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VICTOR ALESSI: Multinational arms control treaties I think are the future as the competition between the United States and Russia decreases.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the changing face of nuclear arms control.
DAVID MALONE: There’s a growing tendency of American politicians and commentators to indicate that rules apply to others, not the United States. This is known to many of us as a trend towards US exceptionalism.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Since the end of the Cold War, managing nuclear weapons has become complex. There are new players, new weapons, and new reasons to develop nuclear capabilities. Today we’ll sort through some of these complexities with a few leading experts from around the world. At this moment in New York, representatives from nearly every country in the world are gathered at the United Nations for a review conference on the Treaty on Nuclear Nonproliferation. The so-called NPT document is supposed to make sure that no new countries acquire nuclear weapons. It also calls upon the current nuclear powers to eventually get rid of their weapons as well. United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, tells us that the lack of progress in this area will likely be a hot topic at the NPT review conference.
Jayantha Dhanapala: The last five years there has been considerable dissatisfaction expressed by the nonnuclear weapons states who are in the NPT with regard to the record as far as nuclear disarmament is concerned, which is an essential element in Article VI of the treaty. And we would need, therefore, to see to what extent this dissatisfaction is met with the explanations and the views of the nuclear weapons states, and what can be done for the next five years until the review in 2005.
PORTER: Thomas Shea is here from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Are you concerned about what might happen during this review process? Is this an area that, where you think things may go wrong? Or is this a cause for optimism and an opportunity to move things forward?
THOMAS SHEA: Well, the review encompasses a number of the articles, the operative articles, and one of them addresses the program of safeguards to be applied in nonnuclear weapons states under the treaty. And as in the Article VI questions, there are certain expectations, particularly as a result of the aftermath of the situations in Iraq and North Korea. And so there has been sustained work and probably far less controversial framework than there has been in the areas regarding disarmament-related activities. Now in relation to dissatisfaction among the states, clearly there are expectations that get raised and statements of principles which imply some promises, and the actual results that have taken place over these, the intervening five years, are not very direct or encouraging. So that how this will lead to an outcome, that isn’t at all clear to me as yet. I don’t expect defections or anything of that nature at this point, but I expect the language to be rather sharp, and perhaps a greater degree of precision leading to the review that will come five years hence.
PORTER: David Malone is President of the International Peace Academy. And to move this along a little bit, I’m wondering if you think that as we head into this NPT review process, are we on the brink of a new global arms race? Do you see the glass as sort of half-full or half-empty as you look at the cause of nuclear disarmament?
DAVID MALONE: Well, I think the cause of nuclear disarmament is part of a much broader pattern of international relations. And there the signs are mixed. On the one hand, there has been tremendous improvement in the level and intensity of conflict in the world in the 1990s; many peace agreements, a lot of them brokered by the UN, have actually brought peace to much of the world. At the same time, the system of rules that has been binding countries around the world, largely promoted by the United States since the end of the Cold War, is under great strain. Particularly now that the United States is the supreme power, so to speak. It has virtually no competition at its own level internationally. There’s a growing tendency of American politicians and commentators to indicate that rules to apply to others, not the United States. This is known to many of us as a trend towards US exceptionalism. And occasionally it finds expression in US unilateralism, decisions that are taken by the United States affecting other countries, that are simply imposed upon them. So coming back to the disarmament sphere, where the review of the NPT treaty is merely one of many activities going on simultaneously, there is a sense that the United States wishes a range of countries, particularly developing countries, Russia and China, to behave in certain ways, but isn’t prepared to commit itself to behaving in those ways, necessarily, in the future. And this spells trouble in the long term. We’re not yet in the midst of major trouble. But the trends are alarming.
PORTER: Mr. Dhanapala, speaking to this point you probably saw the op-ed piece that President Carter wrote in the Washington Post where he laid the blame for much of the problems that we’re having in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, squarely at the feet of the United States. What portion of the blame here does the US share?
Dhanapala: Well, I wouldn’t like to quantify the US share of the blame. But as David was saying a little while ago, the UN needs a norm-based institution. And particularly in the area of disarmament, where the national security interests of states are so vitally involved, we have states pursuing their national interests. And the weaving together of the national security interests of 187 state members into a common tapestry of security for everybody is a difficult task. It’s a challenging task. And the web of international legal agreements we have is vital in underpinning that multilateral order. The NPT is the linchpin of the NPT, of the nonproliferation regime, actually. And so it is vital that we should continue to ensure its viability. We have today a record 187 members of the international community who are adherents of the NPT. And this is very important because apart from the five nuclear weapons states there are 182 nonnuclear weapons states who have legally renounced their option for nuclear weapons. Now we need to continue to preserve this system. And I think it’s not just the United States but the nuclear weapons states as a whole who have an obligation towards nuclear disarmament. But on the other hand, as Tom was saying, there are other aspects to the treaty, other articles, which require the nonnuclear weapons states also to abide by their responsibilities under the treaty.
