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Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Presidential Elections

No, Nuclear Modernization Doesn’t Cost Less Than You Think

Modernization proponents argue that the costs will only impose a small financial burden relative to the overall military budget. Are they right?

The Test Ban and the 1956 Election

Barry H. Steiner

Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, has been called “the first national political leader to take a clear-cut position for the limitation of [nuclear weapons] testing.”[1] In his 1956 campaign against President Dwight Eisenhower, the former Illinois governor capitalized on widespread fear of radiation from nuclear weapons tests to propose a testing moratorium, but he had not intended to make the tests a major campaign issue at first.[2]

After initially referring to the moratorium in April 1956, he next mentioned it on September 5. Only in October did he establish his proposal as a campaign staple. Starting in September, the Republican camp argued strongly against the moratorium proposal.

Before and after the election, which Eisenhower won handily, leading Democratic officials put forward the view that Eisenhower had rejected a test ban initiative because Stevenson had proposed it. Stevenson’s running mate, Senator Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn.), mentioned in October a rumor that the National Security Council (NSC) on September 11 had considered halting nuclear weapons tests and had decided to dismiss the proposal because Stevenson suggested it.[3] Stevenson himself wrote in a postelection article that “[t]here
was…reason to believe that the National Security Council itself between September 5 and September 19 had voted ‘unanimously’ in favor of a similar superbomb proposal; but this decision had then been set aside for obviously political reasons.”[4]

The historian Robert A. Divine, tracking the U.S. public debate on the test ban, concluded in 1978 that, with NSC records “still tightly sealed, there is no way to know whether the President had indeed rejected a test ban recommendation, and if he had, whether political or security factors [were] decisive.”[5] This article, using declassified NSC and Department of State records, pursues this issue, confirming that

•   Eisenhower received from his closest advisers during the campaign a proposal for declaring a U.S. moratorium on testing and that neither he nor his administration ever acted on or acknowledged it in the course of the campaign;

•   the moratorium recommendation was made outside the NSC machinery and was never formally considered by the council; and

•   Eisenhower’s rejection of the moratorium was political in that he was unwilling to champion what Stevenson initially proposed.

Origins of the Proposal

Divine ascribes to Harold Stassen, who served as Eisenhower’s special assistant for disarmament from 1955 to 1958, the initiative for the administration’s 1956 test ban moratorium proposal. He also states that Eisenhower authorized the NSC “to restudy the whole question of a test ban” in response to a September 11 Soviet message to the president calling for a halt to nuclear weapons tests.[6] However, the proposal emanated from the State Department in late August, prior to the Soviet letter to Eisenhower as well as Stevenson’s September 5 speech, and did not entail any new time-consuming study.

Unlike virtually all arms control and disarmament initiatives of that era, the moratorium proposal did not receive formal consideration and debate in the NSC. Stassen, who was both policy proposer and negotiator, was the primary figure on this subject in the NSC, which under Eisenhower was a highly structured policy organization. As Stassen worked for interagency policy consensus and negotiating authority, his ideas were repeatedly debated and critiqued by other NSC members.

A prodigious worker, Stassen was said to be “playing several chess games simultaneously—one with Washington, one with the Allies, one with the U.S.S.R., and one with the general public.”[7] Appointed by Eisenhower and dependent on the president’s support, Stassen also was a Stevenson ally as the administration’s strongest advocate for nuclear weapons limitation. It would be entirely plausible for Stevenson, despite leading the opposing political camp, to be guided by Stassen when pushing weapons limitations.

