DOES ARMS CONTROL STILL MATTER?

Program 9649
December 3, 1996

Guests

Kathleen Bailey, Political Scientist,
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Jack Mendelsohn, Deputy Director,
Arms Control Association; publisher, Arms Control Today

Lawrence Scheinman, Assistant Director,
US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.


MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, producer: This is Common Ground.

KATHLEEN BAILEY: The comprehensive test ban does not get rid of any nuclear weapons. The
problem from one perspective, is that it’s very easy to cheat on.

JOE MENDEHLSOHN: You have to ask the question, well if you can’t perfectly verify this
agreement, is it worth having? That goes down to a very basic principle. We cannot stop people
from committing murder. Does that mean we should not have laws against murder? And this is just
an extrapolation of that.

DAVIDSON: Arms Control in the 90s—is it still important? That’s the question we pose on
this edition of Common Ground. Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the
people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.

During the Cold War every arms control agreement between the United States and Soviet Union was
hailed with great fanfare. Everyone felt just a little bit safer from the threat of nuclear war.
But this Fall, when 185 nations signed a treaty agreeing not to test any nuclear weapons, hardly
anyone noticed. That doesn’t mean pursuing arms control is no longer important says Kathleen
Bailey, a Political Scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It’s just not
as important as it once was.

BAILEY: From my point of view though, the most important thing for us to focus on is
security. Larry Scheinman has made the point that we need to focus more on the demand side of
arms control and international negotiations, and I think that’s a very good point. We’ve come
about as far as we can go in terms of limiting nations’ access to the technologies for weapons of
mass destruction. Now it’s time to focus much more on their demand for those technologies and try
to reduce their reasons for even wanting to have nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

DAVIDSON: Larry Scheinman, then would you address that issue of demand. Who is wanting
weapons; what kind of weapons; and why?

LAWRENCE SCHEINMAN: I think that one of the characteristics of the end of the Cold War is
that there has emerged from hiding if you will, a number of regional, local conflict areas—South
Asia is an example. The Middle East of course has always been there but these regional
confrontations tended to be submerged in the context of the relationship of major tension between
the United States and the Soviet Union. That dominated international politics. Now that’s gone.
The disciplines of the Cold War and the Cold War alliances have eroded and now all of these
regional confrontations are coming up. Bosnia and the whole Yugoslavia issue is a perfect example
of this and this points to the fact that arms control is becoming, I would say, even more
important in that context. It’s a new context; it’s different from the arms control justification
of the past, but it is a necessity now.

DAVIDSON: Because arms control in the past dealt more with countries and governments?

SCHEINMAN: No, dealt more with US-Soviet relations and now we’re talking about those two
countries no longer being engaged in the many areas of the world where conflict, confrontation
exist and yet these tensions, these conflicts, these provocative moves by one side against
another are there. The arms racing possibilities exist in a number of regions, and have in fact,
already been carried out in some cases, going to higher and higher levels of sophisticated
conventional capability. Then, of course, the logical step to go to weapons of mass destruction.
The attractiveness to a Pakistan, which is small relative to its big neighbor India, in all
respects, finding that perhaps deterrence, nuclear deterrence or other weapons of mass
destruction, deterrence being the great equalizer. So in these regions arms control remains
extremely important and needs to be pursued vigorously, systematically and the like.

DAVIDSON: That was Lawrence Scheinman, the Assistant Director of the US Arms Control and
Disarmament Agency, an office of the federal government under the State Department. Also joining
us today is Jack Mendelsohn, the Deputy Director of the Arms Control Association, a private think
tank, and publisher of the magazine, Arms Control Today.

JACK MENDELSOHN: There are three kinds of arms control you might think about. One of them
is, as Larry mentioned, is the bilateral arms control which is what most people have in their
minds.

DAVIDSON: That’s country to country between government…

MENDELSOHN: That’s US-Russian, or US-Soviet was sort of the big model that people thought
about. A second cut are these universal regimes that we’re trying to create to impede the spread
or development of weapons of mass destruction.

