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More imagination needed
if we are to control the
spread of nuclear weapons



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

December 8, 2004

LONDON - Imagine for a moment that the U.S. gave up all its nuclear weapons, a totally farfetched idea but one supported by such luminaries as former secretary for defense, Robert McNamara, the late Paul Nitze, Ronald Reagan's hard-line negotiator on nuclear arms and General George Lee Butler, the former chief of U.S. strategic (i.e. nuclear) forces. As his successor, General Eugene Habiger, has said, "We have reached the point where the senior military generals responsible for nuclear forces are advocating more vocally, more vehemently, than our politicians, to get down to lower and lower weapons".

But imagine if it did happen what effect this would have on Russia. It would then move immediately to close down its decaying early warning system and its hair-trigger nuclear posture, which former senator Sam Nunn sees as a likely cause of accidental nuclear war. Imagine what effect it would have on Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Japan that are all in one way or another laying the groundwork for going rapidly nuclear, if their leaders give a clear decision. Imagine what it would do to Pakistan and India who if they could mend their fences on Kashmir might then find nuclear disarmament a logical next step. Imagine what China would do, a country that although nuclear, has never developed its arsenal to its full potential. That would leave North Korea, Israel, Britain and France. Lo and behold these four might then feel the wind of world opinion and disarm too.

All this is day dreaming. If it were so easy to happen it would have happened when Gorbachev and Reagan were in power. Indeed they tried at their summit in Reykjavik but were pounced upon by their advisers who warned them they might be impeached. As George Perkovich has observed in Foreign Affairs, even presidents find it hard to change the status quo given "their reluctance to challenge Washington's odd couple of Pentagon bureaucrats and myopic and doctrinaire senators".

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Bill Clinton gave up the ghost on this battle at an early stage in his presidency but George W. Bush is an interesting and more complicated case. His father was a bit of a nuclear disarmer, unilaterally taking off alert all bombers, 450 Minuteman missiles and ten submarines. In 2002 he tried to persuade President Vladimir Putin to agree to a major reduction of nuclear arms on a handshake. In the end the deal was done with one sheet of paper and, calming the Senate hawks, by only putting the weapons in storage

All but unreported upon, Bush has been using the power of the UN Security Council, a body that he is supposed to detest and distrust, to introduce what Chaim Braun and Christopher Chyba in the current issue of Harvard University's "International Security" have described as "a remarkable new approach to global enforcement of non-proliferation requirements".

In April this year the Security Council imposed an expansion of export controls on all the countries of the world, compelling nations to make proliferation a criminal offence. This short cut the need for a new time consuming treaty and if it had been put in place before would not have allowed President Pervez Musharraf to pardon his rogue chief weapons' scientist who turned his country's nuclear program into a personal money making machine.

Yet three months after that UN vote the Bush administration paradoxically announced a major shift in policy toward the important negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. It decided it would oppose the treaty's verification provisions, a move which while protecting America's serets would protect everyone else's. The treaty has been in discussion since 1993 and its central idea is a simple one: by capping the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons it would prohibit the further manufacture of nuclear weapons.

This would make irreversible the reductions already made by the big powers; it would cap the arsenals of China, France and Britain; and effectively rein in the programs of India, Israel and Pakistan, even though these three haven't signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Not least, it might have some appeal to Iran, North Korea, Japan, Syria and Saudi Arabia- although it would render illegal their attempts to produce weapons-useable fissile material they would earn the satisfaction of knowing that they would not be overtaken by what a UN report recently warned might be a "cascade" of new nuclear weapons' states.

The Administration's somersault on verification make it difficult to conclude a satisfactory treaty. Likewise its opposition to a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its desire to build new weapons that can penetrate underground bunkers are working against its own non-proliferation urges.


If the U.S. is to gain the world's credibility and its support in his dealings with the likes of Iran and North Korea, Bush has to pull some more of his surprises out of the hat.



Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:




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