Friday, December 19, 2008

When the NAS had balls

AAAS’s blog ScienceInsider reported yesterday that Dr. John Holdren is about to be named as President Obama’s Science Advisor.

Prof. Holdren is a leading expert on nuclear non-proliferation and arms control.

In 1997, he chaired the National Academy of Sciences report “The Future of Nuclear Weapons Policy” which made recommendations that are as relevant today as they were then. This NAS report recommended:

· the adoption of a policy of minimum deterrence
· adoption of a no-first use policy
· taking nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
· reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear forces to 1,000 total warheads
· and explored the issues related to reducing to a few hundred warheads.

Dr. Holdren summarized the findings and recommendations of the report in a 2005 Arms Control Today op-ed in which he noted the need to implement these important recommendations:

“The committee's advice has largely been ignored, however, first by the Clinton administration, which had no appetite for the internal battles that embracing the recommendations would have entailed, and then by the Bush administration, which appears untroubled by the logical disconnect between its expansive view of the role of U.S. nuclear forces and its expectation of nuclear restraint from everyone else … Notwithstanding the unfortunate fate of the 1997 recommendations to date, they continue to constitute a sensible blueprint for reducing the role of and dangers from nuclear weapons in the early 21st century”


“The status quo is not stable. If nuclear weapons roles and dangers are not deliberately and relentlessly made smaller, they will get bigger. The largest nuclear-weapon states must lead the way, not drag their feet. The United States and Russia have managed to dismantle thousands of nuclear warheads and delivery systems made obsolete by the end of the Cold War. Now it is time to get on with dismantling our equally obsolete nuclear weapons policies.”

Three cheers for Dr. Holdren’s appointment!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

So-called "Nuclear Powers" Aren’t

The Korea Times reports today that the recently released annual report by U.S. Joint Forces Command, “Joint Operating Environment 2008: Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force,” lists North Korea as a “nuclear power.” Perversely, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which shapes the environment for joint operations significantly by limiting the number of nuclear arsenals globally, is not mentioned in the document.

The section entitled “The Contextual World” begins its discussion of “The Pacific and Indian Oceans” as follows:
“The rim of the great Asian continent is already home to five nuclear powers: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Russia. Furthermore, there are three threshold nuclear states, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, which have the capacity to become nuclear powers quickly.”
Such colorful writing may enliven the read, but it dangerously distorts the picture of Asian and global security presented in the report. While North Korea, appears to have tested a nuclear explosive device and maintains a conventional military of unusual size, it has by no means earned the status of “power” somehow analogous to Russia, China, and India.

Nuclear weapons may confer political status, but this is as much a dysfunction of contemporary global politics as it is a reflection of some real utility of nuclear weapons in meeting the needs of states. Nuclear weapons are exceedingly dangerous to U.S. and global security and North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is clearly destabilizing to the region. But nuclear weapons do not transform North Korea’s role in the world; they are a symptom and contributing cause of North Korea’s national tragedy.

Kim Jong Il styles himself an alchemist, hoping nuclear weapons will transform his comparative advantage in ignoring global norms and violating international law into security and foreign investment. It is unclear that he has achieved security or even broken even economically. He has impoverished his people and alienated them from the world community. A small nuclear arsenal may provide him a fig leaf of deterrence sufficient for human rights atrocities and petty criminality, but it has not transformed him into a globally relevant leader.

The U.S. Government should make this clear by consistently and assertively rejecting Kim’s mystical belief that nuclear weapons make him powerful; this includes consistently rejecting the use of the term “nuclear power” to describe any state.

Monday, December 8, 2008

France out front in a brace of moves toward nuclear disarmament

The Associated Press reports that a letter from French President Nicholas Sarkozy to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Mun outlines a European Union plan to advance global progress toward nuclear disarmament:

"Europe has already done a lot for disarmament…[and]…Europe is ready to do more."
French newspaper Le Figaro reports that the December 5 letter supports further (post-START) nuclear arms control negotiations between the United States and Russia, universal ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and dismantlement of all nuclear installations as soon as possible in a transparent and open way (the article notes that this issue refers particularly to Russia and China which maintain operational testing sites), a moratorium on fissile material production, and short- and medium-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

With regard to a fissile material production cutoff, The Times of India reports:
"The opening without delay and without preconditions of negotiations on a treaty forbidding the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, as well as the implementation of an immediate moratorium on the production of these materials."
Le Figaro notes the intent of the letter is to “raise the debate to the level of heads of state.”

The letter carries added multilateral weight as France currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, a post it will relinquish this month.

President Sarkozy’s letter foreshadows tomorrow’s official launch in Paris of the “Global Zero” citizens campaign for a world without nuclear weapons. Featured leaders of this effort include former United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket who proposed last year that her country become a “disarmament laboratory” to develop the verification procedures and technology necessary to move toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. Entrepreneur and adventurer extraordinaire Sir Richard Branson is another campaign leader – having built the Virgin brand into a global phenomenon, he is perhaps uniquely qualified to again popularize the “unnatural act” of arms control.