PORTER: Thomas Shea, I need to ask you something about the United States and its role in both multilateral and in bilateral efforts at disarmament. We’ve seen that the American public even, I think, thinks of disarmament as a bilateral issue. We strike deals with other countries to reduce arms or to control arms in some way. Is there a multilateral role here? And do we need to sort of refocus our attention on the multilateral aspects?
SHEA: There are different aspects to your question. First, from a practical sense, the two superpowers had arsenals which would completely dwarf any activities
by any other states. And so beginning there is the logical place to begin. There have been a succession of arms reductions and tens of thousands of weapons have already been eliminated. There still remain far too many. And the questions now are, are there still room for further steps to be taken between Russia and the United States? Now regarding whether these activities should be done strictly on a bilateral basis or on a larger forum, that’s, that perhaps is a sense of recognition that it’s easier to proceed if you’re only dealing with another body rather than a many-bodied problem, as physicists would say. Under the Article VI their obligations or, I would say, rights and obligations of all parties, to engage in discussions leading to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament and ultimately to general disarmament, off on a far distant horizon. And so the question of a commitment to proceed and of some tangible and practical incremental steps towards that
is, I think, is the action or need that’s upon us now.
PORTER: David Malone, any comment on this difference between bilateral and multilateral approaches?
MALONE: Normally in international relations what you have on any given subject is a combination of bilateral agreements and multilateral action. For example, in trade, which is a very significant area for all of our countries, most countries have very detailed bilateral trade agreements with near neighbors and countries that are very important to them. And otherwise sign up to international agreements like that underpinning the World Trade Organization, and agree to abide by those decisions. So the arms reduction and control field is no different from others. I would like to say that one area of the American political discourse that strikes me as dangerous in the arms control field, is there is an increasing debasement of the term terrorism in the American political discourse. And increasingly in this country, as in Russia for that matter, there is a tendency to speak of any international threat as a terrorist threat. And to imagine that there are terrorists under every bed, as we had once imagined that there were Reds under every bed. And this leads to a willingness to deviate from international agreements and norms that wouldn’t exist in the absence of so-called terrorist threats. Terrorism is a sort of hot button issue the way that communism used to be in my country, Canada, and in the United States. And I think politicians in all of our countries have to be very careful about placing terrorism in context. I agree completely with Tom that the nuclear arsenals in a couple of countries are in a way the biggest issue. And getting sidetracked onto discussions of terrorism, however real a terrorist threat may be in distant lands, would be a mistake.
PORTER: Mr. Shea, do you think that we’re overemphasizing or putting too much emphasis on the terrorist threat?
SHEA: Well, it’s one of those situations where there are, it’s an easy subject for action novel writers to spin off a story which becomes plausible. In effect, the
concept of nuclear terrorism relies on a basis of being able to acquire and then to use a weapon, or an explosive device at any rate, which may be less amenable to delivery, by a terrorist organization which may have not a very stable environment to operate in and questions of resources and the time and so on that come into
play. But it’s one of these situations of, well, there may be a low probability of occurrence, the consequences would be very attention getting indeed. And so there clearly needs to be an effort to maintain a close watch and to intervene on a very direct and effective way if such a threat arises.
PORTER: Mr. Dhanapala, the United Nations is a member state organization, so it can go a long way in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation issues, but it can’t do everything because there are nonstate actors out there. Does the UN have a role to play in this issue of nuclear terrorism?
Dhanapala: Well, in the area of terrorism in general, a number of agreements have been reached, most recently on the question of funding of terrorism. A French
proposal was discussed and finally agreed upon and there is a convention on that. And there are other conventions as well. The subject of nuclear terrorism has been discussed in a committee. And the fact is that there is no agreement here. Because while some groups talk about the dangers of subnational actors or other players, there are others who feel that there is also the danger of state terrorism, and the enormous nuclear weapons arsenals of some countries themselves can have the effect of creating a terrorist threat. These are different opinions that are there and therefore there’s been no agreement. But the UN is a forum where this subject is discussed, and is, I think that’s an important factor.
