful and destabilizing effects of arms racing could be contained. Banning tests also would constrain new countries from building nuclear weapons. Still, as President Eisenhower warned, the military-industrial complexes of the nuclear powers, and the rivalries of the Cold War, prevented final agreement on a test ban for four decades.

All this while, nongovernmental organizations continued to promote the desirability and feasibility of a verifiable test ban. In the 1970s and '80s, independent scientists with foundation support demonstrated that technologies and procedures could be designed to verify a ban. In the 1980s and '90s, scientists and citizen diplomats created lines of communication across international borders to build support for an agreement when governments were not negotiating constructively. Citizen movements conducted public education and occasional demonstrations to demand more attention be paid to this challenge. These activities, many of them conducted by foundation grantees, helped persuade the U.S. and Russian governments in 1992 to adopt a moratorium on further testing, a major breakthrough in the effort to achieve a test ban. Similarly, citizens around the world reacted so strongly to France's resumption of nuclear testing in 1995, that President Chirac soon felt compelled to cut short the planned series of tests and agreed to sign a test ban treaty. In September 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was finally completed and signed by the five acknowledged nuclear weapon states, and more than one hundred others.

Unfortunately, in 1999 the U.S. Senate delivered a shocking sledgehammer blow to this cornerstone of the global nuclear security system by voting on a strict party line not to ratify the test ban treaty. Treaty opponents argued that the treaty was not verifiable and that it could prevent U.S. nuclear laboratories from guaranteeing the reliability of existing nuclear weapons. Compelling scientific rebuttals to these arguments exist, but political considerations kept these from being fully and openly debated. At bottom, treaty opponents did not want to keep the United States from developing new generations of nuclear weapons that they believed might augment American military superiority, although they did not explain how the United States could or should use nuclear weapons in today's world.

The failure to ratify a seminal treaty that to date has been signed by 155 nations after four decades of negotiation shows the fragility of success in this field.

Preventing nuclear proliferation

Whereas it took half a century for the superpowers to agree to curtail their own development of nuclear weapons, they cooperated more readily in negotiating a treaty that would keep other countries from acquiring nuclear arsenals. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was completed in 1968, under heavy influence from Moscow and Washington. The treaty allowed the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and China the legitimate possession of nuclear weapons, but forbade all other parties from acquiring these devices, and put severe limits on the transfer of nuclear technology and know-how from the nuclear-weapon states to the non-nuclear weapon states. This cornerstone treaty represented the great imperative of persuading the entire international community to do whatever is necessary to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

In 1995, the NPT was due to be reviewed by the 179 nations that had signed it. Pursuant to this review, the parties were to decide for how long to extend the treaty's operation. Some countries urged only a short-term extension, arguing, among other things, that the nuclear-weapon states had not done enough to fulfill their disarmament obligations to warrant extending the treaty forever. A large coalition of American and international nongovernmental organizations, supported by this foundation and others, joined the U.S. government and others in arguing that the treaty and the norm of nonproliferation should be strengthened, and that this was best done by extending it indefinitely. This view ultimately prevailed.

Yet here, too, fragility of success became apparent in 1999. When parties to the treaty agreed to its indefinite extension in 1995, they hinged their decision explicitly on a demand that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty be completed in 1996 to show good faith in implementing the disarmament bargain of the NPT. The United States' failure to ratify the CTBT thus creates a potential fissure in the nonproliferation system. Other threats to the nonproliferation regime come from the refusal of India and Pakistan to put formal limits on their nuclear weapon programs in the wake of their 1998 nuclear tests, and from the UN Security Council's inability to agree on tactics for ensuring that Iraq does not regenerate weapons of mass destruction.

Limiting development of strategic weapons

A third cornerstone of the global nuclear security system is the basic principle that nuclear powers should not pursue technologies that destabilize their deterrent relationships and increase the risks of arms racing or early use of nuclear weapons. This principle was codified in the 1972 SALT I Agreements, which included the ABM Treaty negotiated by the Nixon Administration. The United States and the Soviet Union recognized that missile defenses would undermine interest in limiting offensive weapons. Indeed, the most likely way to counter an adversary's missile defense would be to build more incoming missiles, in a destabilizing spiral. If a technologically effective missile defense could be proven, it would only be beneficial if it did not provoke destabilizing offensive countermeasures by countries that are capable of inflicting major damage, such as Russia and China. The premium on stability and reducing nuclear offensive forces led in the late 1980s and early 1990s to the START I and II Treaties which for the first time actually entailed major reductions in long-range nuclear forces. Each of these treaties was championed by independent scientists and NGOs around the world who believed that more security could be gained at lower cost and risk through verifiable reductions in nuclear forces than from unconstrained competition between rival states. Winning acceptance of this basic principle was one of the major accomplishments of the NGO community. Beyond helping to reduce nuclear dangers, this principle and the nuclear arms reduction process were decisive in ending the Cold War. As a leading scholar of Russian security policies concluded recently, foundation-supported NGOs deserve enormous credit for persuading Mikhail Gorbachev to reverse the nuclear arms race and call off the Cold War.

Yet, 1999 ended with Russia still unwilling to ratify the START II Treaty-six years after it was signed. Russia may actually be interested in deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals, perhaps to 1,000 long-range weapons deployed by each country, but nuclear policies have become highly politicized in Russia. Russian leaders increasingly see nuclear weapons as the ultimate markers of Russia's great power. American plans possibly to break the ABM Treaty and deploy national ballistic missile defenses appear destabilizing and provocative to Russia, raising Russian reluctance to give up offensive nuclear countermeasures. China feels similarly threatened by U.S. ballistic missile defense plans. As long as the nuclear powers refuse to end their heavy reliance on nuclear deterrence against each other, American missile defenses will be seen as tools for military domination and resisted accordingly.

Like any shelter, the nuclear security system cannot stay upright if its cornerstones crumble. Each cornerstone was cut through hard work, and each stage of the building signified success. Now, through neglect and in some cases purposeful deconstruction, each of these stones is being fractured. The weakening of one puts more pressure on the others, subjecting the whole edifice to collapse. Without cooperative agreements to protect against nuclear threats the world will become a much more dangerous place.

W. Alton Jones Foundation | Copyright 2000 | Home | Top