DAVIDSON: That’s like the comprehensive test ban treaty with the…

MENDELSOHN: Like the comprehensive test ban and the nonproliferation treaty and the
chemical weapons convention and a third issue, which actually has just been mentioned, is at the
regional level and there you can think about the arms control agreements that we’re trying to
impose in the former Yugoslavia or in the current Bosnia. So you’ve got these sort of bilateral,
universal and regional issues. And then you have, I think, sort of two sets of these. You have
those that are dealing with weapons of mass destruction, and that is what gets everybody’s
attention. But increasingly, and this is an example of Bosnia, but it’s also an example of what’s
going on in land mine discussions, we also have the question of conventional weapons
proliferation spread, sales, transfer, whatever you want to say. So you have sort of three
categories and sort of two types of weapons. Let me just briefly talk about each of those and
then we can move on.

On the bilateral, we have a lot, that is the US-Russian now, there’s a lot of work has been done
but a lot of work still remains and there’s still reasonably large nuclear arsenals and an effort
is underway to try to continue to bring those down and I think everybody favors that. It doesn’t
seem to have the sharpness—because the confrontation isn’t there, but the weapons are still
there and so there’s still very good reason to pursue that.

In the universal area, things like the comprehensive test ban, the CWC, the chemical weapons
convention and nonproliferation treaty, we have a lot in place but there’s also a lot that needs
to get put in place. The chemical weapons convention is not yet up and running, although it’s
completed. The comprehensive test ban is not yet up and running, although it’s been completed. So
nuclear tests have been banned but the established framework for dealing with the verification
and basically the checking of what’s going on hasn’t been up and running. So there’s a lot more
to do there and we have a lot to do on biological weapons. There’s a lot of work in that area.

On the regional area, everyone who pays any attention to the Balkans and the Middle East knows
there’s still a lot to do there.

DAVIDSON: When the comprehensive test ban treaty was signed this fall, many of the UN
delegates described it as a giant step toward universal nuclear disarmament. Are you as positive
about that, Kathleen Bailey? Is this a big step?

BAILEY: The comprehensive test ban does not get rid of any nuclear weapons. What it’s
designed to do is obviously to keep nations from testing with the thought behind it being that if
nations can’t test, then they can neither further develop their nuclear weapons programs or
enhance the programs that they have. That is, develop, for example, new devices or improve old
devices. The problem from one perspective is that it’s very easy to cheat on. If you want to
conduct tests at a very low yield, you can do so without risk of detection. So there’s the flaw
that it’s not totally verifiable, it’s also fairly expensive to have this verification regime we
have associated with it the one that won’t effectively work. And then there is the thought also
that the comprehensive test ban if nations… if other nations… do cheat and the United States
does not, then there will be over time a built in disadvantage of our nuclear weapons program
because we aren’t quite sure what happens to nuclear weapons when they sit on the shelf for a
long time. I mean it’s… do they turn to green cheese? I mean that sounds silly but the notion
is you don’t know what kind of material changes occur with weapons. So without testing we very
definitely do have built into our system now a degradation. If other nations cheat on this
treaty, then they will not have that built in degradation.

DAVIDSON: Lawrence Scheinman.

SCHEINMAN: I have a lot of agreement with what Kathleen just said, but some disagreement.
I think that apropos the question of could you cheat on the system? The answer is probably, yes,
but then you really need to ask a second question, does it matter in terms of who the cheaters
are? If we or the Russians or the Chinese cheat at a very, very low level, is it going to make a
difference or will we see the emergence of totally new classes of nuclear weapons and weapon
systems? I think the answer to that is, no we will not, so it really doesn’t matter and doesn’t
add anything to the capabilities of the weapon states to “cheat” at that level. I think as far as
the non-nuclear states are concerned, this is a real limitation at any level. Even if they were
to try to test at a very low level, I don’t think it would buy them anything to be quite honest.
And so from that point of view, it strikes me this is an important treaty both politically and
legally. It’s politically important because I think it almost established an instantaneous norm
that testing is not acceptable in the international community of today and that is something
which has really got a lot of value.

