Chapter 4 A Roadmap for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons
Despite signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other treaties limiting nuclear weapons, U.S. and Russian leadership have missed opportunities to reach necessary, irreversible cuts in nuclear stockpiles.
The 1986 meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland was nearly successful in reaching an agreement to completely eliminate nuclear weapons within 15 years. Unfortunately, a deal broke down. One primary reason was that Russian nuclear weapons reductions were conditional to an American agreement not to withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited strategic missile defense. Reagan was convinced that if a missile defense shield could be built, then nuclear weapons would become useless. Reagan refused to give up U.S. plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative (a.k.a. “Star Wars”), which was a space-based plan for missile defense, whether it violated the ABM Treaty or not. The missile defense issue was not resolved at the summit and still remains a central component to negotiations.
The meeting did lay the groundwork for the momentous 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which required each country to reduce strategic deployment from about 10,000 to less than 6,000 warheads. Russia then ratified START II, which would reduce warhead levels to under 3,500, while Putin was calling for talks to reduce levels to as low as 1,000. Putin warned that these offers would be off the table if the U.S. continued plans to build a missile defense in violation of the ABM Treaty.
Amazingly, Clinton Administration “talking points” were leaked to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which said the Russians need not fear a missile defense if Russia kept 2,500 weapons on launch-on-warning, hair-trigger alert. Not only was the U.S. rejecting Putin’s offer, but they were insisting that 2,500 warheads could overwhelm the planned missile defense system. Further killing negotiations, the U.S. Senate did not ratify START II in 1997.
The U.S. officially withdrew from the ABM treaty under President Bush in November 2001 to ramp up the missile defense program. Bush also made it clear that the U.S. was not interested in START III. Instead, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) was agreed upon by Presidents Bush and Putin in 2002. This treaty was much weaker in its verification requirements and did not address over 14,000 warheads both countries have intact but not regarded as “strategic.” It did limit each country to deploy 2,200 strategic nuclear weapons when the treaty expires in 2012, but the treaty expires on the day the limit takes effect.
The implementation of the SORT Treaty is a good example of arms control obfuscation. While it reduced the number of missiles deployed, it has not resulted in actual destruction of the weapons stockpile in the spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It is also disingenuous to tout nuclear missile reductions while at the same time, the U.S. military has been developing space-based weapons since the creation of the U.S. Space Command in 1982. Currently, the U.S. Space Command employs about 40,000 people with a mission to “Provide an integrated constellation of space and cyberspace capabilities at the speed of need.” Expressed in another way, from a document pulled from their website for being too straight forward, the Space Command’s intentions are more threatening. In Vision for 2020, goals of the command were articulated, including “dominating the space dimension of military operations” and to achieve “full spectrum dominance in real-time,” meaning to dominate land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, at every moment.
The U.S, military perspective on space weapons is best summarized by the Rumsfeld Space Commission, which was chaired by Donald Rumsfeld immediately prior to becoming Secretary of Defense:
We know from history that every medium—air, land, and sea—has seen conflict. Reality indicates that space will be no different. Given this virtual certainty, the United States must develop the means both to deter and to defend against hostile acts in and from space.
Russia and China have strongly pushed for an international agreement banning space weapons, but the U.S. has opposed any deal. In fact, in October 2006, President Bush signed an order affirming the right to American space weapons and opposing treaties or other measures to restrict them. This stance could trigger a new space arms race and severely undercuts any chance that countries like China and Russia will seriously reduce their arsenals of nuclear weapons. If these countries feel outmatched in space, they will cling to nuclear weapons as an equalizer.
The U.S. and Russia’s weak efforts at reduction continue to legitimize the use of nuclear arms and justify other countries’ attempts of proliferation. Even at SORT levels, no legitimate strategic justification exists for maintaining such high numbers of nuclear warheads. In fact, these arsenals are increasingly being seen as a liability for theft or accidental use, as a clear link between proliferation and terrorism exists—more nuclear materials, inherently, means more accessibility for terrorists.
The arsenals are also extraordinarily expensive. Although the U.S. government does not have an official nuclear security budget, it is estimated that at least $52.4 billion was spent in the 2008 fiscal year on nuclear weapons related programs. To put the cost in perspective: international diplomacy and foreign assistance received $39.5 billion, natural resources and the environment $33 billion, and the entire budget for general science, space and technology was $27.4 billion. It is almost 14 times what the Department of Energy spends on all energy-related research and development, and about 67 percent of the department’s total budget. The real cost is much higher, as this estimate does not include costs for classified programs, air defense, antisubmarine warfare, and most nuclear weapons-related intelligence programs.
The total financial cost of U.S. nuclear policy has never been fully understood or compiled by the government. The question was not even comprehensibly researched until the 1990s, by the Brookings Institution. The study found that from 1940-1996, the U.S. spent a minimum of $5.8 trillion (in 1996 constant dollars) on its nuclear weapons program. This amounted to about eleven percent of the total money spent by the government during that time span.  2005 predictions estimated the cost to be over $7.5 trillion.