MCHUGH: Coming up, more on controlling the world’s nuclear weapons.
MALONE: I think the five old-line nuclear powers, if I may call them that way, underestimate what a very bad example they set.
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commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
SHEA: The ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons requires success in three areas.
PORTER: This again is Thomas Shea. He’s an official at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
SHEA: First, that no further states are allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. That’s the proliferation issue and is addressed through the NPT. The other—the second—would be the issue of nuclear disarmament, which the existing stocks, of course, must ultimately be done away with. And the third is to prevent renegades, subnational groups or whatever, from acquiring complete weapons or having the capability to assemble or manufacture such devices while evading detection by everybody who would be after them at such an occasion.
Now, I think that the nuclear era is some fifty years old at this point, and that the situation isn’t likely to change in a dramatically term, or a short-term way. There are issues of stability—as you’re decreasing armaments that might tend to exacerbate the overall issue of having a more peaceful end result than we might otherwise obtain. So I believe that without progress in each of these three areas we can’t ultimately achieve the net benefit.
Dhanapala: Well, I was a member of the Canberra Commission on the elimination of nuclear weapons, which published a report in 1996.
PORTER: Again, this is Jayantha Dhanapala. He’s United Nations under-secretary- general for disarmament affairs.
Dhanapala: And our conclusion was very clear. That was that as long as there were nuclear weapons states there would be an inducement for proliferation. And consequently the link between nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation is a essential one, it’s an inherent one. And we need to work on both fronts. To believe that you can achieve nuclear nonproliferation without nuclear disarmament I think is a fallacy.
SHEA: I completely support that point of view. I didn’t mean to suggest that there, that there’s no, there’s no magic formula about which steps are taken next, but clearly this, the existence of these weapons serves as a thorn in the sides of those countries that have given up their rights and opened themselves to intrusive activities, and a temptation and a source for terrorism, for example.
MALONE: There’s a very important psycho-political element to the picture.
PORTER: This again is David Malone, president of the International Peace Academy.
MALONE: It’s patently true that the five permanent members of the Security Council, which in effect is a club that self-defines as the locus of great powerdom, are nuclear powers. And while that is the case, it’s very difficult for countries that aspire to be accepted as great powers, not to think in nuclear terms. And I think that while there are many reasons that may explain India’s nuclear testing a couple of years ago, this is an important element. India has a regional, a perception of a regional rival in China, and China is a nuclear power, it’s a permanent member of the Security Council. It’s well known that India wishes to be a permanent member on the Security Council. While its decision may be seen by many of us as self-defeating and counterproductive, the perceptions may be quite different in other parts of the world. I think the five old-line nuclear powers, if I may call them that way, underestimate what a very bad example they set.
PORTER: Among the bad examples David Malone is referring to is US rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. For more on the US role in nuclear arms control and nonproliferation in the world, I spoke with Richard Garwin, the Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Victor Alessi, former director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation. First, Richard Garwin.
RICHARD GARWIN: There are several decisions facing us now. One is what to do about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In 1996 President Clinton was first to sign this treaty, for the United States, which banned any nuclear explosion, any test nuclear explosion, of whatever yield. But the administration didn’t present it to the Senate for more than a year. It lay before the Senate for two years without being brought up for a vote, without the administration urging its being voted on. It was called up and rejected for, in my opinion, improper reasons. Had they had appropriate hearings long enough before the vote I think we could have had that accepted. In fact it was largely antagonism between the members of the Senate and President Clinton that caused this rejection, not so much the merits of the treaty. But there were many arguments that were made in rejection which now have to be overcome: whether other countries will abide by the treaty, whether they will cheat and not be detected, whether they will flaunt it over overtly, whether we will be able to maintain our nuclear weapons safe and reliable under the treaty.
PORTER: Mr. Alessi, does America bear some of the blame for the current state of disarmament and nonproliferation around the world.