Is it a disarmament treaty or a nonproliferation treaty? That question came up. The Indians, for
example, who did not sign this treaty, said this is not a disarmament treaty. It doesn’t do
anything, as Kathleen said, to get rid of nuclear weapons. All it does is stabilize things at
that particular level. We’re at the status quo and so what? That’s not what we bargained for when
we called for this treaty to be put in play back in 1954. But it…

BAILEY: Isn’t it somewhat ironic that it was an Indian who had put this treaty out there?

SCHEINMAN: Right, and yet they’re the ones who stand back and say, this is not the right
treaty. But it seems to me that with respect to whether it’s a disarmament or a nonproliferation
treaty, it actually serves both goals and I think it serves them both rather well. Its greatest
importance is that it is a critical building block in moving in the direction of making nuclear
weapons less and less relevant until some day they just erode away in terms of their use, value,
perceived contribution to security and the like. But we’re very far away from that point. A lot
has to happen in terms of building alternative security structures before we get rid of nuclear
weapons. And one of the problems we face I think is that there is a tendency on the part of most
of the non-nuclear states, particularly in the non-aligned camp to want to do this very quickly
and to create huge vacuums which would be filled by God knows what, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.

DAVIDSON: We’re talking on this edition of Common Ground about the relevance of
arms control in the post-Cold War era. My guests are Lawrence Scheinman, Assistant Director of
the federal government’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; Jack Mendelsohn, the Deputy
Director of the Arms Control Association; and Kathleen Bailey, a Political Scientist at the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Printed transcripts and audio-cassettes of
this program are available and at the end of the broadcast, I’ll give you details on how to
order. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan
organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage
dialogue on world affairs.

Jack Mendelsohn, how significant is the comprehensive test ban treaty in your opinion, and does
it move us toward nuclear disarmament?

MENDELSOHN: It doesn’t move us toward nuclear disarmament. I think everybody agrees on
that, because no weapons have to be eliminated because of it. But I think it does serve a number
of important political and even technical purposes. First of all, in the technical area if you
will, we’re not going to design and test new weapons. And I think that has, if you will,
psychological significance but it has a technical one as well. We’re as far as we’re going to go
unless we break the test ban on deploying sophisticated new weapons. It has a political
importance and that is that a great number of nations in the world look to the end of nuclear
testing as a sign that the major nuclear powers were serious about putting a cap on the nuclear
arms race and eventually beginning to draw down nuclear weapons. And that’s an international
political significance that is not driving for US policy—clearly while we were faced with a
Soviet confrontation we weren’t prepared to do anything as major as this—now that the
confrontation is ended, it’s been easier for us to move in this direction.

And then it has another significance in the political area and I think Larry began to outline
that, and that is it has normative value. What we want to do is to establish a series… a
non-proliferation or weapons of mass destruction, non-proliferation regime or regimes. And we
want basically the world to have as a standard, as a normative value, that you don’t build or use
chemical weapons. You don’t build or use biological weapons. In this case, we haven’t stopped
building nuclear weapons, but we’re going to stop testing nuclear weapons, and we’re also going
to draw them down in another area. So what you’re doing is beginning to establish a value system
that says, if a nation does violate this then there is a legal basis, there’s an international
moral standard, international legal standard to react, to take action, punitive if you want, but
basically to make it politically very difficult for nations to act contrary to these norms.

DAVIDSON: This summer there was great fanfare when the World Court announced its decision
rebuking the use of nuclear weapons, and I’m wondering from each of you how important such a
pronouncement is. It certainly has a moral tone to it, but is there anything further than that?

BAILEY: The World Court decision will not have any real effect on what happens in
reality. The reason is that the technological cat is out of the bag. It is possible in this day
and time to garner the technical expertise to make fissile material, enriched uranium or
plutonium or whatever you want to pursue, and to put together a workable fission device. And if
the technical capability is out there and the political will is out there, then no court decision
is going to stand in the way of it. That’s just a fact of life.