For the money, the U.S. has produced more than 70,000 nuclear bombs and warheads up to 1990 and over 745.3 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and 103.5 metric tons of plutonium. A long-term plan for disposing of this nuclear material, and hundreds of tons of additional toxic waste in its production, has not occurred. In fact, a controversial 25-year plan to use Yucca Mountain, Nevada for holding nearly 70,000 tons of nuclear waste, at a cost of at least $13.5 billion so far, was cancelled in 2009.
Instead of this inexorable movement towards nuclear and financial catastrophe, we must find means, with binding agreements, to both reduce and eliminate nuclear arms. In 2002, with such means in mind, the late Randall Caroline Forsberg, founder of the 1980s Nuclear Freeze Campaign, and authors Jonathan Schell and David Cortright, launched an internet-based campaign called UrgentCall.org. The site was created to provide a focal point for public interest group coalitions to pressure the U.S. and Russia into fulfilling commitments made under the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and move together with other powers, step by carefully inspected and verified step, to eliminate the thousands of weapons that threaten human survival.
The Urgent Call Coalition produced a comprehensive, step-by-step outline calling upon the U.S. and other nuclear powers to develop a mutually acceptable "Roadmap to Abolition of Nuclear Weapons." Many similar plans have been developed since, but this "Roadmap" continues to be one of the most comprehensive, systematic, well-developed strategies in the field of nuclear disarmament advocacy. It provides a psychologically sound confidence building approach which many other nuclear abolition ideas and plans may be usefully weighed and measured.
The roadmap includes the following actions:
1. Permanently end nuclear weapons development, testing and production by:
§ Ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT);
§ Ending all funding for the design, development and production of nuclear weapons;
§ Banning production of weapons grade plutonium and uranium;
§ Banning research, development and deployment of weapons in space.
2. Secure existing nuclear weapons and weapon-grade material by:
§ Installing safety devices (permissive action locks) on all nuclear weapons;
§ Creating and regularly updating a global register of all weapon-grade uranium and plutonium to facilitate secure storage and disarmament;
§ Providing clearly-defined, well-funded, ultra-secure storage of nuclear warheads awaiting dismantlement and down-blending.
3. End dangerous policies for use of nuclear weapons by:
§ Eliminating launch-on-warning policies of the U.S., Russia and other powers;
§ De-alerting nuclear missiles that could be fired in a few minutes;
§ Publicly announcing that they will never use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries (as promised when negotiating the 1970 Non-proliferation Treaty, and again in the 1995 NPT indefinite extension);
§ Publicly announcing that they will never use nuclear weapons first.
Additionally, the Urgent Call Coalition challenges the provision of the 2002 SORT treaty that allows the retention of thousands of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons in service or storage. Instead, the coalition says the two countries should cut back to hundreds of weapons and verifiably dismantle them once withdrawn from active service. This action would put pressure on the other nuclear powers with arsenals numbering in the tens or hundreds—Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel—to join in deeper global cuts. Currently, these countries resist making any cuts while the U.S. and Russia’s arsenals are so much larger.
President Barack Obama made a major speech in Prague, Czech Republic shortly after he was inaugurated in which he made promising remarks on his position against nuclear weapons. He said:
Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be checked—that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction. This fatalism is a deadly adversary. For if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.
Obama then said that the U.S. would “take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.” Some concrete steps mentioned included seeking treaties to reduce strategic warheads with Russia, end fissile materials for weapons, sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.
While these are all admirable goals and words, actions so far have been underwhelming. For starters, almost every time he has stated that he will work towards a nuclear weapons free world, he undercuts his message by following in the same breath that this goal may not happen in his lifetime. Second, negotiations for renewing the START treaty has a goal for reducing strategic nuclear weapons levels that is far too low to make a significant difference—from 2,200 weapons in 1991 to levels still over 1,500 warheads. Lastly, and perhaps most troubling, is that the Department of Energy is continuing to push forward a George W. Bush administration program called “Complex Modernization.” The program is essentially designed to perpetuate the vast industrial infrastructure required to produce and maintain nuclear weapon systems. Included in the program are plans to expand two existing nuclear plants, and modify others, to allow them to produce new plutonium and bomb parts for use in a new generation of nuclear weapons.
President Obama runs the risk of falling into the historic "arms control trap" by taking this two pronged approach which calls for nuclear weapons abolition, while at the same time endorsing plans for the development of new, "improved" nuclear devices and continuing weapons in space. In so doing, politicians and military leaders create the illusion of disarmament progress, while at the same time they tinker at the edges of the nuclear weapons problem and support the development of increasingly efficient, destructive weapons which ensure that no truly significant nuclear disarmament progress takes place.
Although lowering U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads from 2,200 to some 1,500 on both sides reduces the statistical chances for accidental nuclear war, it does not make the world safer from purposeful nuclear attack. A mutual Russian-U.S. attack involving approximately 3,000 nuclear warheads would still end civilization. Thus, it is time to promote new ways of thinking and acting to ensure human survival. Now is the time for health, education, religious, environmental and nuclear disarmament organizations everywhere to build on President Obama's challenging nuclear disarmament goals and statements, as well as the prestige of his Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded, in part, for his vision of a nuclear weapons-free world. It is imperative that they help pioneer new approaches that will rally political leaders and the public to put an end to the nuclear weapons madness. Nothing could be more important.
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