Yet the State Department rather than Stassen was the source of the moratorium initiative. On August 31, 1956, Deputy Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Robert D. Murphy wrote to Stassen and argued, “We believe there are political considerations which make it highly desirable that the [United States] take the initiative with regard to nuclear tests. The Soviets have come out for discontinuing tests of atomic and hydrogen weapons independent of general agreement on disarmament.”[8] Murphy noted that the British government also favored discussing the testing issue separately from a general disarmament agreement and that U.S. opposition had isolated the United States politically on that question. He urged a unilateral announcement of a “temporary cessation for a one-year period of thermonuclear and large-yield nuclear tests,” and he provided a draft cessation announcement approved by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

In the letter, Murphy referred to a shift on the test ban issue by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in July 1956, conceding that “overriding political considerations” could make agreement on limiting nuclear tests advisable.[9] The source of this shift is known to have been AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss, the strongest advocate among the president’s advisers for vigorous nuclear weapons testing.[10]

The origins of the proposal in the State Department indicated the need for a faster track and a different focus than the ones the NSC provided. Although arms negotiation policy was a focus of the council, the proposal was designed to gain a short-term propaganda advantage in the absence of negotiations. The Soviet Union had resumed nuclear testing on August 24, and the administration decided in August to begin publicizing Soviet nuclear tests in order to discredit Soviet support for a test ban. The initiative would have helped to direct negative attention to Soviet testing, if it persisted, or to influence the Soviet Union to cease a testing program that had military importance. At the same time, the moratorium did not restrict any U.S. military program; Murphy noted that the United States had no plans for tests in the Pacific for a period of “well over a year.”[11] The proposal was framed to permit the United States to initiate nuclear weapons testing when it would next be ready to do so.

The Policy Context

The test moratorium proposal also was unusual for being a stand-alone statement and for being a unilateral step. U.S. policy in 1956, approved by the NSC, insisted on a comprehensive disarmament agreement, in which test cessation depended on agreement by all states to halt production of fissionable materials for weapons and on on-site inspection. The conditions, which were publicized in a U.S. statement on April 26, 1956, to the three-power Subcommittee of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, held fast in spite of the State Department’s moratorium proposal.[12] The still-born administration moratorium proposal did not represent a change in this policy. Stassen, taking account of Stevenson’s “endeavor to infer that the administration was considering some different position,” privately denied on October 15 that any policy shift had occurred.[13]

The White House meeting of September 11, 1956, cited by Kefauver, did not focus on the test ban question alone, but reviewed a series of steps in a disarmament program Stassen had proposed in June 1956 for discussion and approval. Stassen now was seeking authority to prepare negotiating documents for that proposal.[14] A declassified summary of this meeting makes it clear that U.S. approval of a nuclear weapons test moratorium would continue to depend on Soviet approval of prior U.S. conditions: “There was spirited discussion regarding the discontinuance of atomic tests. Agreement was indicated that any stopping must be predicated upon an inspection plan for determining whether any tests are conducted, and for observing such further tests as are conducted. It would be necessary to develop an understanding on the part of the non-atomic powers of what the tests are for, and under what procedures they would be conducted.”[15] A second summary indicated that Eisenhower and Dulles believed Stassen’s test ban concept would need to be restudied.[16] Neither summary suggests a decision to propose a test ban publicly.

Eisenhower probably had received the test moratorium proposal by September 11, and the absence of discussion of that proposal at the meeting on that date, by officials who are known to have been aware of its existence, suggests that it had already been rejected. Instead, the more ambitious U.S. approach to disarmament remained in effect.

Response to Stevenson’s Proposal

Eisenhower generally preferred to insulate arms policy from public debate, but in this instance, he acted politically not only to reject the moratorium that his advisers recommended, but also to reject debate over its merits.[17] He did not want to be affected by public opinion in any way, to protect his freedom of action. He sought to avoid language that would “publicly tie his hands so that in the future [he could] do nothing,” and he suppressed his own view that “the need for atomic tests would gradually lift and possibly soon disappear.”[18]

Yet in seeking to affect public opinion on the test moratorium during his re-election campaign, Eisenhower publicly criticized Stevenson’s testing proposal in a way that was inconsistent with the logic behind the test moratorium proposal recommended by his own advisers, and he sought to mislead the public about it. For example, when publicly responding to Stevenson’s proposed moratorium in October 1956, Eisenhower, in spite of his advisers’ private support of such an initiative, maintained that “it would be foolish for us to make any…unilateral [moratorium] announcement.”