MENDELSOHN: I think that’s part of establishing the political context that I was talking
about earlier. A sort of what are the normative standards of international behavior by nation
states? It’s a helpful brick in a wall, but it’s not by itself the solution or the impediment for
a conflict between nations over the use of these kinds of weapons, but it’s another step on the
way of building this international normative standard.

DAVIDSON: I wanted to get your opinion, Lawrence Scheinman, on the World Court opinion.

SCHEINMAN: It was an advisory opinion and therefore it’s not a binding decision on any
state. It also walked the line a little bit. It was on the one hand, and on the other hand.
Because while it said that the use of nuclear weapons would violate humanitarian provisions. I
believe it did say that. This did not speak to the issue of whether it would be illegal to use a
nuclear weapon in the case of self-defense against an attack by another country without
specifying how that attack was carried out. But certainly if you were attacked by nuclear means,
to respond with nuclear means would, by the court’s reasoning, not be ruled out of propriety.

BAILEY: There is at the root of this the very question of whether or not it is desirable
or even feasible for the world to go to zero. That is, to have total nuclear disarmament. The
central problem here is that you can never know how much fissile material was produced by an
opponent, in the case of the United States how much fission material did Russia produce, or how
many weapons were produced? So if you don’t know the starting point, then how will you ever know
that the other side ever truly went to zero? Or how do you know if it did go to zero, that it
won’t resuscitate the program in fairly short order, particularly if it has hidden production
facilities? And so that is the central, the core, problem on why not zero.

MENDELSOHN: Can I just add a little. I think it is premature to talk about going to zero,
because there are problems and Ms Bailey has indicated that we can’t be sure where other nations
may be or how other nations might behave. But there are two answers to that, or two other
pathways we have to think about. First of all, the process of arms control has been, for forty
years, an incremental one, not an absolute one. And so the chances of going to zero in the
lifetime of any of the listeners of this program is pretty restrained. That’s point one.

Point two, and this is again to a point that Ms. Bailey made which is not incorrect at all. What
we really do have to have in order not to have the kind of concerns that she just voiced, there
has to be some kind of a contextual change, a political change. We have to not consider that we
have fearsome potential adversaries out there. In other words, the world has to look more like a
bunch of Canadas than a bunch of Iraqs, and that’s going to take a while. But if it does happen,
then thinking about zero nuclear weapons becomes a little easier. It’s not going to happen soon;
it’s not going to happen easily; it may never happen, but it’s certainly worth trying to get this
contextual change.

BAILEY: It reminds me of, we will have no guns when there are no men with murderous
hearts.

MENDELSOHN: The only thing I would add to this is that we have stated that the ultimate
goal is the elimination of nuclear weapons. But I don’t think you reach the total elimination of
nuclear weapons until the world has concluded that these are irrelevant to security and that kind
of ties together a number of these factors. And that’s the reality. We made the commitment last
year that we sought the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, but not at any price and not
something that could be precipitously decided. It has to come about as Jack said, by evolutionary
incremental means and we have to reach a state of consciousness which is implicit in Kathleen’s
last remark that what conceivable use would this be?

BAILEY: It’s kind of an irony here that as we move towards arms control of chemical and
biological weapons, that some nations, including our own, may actually increase reliance on
nuclear deterrents. You can see that in the case of Secretary Perry’s response to Senator Pell
before the Senate this last Spring. Senator Pell asked, well what is the United States’ deterrent
against use of weapons of mass destruction including chemical and biological? Secretary Perry
said, well we reserve the right to use the panoply, and later a written question was submitted,
does that include nuclear deterrents? And the answer came back, written again, yes it includes
nuclear deterrents. So this may actually increasing the role of nuclear weapons in our deterrent
posture.

