Posted by: B Gourley | January 17, 2008

Schultz Perry Kissinger Nunn Op-ed

On Tuesday (January 15, 2008) a Wall Street JournalOp-Ed appeared as a sequel to a one year old op-ed also authored jointly by George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn that drew widespread reaction for advocating a move toward global disarmament of nuclear weapons. The current op-ed gave an indication of the kind of backing that this idea has received both abroad and domestically, and then listed a series of proposed steps needed to achieve the goal.

Some of these steps are more easily achieved than others. A few rely heavily upon reasserting good relations between the US and Russia, which have been strained as of late. One of the objectives is to extend elements of the START I treaty. This treaty is often considered a paragon of verification. Along with the Chemical Weapons Convention, it is one of the few agreements with the verification requirements necessary to build confidence between the parties that all are in compliance. However, the Russians have been more in the mode of abrogating treaties or letting them die than extending them as of late. Just as the US abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty when the Bush Administration felt it was no longer in America’s interest, Russia has been talking of ending its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) agreement and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The interest in abrogating the INF arises from US pursuit of a missile defense system to protect Europe as well as the US that involves stations in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the decision to suspend the CFE is probably attributable to a more general opposition to the perception that Russia is a red-headed step-child among global powers. Among the recommendations in the WSJ piece is pursuit of joint missile defense with Russia as a means to reassure Russia and build relations.

One of the more difficult challenges is to increase decision times for the launch of nuclear weapons. This is a critically important issue to making disarmament viable, but it will no doubt take considerable efforts to develop a system in which all sides will be confident. One cannot uninvent solid fuel, which is one of the key technologies in allowing for missiles to be at the ready almost constantly. (Liquid fuels are not suitable for long-term storage, and since fueling a liquid rocket takes a long time, the decision time and options available are increased.) With today’s level of technology, some sort of verification system would seem necessary to ensure that there was confidence in whatever means was used to increase decision times. At any rate, considerable thought needs to be given to the technical and strategic aspects of how this will be accomplished.

Another difficult task will be bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on-line. This treaty would prohibit any testing of nuclear weapons or devices. The difficulty is that there are 10 “Annex II” countries that have not ratified the CTBT, but must if it is to become law. These ten consist of the US, China, North Korea, India, Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, and Columbia. Countries like North Korea and Iran will not be able to produce a rocket or aircraft delivered nuclear arsenal without testing, and nations like Egypt and Indonesia may want to leave the doors open. The states with nuclear weapons (i.e. the US, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel) are reluctant to give up the opportunity to develop  new classes of nuclear weapons – a feat which would prove difficult without the ability to test. Besides the environmental benefits of a testing prohibition, it remains a means to avoid development of new varieties of nuclear weapons (at least until computational or virtual testing will give the level of confidence required.)  

The op-ed also talks of the need to manage the nuclear fuel cycle in such a way as to prevent proliferation of uranium enrichment and plutonium separation facilities throughout the world. These technologies can be used to make bomb-grade fissile material as well as nuclear reactor fuel. Currently there are only six exporters of enriched uranium (the US, Russia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) and a few other states that enrich for their own use (Japan, China, and Pakistan), and so there is no means for countries to diversify supply sources to mitigate risks. Though there is talk of building multinational fuel production facilities that would allow for greater diversification of sourcing. Currently there is also no means of assurance against supply disruption, but efforts to are being taken to rectify this condition. The last means by which states could reduce the risks they face is by building their own facilities (“vertical integration” in the parlance of economics), and this is what the nonproliferation community would like to prevent.

The Op-ed can be viewed here.


  1. […] Schultz, Perry, Kissinger, Nunn Op-Ed Commentary?, click here. […]

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