His advisers understood that preparations to test could be made during the moratorium period,[19] but Eisenhower, portraying his objection to the moratorium as based on national security considerations, observed that “months and months” were required to prepare for nuclear tests, while the Soviets “could make tremendous advances where we would be standing still.”[20] He portrayed the moratorium as a complex security initiative, even as his advisers privately informed him that it was relatively simple to implement, without cost to the United States. His public statement that debating the moratorium would “lead only to confusion at home and misunderstanding abroad”[21] made sense only on the assumption that the moratorium was a complicated issue.

Most effectively, the administration turned Stevenson’s initiative against him by publicizing on October 21 another Soviet letter to Eisenhower renewing Soviet support of a testing moratorium and noting that “certain prominent public figures in the United States” advocated a similar step.[22]

The Episode in Historical Context

According to McGeorge Bundy, Stevenson’s test ban moratorium proposal “was remembered as evidence of the danger to a challenger in seeming to be soft.”[23] Yet if not for this proposal, Eisenhower probably would have announced the temporary test moratorium that his advisers had proposed. Moreover, by mid-1957 the administration had proposed a two-year suspension of weapons tests in exchange for Soviet agreement to a nuclear weapons production cutoff, and Eisenhower publicly linked a temporary test suspension to disarmament.[24] In 1958 the United States entered into an informal test moratorium with the Soviet Union. Security interests had not changed in the interim to explain this shift.

Stevenson underestimated arms control politics. According to Divine, Stevenson “confronted the American people with vital issues that should have been aired years before,”[25] including the reasons for developing hydrogen bombs and for the emergence of the Soviet-U.S. deadlock over controlling them. However, the administration was determined not to respond, concealing its interest in arms restraint while putting Stevenson on the defensive for his interest in the same thing.

Stevenson’s ties to Stassen also might have hurt him politically. The administration could support and even depend on the Stevenson-Stassen alliance, for insofar as Stevenson believed he was helping Stassen’s hand in the administration, he was more likely to speak out as he did, unwittingly aiding the Eisenhower campaign.[26]

Domestic political controversy also has dogged more recent U.S. debate over a nuclear weapons test ban. Now the issue is whether U.S. adherence to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty can be broadened by accession to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was negotiated under UN auspices from 1994 to 1996. Since 1992, the United States, a signatory to the CTBT, has been observing an informal moratorium on all nuclear weapons tests that has been virtually unchallenged on security grounds. For political reasons, however, the United States has been unable to turn this restraint into a formal treaty commitment.

When the Clinton administration, calling the CTBT “the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in arms control history,”[27] sent it to the Senate for ratification in September 1997, Republican opposition focused on the difficulty of ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the absence of testing and on the problem of ensuring the detection of cheating through existing means of verification. A vote on ratification in October 1999 failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate. One appraisal of this defeat cited inadequate appreciation of the CTBT’s “domestic political ramifications” as a cause.[28]

Since then, the United States has supported the CTBT regime, most notably its global network of test monitoring stations. The Obama administration has made clear that its objective in this support has been not only to deter nuclear weapons proliferation, which is the primary purpose of the treaty, but also to help make the case that strengthening CTBT verification capabilities makes the treaty more worthy of Senate ratification than it was in 1999.

Earlier this year, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher said the Obama administration had “begun the process of engaging the Senate” on the test ban.[29] It remains to be seen whether this administration will be successful in surmounting the political hurdles to ratification of a treaty that is central to the international arms control and nonproliferation agenda.




Barry H. Steiner is a professor of political science at California State University, Long Beach, where he has taught since 1968. Specializing in war and peace studies, he has worked on nuclear strategy, preventive diplomacy, arms races, and arms control. He gratefully acknowledges the comments of Lawrence D. Weiler on an earlier version of this article.




1. McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival (New York: Random House, 1988), p. 329.

2. Robert A. Divine, Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections (New York: New Viewpoints, 1974), 2:138. For an opinion that Stevenson favored a unilateral initiative, see Clinton P. Anderson with Milton Viorst, Outsider in the Senate: Senator Clinton Anderson’s Memoirs (New York: World Publishing Company, 1970), p. 141. Stevenson himself seems to have had in mind a joint Soviet-U.S. moratorium. Adlai E. Stevenson, “Why I Raised the H-Bomb Question,” Look, No. 21 (February 5, 1957), pp. 24-25.

3. Howard E. Frost, “Test Ban Negotiations and the 1956 Presidential Campaign” (unpublished paper, March 16, 1987), p. 2. The paper can be found in Box 127 of the Jerome Wiesner Papers in the Institute Archives and Special Collections at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For a published reference to the September 11 date, which a veteran contemporary journalist cited as being obtained from an “unimpeachable authority,” see Chalmers M. Roberts, “The Case for Harold Stassen,” The New Republic, March 10, 1958. For a reprint of the article, see Robert E. Matteson, Harold Stassen: His Career, the Man, and the 1957 London Arms Control Negotiations (1993), p. A-10. The source of the rumor is still undetermined.

4. Stevenson, “Why I Raised the H-Bomb Question,” p. 24 (emphasis in original).

5. Robert A. Divine, Blowing on the Wind: The Nuclear Test Ban Debate, 1954-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 91-92.

6. Ibid., p. 86.

7. Matteson, Harold Stassen, p. 37. Thus far, no study of Stassen has utilized declassified NSC and State Department records. For works neglecting Stassen’s role, see Bundy, Danger and Survival; Robert R. Bowie and Richard H. Immerman, Waging Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). For Eisenhower’s policy structure, see Bowie and Immerman, Waging Peace, pp. v-vii.

8. Robert D. Murphy letter to Harold E. Stassen, August 31, 1956, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 20, Regulation of Armaments: Atomic Energy (Washington: Government Printing Office (GPO), 1990), pp. 419-420 (hereinafter Murphy letter reproduction).

9. Ibid., p. 419.

10. A footnote in the reproduction of the Murphy letter cites to this effect a Strauss letter to Stassen dated July 26, 1956. For a larger excerpt from the Strauss letter, which was declassified in 1986 (four years prior to the publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States volume), see Frost, “Test Ban Negotiations and the 1956 Presidential Campaign,” pp. 10-11.

11. Murphy letter reproduction, p. 421.

12. See Harold Stassen letter to Emmet J. Hughes, October 15, 1956, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 20, Regulation of Armaments: Atomic Energy (Washington: GPO, 1990), p. 436.

13. Ibid. At this point, the view that Stassen was taking in private with administration staff members was very different from the one that the Stevenson camp presumed he held and that Stassen knew the Stevenson camp held.

14. “Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Stassen) to the President,” June 29, 1956, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 20, Regulation of Armaments: Atomic Energy (Washington: GPO, 1990), pp. 402-408. An initiative on weapons testing is mentioned in this memorandum (p. 407) as one of many “Courses of Action” proposed by Stassen.

15. A.J. Goodpaster, “Memorandum of Conference With the President, September 11, 1956; 3:45 P.M.,” September 14, 1956. A copy of this memorandum is attached to Frost, “Test Ban Negotiations and the 1956 Presidential Campaign.” Guiding the Frost paper, this memorandum is more explicit about the discussion of the test ban question at the September 11 meeting than is the lengthier summary of this meeting by W.H. Jackson. W.H. Jackson, “Memorandum of a Conversation, White House, Washington, September 11, 1956,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 20, Regulation of Armaments: Atomic Energy (Washington: GPO, 1990), pp. 425-427.

16. Jackson, “Memorandum of a Coversation.” This report was found in the State Department Disarmament Files.

17. According to Bundy, Eisenhower “thought politics was a game only other people played, and he believed it should stop well short of the nuclear issue.” Bundy, Danger and Survival, p. 331.

