Eliminating Nuclear Weapons

From the Foundation's 1995 Annual Report


The Secure World Program's central objective is to eliminate the threats posed by nuclear weapons. To achieve this objective nuclear weapons must be devalued as primary instruments of security. Military establishments and their political overseers must end reliance on nuclear weapons in their war-fighting plans, limiting any potential role of nuclear weapons solely to deterring the use of such weapons by adversaries. The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom and France have refused such a limitation. They continue to maintain military doctrines calling for potential first use of nuclear weapons—not in retaliation for a nuclear attack, but in conventional war scenarios. Despite the end of the Cold War and recognition by the established nuclear powers that they have no interest in warring against one another, they have refused to abandon the nuclear doctrines they maintained at the height of the Cold War. For its part, China in 1995 continued to declare a policy of no-first-use while a growing number of strategic analysts in the Chinese military expressed interest in exploring war-fighting roles for nuclear weapons. Yet, in spite of the ossification of official nuclear doctrines in the nuclear-weapon states, a growing number of recently retired military leaders and strategic analysts have begun to argue, in unprecedented detail, that nuclear weapons serve little useful military purpose and should be eliminated.

Perhaps the most positive step in 1995 toward eliminating nuclear weapons occurred during negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in Geneva. Through early 1995, the U.S. and France, along with the United Kingdom, Russia and China, had been proposing that small-yield nuclear weapon tests should be allowed under the terms of the treaty. The nuclear weapon establishments in each country wanted to keep their options (and facilities) open to conduct such tests, arguing that they were necessary to ensure the reliability and safety of their nuclear weapons. However, independent scientists, nongovernmental organizations and governments of non-nuclear-weapon states argued that such tests were technically unnecessary and in fact undermined the fundamental purpose of a test ban. These arguments finally prevailed amid international outcry over France's resumed nuclear weapon testing in the South Pacific, and the U.S. and France reversed positions. Even though the ultimate features of a CTBT (as well as its chances of completion and entry into force) remained unclear at the end of 1995, the year did yield substantial progress in this arena.

Efforts to stem and reverse the proliferation of nuclear weapons outside of the existing nuclear-weapon states received a major boost with the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May 1995. Reaffirmation of the NPT, however, must be paired with a strengthening of the international community's capacity to enforce it. For example, in Iraq it was learned only after the Gulf War that Saddam Hussein's regime had made undetected progress toward acquiring nuclear weapons. Such experiences demonstrate the need for the United Nations’ Security Council to fortify its capability to investigate and act upon possible proliferation threats.

Strengthening the global nonproliferation regime does not obscure the fact that countries such as Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and perhaps other states retain intentions and/or capabilities to produce nuclear arsenals. Progress continued during 1995 to implement North Korea's agreement with the United States to abandon its plutonium production program and to comply fully with its obligations as a party to the NPT. The Foundation continued to support nongovernmental initiatives to improve relations between North Korea and the United States, Japan, and South Korea, and also supported endeavors to bring Persian Gulf states, including Iran, into informal discussions of measures to enhance regional security and reduce incentives for nuclear proliferation in the Gulf. In South Asia, where proliferation fears were exacerbated by Indian missile tests and reports of Chinese exports of ballistic missiles to Pakistan, the Foundation supported efforts by eminent Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and Americans to clarify shared interests in avoiding a potential arms race. In each of these regions the need for specific, historically, politically and culturally sensitive approaches is clear.

As nuclear weapons are devalued, proliferation abated, and conflicts prevented, the opportunity and need to dismantle nuclear 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. In 1995 the dismantlement process in the United States and Russia continued, although progress in Russia was slowed by funding problems, bureaucratic resistance from the powerful Ministry of Atomic Energy, and increasingly vociferous questioning by nationalists in the Duma. Since the Nunn-Lugar program was passed by Congress in late 1991, the United States has assisted Russia in funding dismantlement. In 1995, however, new leaders in Congress attempted to withdraw funds for this effort and to reduce future support. Others pointed out that inadequate attention was being paid to controlling and accounting for fissile materials withdrawn from Russian weapons—the heart of the "loose nukes" problem. Foundation grantees have provided leading analyses of the need and methods for greater control over Russian fissile materials, and have pressed for improvements in related programs in the U.S. and Russia.

In all of this work it is possible to observe a growing gulf between specialists and outside observers, including political leaders. Those who know the most about nuclear weapons, nuclear doctrine, nuclear proliferation, and the danger of "loose nukes" worry that unrivaled opportunities to protect against nuclear war or accidents are being squandered. Yet opinion polls and observation indicate that the public, the press and political leaders feel neither the immediacy of danger nor the cost of lost opportunities. With little public push or leadership pull, governments appear to have lost momentum toward securing the world from the danger of nuclear devastation.


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