MENDELSOHN: I would not want to rule out the possibility of changing the political
context. I hope I didn’t convey that. Think about our attitudes toward Japan and Germany after
World War II and our attitudes towards them now from an intensely confrontational relationship in
World War II to one where they are close allies and we do not believe that they have intentions
to harm US security. Think about US-British relations over two hundred years. For the first
hundred-seventy-five, we were not friends. Now we have a special relationship. No one could
imagine that British nuclear weapons have any targets in the United States or will ever be
targeted against us or France. Take a look at US and Canada. The reason that the Canadians built
a transcontinental railway was they were afraid the United States was going to take the western
provinces. That’s just unimaginable today. So relationships between nations do change. But in the
case of US and Britain, it took almost two centuries.

BAILEY: Not always for the better. Like in the case of Iran.

MENDELSOHN: Of course not always for the better but who would have… I mean you would
have said that about… at the point of World War II. Of course, maybe we’ll never get Germany or
Japan and we did. So things can happen.

DAVIDSON: Now I had one… oh, Lawrence Scheinman.

SCHEINMAN: No, I was going to add one other point that had to do with the existence of
liberal democratic regimes with political responsibility to electorates. I think it’s instructive
to think of how the Israelis, for example, think of a regime free of weapons of mass destruction
in the Middle East. For them, this is not something you just negotiate. You negotiate it with
regimes that are liberal democratic regimes that are responsible to their political electorates.
If you had a world filled with states like these, political science tells us that these are
states that do not have a proclivity to carry out aggressive action against one another. So it’s
that kind… that’s a change that one could postulate.

DAVIDSON: I have one final question because we have to wrap up and I think the one
question that matters to the ordinary citizen when you talk about arms control is, am I safer
today? Is the world safer today? And so I’d just like to get a reading from each of you on the
current state of arms control and whether it does make us safer. Lawrence Scheinman, I’ll let
you…

SCHEINMAN: Yes, I do think the world is safer today than it would be without the treaties
and regimes that we’ve put in place. That doesn’t mean that we are safe; what it means is that we
are safer than the alternative would have allowed us to be and we need to take many, many more
steps before we become truly safer.

DAVIDSON: Kathleen Bailey?

BAILEY: The threats today to the US citizen or to the world citizen I think are much more
non-nuclear than they were before. So in a sense you could say, well yes we’ve become safer. But
then you look closer at what the threat is, the chemical/biological weapon threat and you say
wait a minute, I’m not so safe. That coupled with cruise missiles and ballistic missiles mean
that we face threats perhaps offshore today coming onto our mainland US. Imagine for example a
nation that is an adversary, whether it be from the Middle East or wherever, that takes a small
boat off the coast of the United States and fires a crude cruise missile laden with chemical or
biological weapons over San Francisco, LA, San Diego, New York—you pick the city—and delivers
the weapon. I mean that is a very real scenario. It’s kind of a terrorist scenario but it can be
a terrorist nation scenario so I don’t think we’re safer, we just have a different evolving
threat that we have to pay attention to.

DAVIDSON: Jack Mendelsohn, I’ll let you have the final word on this.

MENDELSOHN: Well it really does depend on what you’re looking at and where you’re looking
at it from. If you’re looking at it from the United States, I think we’re safer. I think we don’t
have that sharp confrontation with the Soviet Union. We have cut down the number of nuclear
weapons that are facing us. We have generally a much more peaceable situation in Europe, which is
our primary interest. If you’re sitting in the rest of the world it’s not quite so clear that
you’re safer. I mean the world is riddled with conventional war, with fragmentation of states,
with civil war, with ethnic rivalry. Now that seems to be blossoming. So from that point of view
maybe the rest of the world isn’t doing quite as well as the United States.

Now, having said the two extremes, it is obvious that we have developed weapons of much greater
destructive capability over the last fifty years that ever existed before. And if ever any of
those were to be used, the effects would be much more disastrous than we’ve experienced in the
past. That’s clearly a negative. On the other hand we are also trying to deal with this question
and establish regimes that make it more and more difficult for that kind of horrible occasion to
present itself.

DAVIDSON: Jack Mendelsohn, Deputy Director of the Arms Control Association has been my
guest on Common Ground. We also heard from Kathleen Bailey, a Political Scientist from the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Lawrence Scheinman, the Assistant Director of the
U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. For Common Ground, I’m Mary Gray Davidson.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security