18. Divine, Blowing on the Wind, pp. 86, 100-101. See Divine, Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections, pp. 2:156-157.

19. Divine, Blowing on the Wind, p. 90.

20. Divine, Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections, p. 2:141.

21. Divine, Blowing on the Wind, p. 91.

22. Ibid., p. 98.

23. Bundy, Danger and Survival, p. 330.

24. Divine, Blowing on the Wind, pp. 146, 149; Robert A. Divine, Eisenhower and the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 126.

25. Divine, Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections, p. 2:161.

26. Divine writes that Stevenson “apparently only raised [the test ban proposal] because he understood that the National Security Council was planning a similar proposal.” Divine, Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections, p. 2:138. If this is true, then Stevenson must have trusted some authoritative figure in the administration who provided him with this information.

27. Terry L. Deibel, “The Death of a Treaty,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81 (September/October 2002), p. 143. Background on the CTBT is provided in Keith A. Hanson, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 2006).

28. Ibid., p. 160.

29. Ellen Tauscher, “Statement to the Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” New York, September 23, 2011, http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2011/173911.htm.

Barry H. Steiner is a professor of political science at California State University, Long Beach, where he has taught since 1968. Specializing in war and peace studies, he has worked on nuclear strategy, preventive diplomacy, arms races, and arms control. He gratefully acknowledges the comments of Lawrence D. Weiler on an earlier version of this article.

Interview with Gareth Evans, co-chair of the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Disarmament Commission



Interviewed by Miles A. Pomper and Peter Crail

Gareth Evans serves as co-chair of the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Commission, an initiative sponsored by Australia and Japan aimed at providing recommendations for strengthening the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), reinvigorating efforts to halt nuclear nonproliferation, and promoting nuclear disarmament. Evans has held a long career in international security and arms control issues, as Australia's foreign minister during 1988-1996 and as the current president and chief executive officer of the International Crisis Group, a position he has held since 2000. Arms Control Today met with Evans Feb. 12 to discuss the work of the commission and his perspective on the issues it will be addressing.

ACT: Regarding the work of the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Commission, its goal is to "reenergize high-level political discussion about the elimination of nuclear weapons." About 10 years ago, you helped initiate the Canberra Commission, which sought to take the opportunity provided by the end of the Cold War to accomplish a similar goal.[i] What opportunities do you see today to re-energize this debate 10 years after that commission's work?

Evans: The last 10 years has been a period in which we have been sleepwalking as an international community, with multiple things going rather badly wrong. Obviously, the India-Pakistan breakout, the Iran and North Korea issues, the failure of the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, the failure of the 2005 World Summit, immobility in the Conference on Disarmament.[ii] It has been a desolate decade.

The opportunity to move things forward is intimately bound up with the new U.S. administration and the sense of confidence and momentum that hopefully that will generate, and is already generating, around the world, combined with the really significant contribution intellectually that has been made by the Gang of Four simply by putting out a hard-hitting case for zero nuclear weapons worldwide. They were not very forthcoming about how the steps are going to be taken,[iii] but getting the actual elimination issue back up in lights, getting the disarmament side of the house back on intellectual track, was hugely important. There is obviously that resonance all around the place, coming into this period in the run-up to the 2010 NPT Review Conference and beyond. But we also have to think beyond that because we do not want to be totally consumed by NPT theology when we have three big elephants outside the room-India, Pakistan and Israel-and no immediate prospect of bringing them into it. That said, nobody can afford another failure with the 2010 NPT conference, a failure to generate new momentum. The next year, as a result, is going to be extremely important, although it is obviously a much longer haul than that to realize our ultimate objective.

ACT: You mentioned the Gang of Four. How do you see the commission's role being different from them and other initiatives, such as Global Zero?[iv]

Evans: I have to preface by saying I do not yet know what the commission is going to recommend, and can only speak personally at this stage. While I think broad directions are reasonably clear, I cannot yet confidently state what we are going to be proposing. I think the critical thing is for this commission to actually add some value to the debate and not just produce another all too familiar wonky laundry list. Each of the earlier panel and commission exercises, and I have participated in some of them myself, have had their own utility in keeping the debate alive and clearly articulating some of the problems. Basically, the last series of reports have involved nuclear priesthood members talking to other nuclear priesthood members, and not really breaking out of the fairly closed circle of aficionados and actually generating resonance in the wider policy community.