VICTOR ALESSI: I actually think not. I regret Congress’s actions, the Senate’s action, with regard to the CTBT. I think that, though the biggest threat to
reduction, nonproliferation in today’s world stems from the actual collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, where what was one nation which had a fairly good nonproliferation record, crumbled into fifteen cash-starved nations, four of which were nuclear weapons states. And although the United States worked hard with those four states—three of whom, by the way, are now nonnuclear states—we still face the problem of this infrastructure of thousands upon thousands of weapons of mass destruction scientists, materials that are appropriate for nuclear weapons—highly enriched uranium, plutonium; and a lot of the technologies that go into them—we run the risk of all of that flooding the world. And I think that that’s really the biggest danger for proliferation faced today. The United States has worked very hard. I don’t think we put quite enough effort and money into it. But we have not sat by idly while this threat emerges. A lot of activities have happened to help them with this. The Cooperative Threat Reduction, run by the Pentagon, has done a lot to help them destroy missile silos and missiles. The International Science and Technology Center in Moscow, where I’m the US board member, is supporting over 20,000 weapons scientists, to do peaceful research. So that they will not be tempted to leave Russia or Ukraine, or whatever other nation, because they can’t feed their families. The Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention are trying to create industrial opportunities for these scientists. Not just to do research, but to create new jobs that are in the peaceful world. I think all of these sorts of issues, all of these efforts by the United States are really a bright light. And they’re meant to deal with what I consider the biggest threat to proliferation, which is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the inability, for example, of Russia, to create a stable democracy where people can get paid and be rewarded for their efforts.
PORTER: You’ve spoken a lot about the US-Russian relationship. And I understand you’ve certainly have a lot of expertise there. I think in the American mind when we think about disarmament we often think about bilateral things—you know, one-on-one relationships. Is there a multilateral role in disarmament in the world?
ALESSI: Oh, of course. One of the reasons why we pursued bilateral arms control for so many years is that was where the action was in the nuclear area. I mean the United States and Russia owned the vast majority of the nuclear weapons that were in the world. And it was only natural that we got our arms race, or competition, under control and lowered the numbers. On the other hand, I think that, for example, the Nonproliferation Treaty to me is a multinational arms control treaty. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which is the analogue to the NPT for chemical weapons, is a multinational negotiation. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the United States in many ways led in the negotiations, over the last years of the negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament, is another one. We are now trying to negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff treaty in the Conference on Disarmament. There’s a strong interest in the United States in multinational arms control. I haven’t even mentioned ones that are not for every country, but are for, they’re multinational but they are perhaps limited to blocks of nations. For example the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty involved all of NATO and all of the Warsaw Pact. And the Open Skies treaty, which would introduce more transparency, was of the same nature. So, multinational arms control treaties, I think, are the future as the competition between the United States and Russia decreases.
PORTER: All right, Mr. Garwin, I’ll give you the last word on that.
GARWIN: I entirely agree with Vic Alessi on that. And I think that we need to have cooperative threat reduction include arms control. Arms control has a bad name. There are people out there, spoilers, who really want to eliminate all of those contracts that we have signed where we limit ourselves in exchange for other people limiting themselves. And these people wouldn’t think about doing without contracts in the business area. So how should they do without them in the national security field? So in addition to those agreements that Mr. Alessi has discussed, we need, in my opinion, to have discussions on arms control in outer space. We have an outer space treaty that bans nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction from orbit and from space, but we ought to ban all weapons from space. Because we make such good use of space. We rely so heavily on space for commercial and national security activities that the threat to these satellites, nonweapons satellites, from antisatellite activities or from weapons in space, is not to our advantage.
So we need to reduce our ninety-seven percent, with the Russians, of the nuclear weapons. We need to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons, either vertically in states that already have them, or to additional states. We need to have outer space arms control. And we need to do a number of other things, like look at the procedures by which we accomplish these goals, improve the operation of the United Nations and the Committee on Disarmament, through which we negotiate many of these things. We shouldn’t be restricted to having mass negotiations; sometimes it’s better to have the people who have the obligation to reduce and control
themselves come to some kind of agreement and look ahead at whether that agreement would be attractive and useful for others to sign. After all, when you develop
a new product, whether it’s an automobile or a CD player or whatever, you don’t go out and have everybody have an input into the design. But you do pay attention to whether it’s going to sell after you manufacture it. And that’s what we ought to do with these Cooperative Threat Reduction regimes, is to make them functional and to see that they are appealing to the ones who will have to carry them out.
PORTER: That is Richard Garwin. He’s Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations. Our other guests included Victor Alessi, former director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation; he’s now President of the United States Industry Coalition. We also heard from Jayantha Dhanapala, the United Nations under-secretary general for disarmament affairs; David Malone, president of the International Peace Academy, and Thomas Shea, head of the Project on Verification of Weapon Origin Fissile Materials Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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