The idea of going down the road to “nuclear-zero” is as old as nuclear weapons themselves. Steps were first proposed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by the United States in the aftermath of the Second World War. The plan was rejected by the Soviet Union as the country was already developing its own nuclear weapon covertly.
Supporters often underscore the moral argument, stemming from the statutory obligation under Article VI of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. It calls upon “ … general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
In nuclear matters, the Obama Administration is operating under the assumption that if the U.S. leads, others will follow. Unfortunately, while the United States and Russia have drastically reduced their respective arsenals since the end of the Cold War, more countries have achieved nuclear status and more still have continued in their quest. The lower number of nuclear weapons, the more unstable the international situation gets.
The Obama administration entered the office with a nuclear zero agenda. But what are some of the other implications of this policy?
The effort towards disarmament is not reciprocal for a simple reason – human nature. Unless we change human nature, there will not be agreement or confidence in an international authority capable of verification, enforcement and punishment of states that decide to develop their own nuclear capabilities.
Given the problem of achieving agreement on sanctions on Iran, which is not in compliance with the Non Proliferation Treaty, the challenge presented by the assumption of international cooperation becomes even more striking.
The New START Treaty contains ambiguous language limiting U.S. ballistic missile defenses. This is concerning because missile defenses are one of the essential pillars protecting the United States and its allies; missile defenses also work to reduce the role nuclear weapons in national security policy. In contrast, Russia is increasing its reliance on strategic forces and this treaty does nothing to reverse the trend.
Achieving nuclear zero presumes that all the regional conflicts will be solved and international confidence will flourish. This is unlikely. Moreover, mixed signals from Obama’s nuclear posture will likely lead to uncertainty and geopolitical shifts among our allies with the eroding credibility of the U.S. extended deterrent.
These questions were addressed at The Heritage Foundation’s event How Obama’s Vision of a Nuclear Free World Weakens America’s Security on 16th June, 2010. Distinguished speakers included, Dr. Kim Holmes, Michael Rubin, and Dan Goure, all recognized experts in this field.