The important role for this commission, if we can pull it off, will be to bring together all of the multiple threats that are out there, all the interlocking and intersecting issues- disarmament, proliferation, civil uses-and to articulate an action agenda from that, which is pragmatic and realistic, but at the same time hard-hitting and with an eye very clearly on the ultimate goal we are trying to achieve here, a nuclear weapons-free world. We need to be very tough-minded and pragmatic in the way in which we recognize the political realities that are out there and accordingly, in crafting the issues and recommendations, we need to devise a strategy that will have some resonance with policymakers, and not just be seen as more orchestral violins.

Each one of the exercises that are on foot at the moment has its own place in the firmament and its own utility. Global Zero, which is basically getting the long-term objective up there in the lights, very clearly articulated, and reasonably noisily articulated, is a highly useful contribution to energizing and maintaining the sense of importance of getting there, and energizing a global constituency to do so. I see it as wholly complementary to the other exercises that are in train. At the other end of the spectrum, you have a much more cautious step-by-step approach: "let's identify the first few foothills as we work our way up the mountain but we will not be too ambitious about giant strides because it is all a complex universe out there." That is a useful combination of the idealism and the pragmatism, and has an important constituency in the United States in particular. But what we have to try to do is energize a global constituency, bringing all of the key policymakers into the game and trying to map a way through this that is actually going to get some results.

ACT: You mentioned two different approaches: the approach promoted by Global Zero, as well as Indian leaders in the past, favoring the notion of some sort of deadline for achieving nuclear disarmament on the one hand, and the incremental steps promoted by others. [v] Do you find either of these approaches more compelling?

Evans: I cannot speak for the commissioners, but I hope where we will end up is articulating a pretty clear two-phase approach to this. Phase one will be getting to a minimalist vantage point. This would involve de-alerting, and nondeployment, or nonactive deployment, maybe involving significant separation of warheads from delivery systems. It would also involve having very massively reduced numbers, down to at least the low hundreds. It would involve an accompanying doctrinal commitment to no-first-use-whether that is enforceable, of course, is another issue. I think you could talk in terms of a timetable for getting to that kind of hugely improved universe. Maybe by 2025. Maybe that is too ambitious. It depends on what your vision of the final low numbers actually are and how you manage the business of juggling multiple players, but I think that is doable.

Phase two is getting from there to absolute zero. It does not seem to be really useful talking here in terms of a date certain because what you are really talking about to get from the minimum to the zero is satisfying a bunch of other conditions that have a lot to do with perceptions of conventional arms imbalances, with neighborhood security issues, and with the perceptions of where the tectonic plates are colliding in terms of larger global strategic relationships. [There are] a whole bunch of conditions which are going to have to be satisfied before people are going to be confident enough to move this far. There are also the technical conditions, effective verification strategies and other things on which people are now working assiduously. It is going to be very hard to get there, and it may be a little counterproductive, in terms of getting to a successful conclusion of phase one, to talk too much in terms of zero and not enough in terms of steps to zero.

What I'm thinking of is an approach to this which is really quite detailed and articulate in terms of describing the steps by which you can credibly get down to the minimalist vantage point, but also articulate about the degree of difficulty and the sort of things that are going to have to happen before you can get to actual zero and recognizing the kind of political constraints that are going to weigh heavily on that. Some people regard this as being a bit too nervously cautious: "let's just go for broke and do not even talk about anything else other than a steady continuum where everything will logically follow everything else." My perception at the moment is that that is not where policymakers' heads are at. We are going to need a hell of a lot more persuasion before getting to actual zero, but it is perfectly possible to persuade them that their security and regional and global security will be very effectively guaranteed by massively reduced arsenals and in effect taking these things out of capable use.

