The Road to Proliferation Is Paved With Good Intentions: The Effects of a Lack of Political Will on United States Nonproliferation Efforts

Christopher Hurtado —  December 20, 2010 — Leave a comment
The Road to Proliferation Is Paved With Good Intentions: The Effects of a Lack of Political Will on United States Nonproliferation Efforts | Christopher Hurtado

Introduction

If there is one country that bears responsibility for both nuclear proliferation and nonproliferation, it is the United States. The United States let the nuclear genie out of the bottle when it built nuclear weapons and detonated them over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Now, the United States is trying to coax the genie back into the bottle. Or is it? On one hand, the United States is doing its part to stem the tide of proliferation at home and abroad. On the other hand, the United States often lacks the political will to carry out its nonproliferation intentions. This paper will examine United States successes and failures in nonproliferation to explain how the United States exemplifies both the strengths and weaknesses of international efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The United States has made significant gestures toward nonproliferation but has had poor follow through due to lack of political will.

This paper will examine United States nonproliferation successes and failures in six key areas: nuclear testing, nuclear arms reductions, reliance on nuclear weapons, fissile material reduction, nuclear security, and nonproliferation regime compliance. Each of these areas will demonstrate strengths and weaknesses in United States nonproliferation efforts and the underlying lack of political will.

Nuclear Testing

Although the United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992, it has not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The U.S was the first state to sign the CTBT in 1996 (Scheinman), but as of November 2010 has yet to ratify it (CTBTO Preparatory Commission). According to a May 2005 news wire (AFP), President Obama is putting off sending the CTBT to the senate for ratification until after it ratifies the New START treaty, which, as of this writing, lacks sufficient support by this Congress (McFarland). The ACA 2009-2010 Report Card states that the United States does not plan to resume testing (Crail 24), but some argue that the only way to restore confidence in the aging United States nuclear arsenal is to resume testing. Furthermore, both supporters of Life Extension Programs for existing warheads and supporters of the controversial so-called reliable replacement warhead argue for the need for testing (Medalia 12).

Nuclear Arms Reductions

Although the United States has decreased its nuclear arsenal considerably in the 1990s under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), it has yet to ratify the New START. START I was successful in reducing the size of the United States nuclear arsenal to 6,000 accountable warheads between July 1991 and December 2001 (Cirincione 209). START II was intended to further reduce the U.S nuclear arsenal to 3,000-3,500 strategic warheads and START III to 1,700-2,200, but START II ended in 2002 when the United States pulled out of the ABM Treaty. In the same year, President Bush signed the SORT (spell out acronymn), a weaker treaty that was neither fully verifiable nor did it require the irreversible elimination of warheads (Cirincione 210). President Obama signed the New START in April 2010 (James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies), but, as of this writing, it lacks the necessary support for ratification by this Congress (McFarland). Opponents argue that the New START would allow Russia to increase their nuclear arsenal while requiring the United States to decrease its own, that weak verification would make Russian cheating difficult to detect, and that the New START would limit our missile defense capabilities (McMaster) (Cantor).

Reliance on Nuclear Weapons

Although the United States has significantly reduced its nuclear arsenal, it continues to rely heavily on its remaining arsenal. The United States has signed protocols for some Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones protocols while withholding negative security assurances, reserving the right to respond to WMD attacks with nuclear weapons (Crail, and Kimball). CNA Strategic Initiatives Group research analyst and 2009 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) staff member (CNA) Michael S. Gerson (7) argues that threatening nuclear first use is unnecessary for deterrence and that the Obama administration should have reduced United States reliance on nuclear weapons in its 2010 NPR by adopting a No-First-Use policy. The Cold War ended almost twenty years ago, yet some United States and Russian nuclear weapons remain on the same level of alert as they were during the Cold War (Singh Gill). This also demonstrates heavy United States reliance on nuclear weapons and has the potential to spur proliferation on the part of countries wishing to deter the United States (Cirincione 206, 208).

Fissile Material Reduction

Although the United States stopped producing fissile material for weapons in 1992 and has significantly reduced its stockpile of fissile material since then, it has an enormous stockpile of fissile material and has failed to provide the leadership necessary to negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). The ACA 2009-2010 Report Card indicates United States support for an FMCT (Crail 5, 24). However, as of October 2010, CD talks on the FMCT remain stalled going on twelve years now despite the Bush administration announcing its support for the FMCT in 2004 (Bunn, and Wier) and Obama’s pledging leadership on the issue in 2009 (Kimball).

Nuclear Security

Although United States security efforts abroad have been quite successful, its efforts at home have been less successful. The United States has been very proactive and very successful at promoting nuclear security abroad (NNSA Public Affairs) (“U.S. Senator Dick Lugar”) (Zenko, and Bunn). At home, on the other hand, the United States has failed to successfully secure or dispose of nuclear waste (Busby) that can be used in dirty bombs (Blair) (Ferguson 34). The United States has also had significant success abroad with radiation detection, while largely failing at home. The Government Accountability Office called the United States border radiation detection program a $4.3 billion bust (“Homeland Security News Wire”).

Nonproliferation Regime Compliance

Although the United States has successfully dealt with nuclear nonproliferation regime noncompliance, it has not always done so. When the United States discovered Libya to be in noncompliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the United States promptly brought the matter out into the open and successfully persuaded Qaddafi to give up Libya’s nuclear weapons ambitions and return to the NPT fold in full compliance. On the other hand, when the United States discovered North Korea to be in noncompliance with the NPT, the United States did not promptly bring the matter out into the open and has capitulated to North Korean demands, while failing to bring North Korea back into the NPT fold in full compliance.

The United States itself has not always fully complied with the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and continues to consider options outside the realm of compliance. The 2008 United States-India nuclear deal undermined the NPT by bending Nuclear Suppliers Group strictures, setting a precedent for Russia and China to follow in selling their wares to other countries (Bajoria). In 2009, the United States considered a United States-Pakistan nuclear deal (Nuclear Threat Initiative) and a China-Pakistan nuclear deal is now imminent (Miglani).

Conclusion

The United States has good intentions toward and has even enjoyed significant successes in nonproliferation, but its intentions are often limited by a lack of political will driven by national interest. Thus, the United States has had its share of nonproliferation failures as well. Oftentimes, when the United States is faced with a choice between nonproliferation and national interest, the former takes a back seat to the latter. Not that this phenomenon is limited to the United States; national interest, naturally, is a global political phenomenon. United States national interest simply exemplifies this phenomenon. By the same token, United States successes and failures in nonproliferation exemplify the strengths and weaknesses of international efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Thus we see that coaxing the nuclear weapons genie back into the bottle, no matter how unquestionably a United States responsibility it may be, is a lot more difficult to do than it may appear to be at first glance.

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Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.

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