ACT: Going from the long-term vision to the much more immediate vision, is your report geared toward the NPT review conference of 2010?

Evans: If you are thinking in terms of phases, the short term is more like 2012 than 2010. Some of the things that need to be done with the short-term focus are not going to be able to be done in time for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and there are some other things that are going to have to be done outside that framework anyway.

ACT: Are you thinking of doing anything for the Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) this year?

Evans: There really needs to be a massive amount of emphasis on the disarmament side. We all know what the agenda is on the nonproliferation side. The United States, including previous administrations, have been very articulate about that. There is a very wide constituency of support for universalizing the 1997 Model Additional Protocol and getting some more serious compliance and enforcement constraints operating for those who shelter under the NPT umbrella while doing things they should not and then walking away from it.[vi] All of that stuff we sknow about. Plus the efforts to move forward on fuel banks and other ways of internationalizing or multilateralizing the fuel cycle, as difficult as all those things are. I think that sort of agenda is clear and needs to continue to be assiduously pursued.

But it is not going to begin to be achieved unless there is very serious movement on the other side of the house. Accordingly, what we will be saying to the administration here, over the next couple days, and what the commission has agreed is that these five points are the key stories we want to tell the administration. For a start, there are a couple of crucial building blocks relevant both to the disarmament and nonproliferation side on which we have to see movement. First, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is preeminently up there in the lights; that has to be almost priority number one for the administration.[vii] It would be hugely significant if its ratification can be achieved before the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Secondly, the other building block is a fissile material cutoff treaty or at least a fissile material initiative of some kind; not necessarily the exact FMCT we have been talking about-there are other options in play.[viii] If the United States makes very clear, as it has already, its withdrawal of the reservations on the verification side and actually puts its shoulder to the diplomatic wheel to get those negotiations started, that would be another hugely significant move in the right direction.

The third thing that clearly has to happen is trying to bring to a conclusion the resumption of the START-SORT arms control negotiations, accompanied by really obviously deep reductions.[ix] There are a lot of side issues in play that are going to complicate these negotiations like missile defense, substrategic missiles, conventional imbalances, and all the rest of it. But I would have thought prima facie that there is potential momentum there to get to deep reductions. That is hugely important, and that will feed into the NPT process in a very useful way.

Combined with that, a fourth thing is the United States has to get started on some serious strategic dialogue both with Russia and with China on the associated issues I just mentioned. You have to get started now talking to them about transparency, confidence-building issues, and China's own willingness to come aboard on the CTBT if the Americans take the lead on that, plus the larger issues of how you multilateralize the disarmament process. If there are visible conversations of that kind going on, not only will that have significance in terms of beginning to untangle U.S.-China and Russia relationships, but again it will feed very well into the NPT dynamic.

ACT: Is there a willingness on China's part to do that?

Evans: That remains to be explored. China is engaged in fairly enthusiastic modernization and expansion at the moment.

ACT: The Bush administration tried to have some sort of dialogue...

Evans: Yes, but it was not the best environment if there was ever going to be achievement on that front. It partially depends on the continuation of a reasonably sane and stable atmosphere across the Taiwan Strait, and that is the part of the puzzle that appears to be for the moment locked away. Also, the India relationship is fairly key to this; not that I think China feels itself threatened in any way by India. (I am not sure India really feels itself threatened by China either, for that matter, although that has always been part of the Indian story.) That triangular dynamic is very much going to be in play. But I would have thought prima facie that there is every reason to believe that at least an exploratory dialogue could be started. With the Russians, by contrast, you have an immediate objective: by the end of this year, you have got to cover the hiatus with START and to get something really seriously done with verification to follow through on the Moscow Treaty.[x] While you have that very sharp and precise agenda with Russia, it is very much less well defined with China. But it is important that the agenda with China get started.

Just to finish the litany, the fifth thing that is important for the Americans to do is on the doctrinal issue, the nuclear posture review and everything feeding into it. Even if we cannot get America to come up with a no-first-use commitment, at the very least it would be important to get something out there at the presidential level saying that the U.S. perception is that the sole role of nuclear weapons is to deter others from using them [and] to get away from the present almost impossible position of keeping open the nuclear option to respond to chemical, biological, or terrorist acts, whether by states or by nonstate actors.

ACT: In your view, what impact would a doctrinal shift regarding the role of nuclear weapons by the United States have on the nonproliferation and disarmament efforts you have been describing? As a follow-up, one of the things some states and commentators have said is that there is a role for nuclear weapons in deterring assistance by states to terrorist groups to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Do you find this claim credible?

Evans: It is important that there be disincentives to state support of terrorist activity, but you do not need to dangle nuclear weapons over their heads for that purpose. Our conventional capability is enough to spook any halfway rational failed, failing, or rogue state. Nuclear weapons are just not a necessary part of the repertoire. That is the view I take on extended deterrence and as to all the other things that make a number of the allied countries very nervous about giving away nukes. Of course, countries like Japan and South Korea are going to want confidence that they will be covered against any security contingency. But why on earth nuclear weapons even need to be part of that equation, I do not know.

It is particularly implausible on the question of terrorism. I am not understating the anxiety about terrorism or the risk of a terrorist incident involving nuclear weapons. You do not to have to invoke the whole Graham Allison approach to nonetheless be really quite spooked by the potential for doing damage with the amount of loose material lying around and the battlefield weapons that are being insufficiently protected.[xi] It is an entirely serious and legitimate concern, and one of the reasons why we have to get our nonproliferation act together is to reduce that potential. But the notion of needing nuclear weapons for that purpose is really bizarre.

As far as a doctrinal shift, it would be pretty significant for the United States to say that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter other people from using them. It would play very much into global perceptions that the United States is really getting serious about winding back the centrality and salience of nuclear weapons. That would be relevant in terms of getting buy-in by others on the disarmament side of the house, but also to the nonproliferation side. At the end of the day, the real significance of all this is in terms of the psychological shift it would represent in America and the psychological shift that that should in turn engender in others.

ACT: You mentioned extended deterrence earlier. Your country is said to benefit from an extended deterrence relationship. How do U.S. allies participating in this extended deterrence relationship reconcile that with calls for nuclear disarmament?

Evans: Well, again it is having confidence in the conventional capability of your big-guy ally. That is what it is all about. That is what an alliance relationship means, that you are going to be rescued against any conceivable contingency. I do not think Australia has too much to worry about. We are not in a particularly dangerous part of the universe. Even for those countries that do feel continuingly edgy about this, all the protections in the world they need are available with present conventional capability. I see them as being completely separate aims that have become tangled together.

You have some interesting dilemmas that have been much written about, in that some of the countries that are the strongest in their enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament are also the most nervous about actually getting to zero. I am very conscious of that in the context of this commission. But you just cannot play games on this issue. If you are talking about getting to zero, you have to recognize the continued salience of the mutual deterrence argument. There is no sentiment for unilateralism in any way that I can discern. But this is a completely separate argument from that about needing nukes for a variety of other security purposes.

Of course there are other problems that then start flowing from this emphasis on conventional superiority. We all know the irony of the Russian position. In the Cold War years, everybody in the West was spooked by perceived Russian conventional superiority on the European continent and needed nukes as the balance, but now the Russians are spooked by western European-American conventional superiority and want to hang on to nukes as the balancer. This is always going to be a complicating factor.

But in terms of the basic dynamics of things like posture reviews and what the United States ought to be able or willing to do right now, all these five points are significant because they represent changes from the previous administration. The nonproliferation side represents continuity. The disarmament side, and the FMCT and CTBT, represent discontinuity and forward movement. If you can get something visible happening with the CTBT, FMCT, obviously the bilateral stuff with the Russians, plus the strategic dialogue with the Russians and Chinese, plus something on the doctrine stuff-and they're all things that are being foreshadowed in one way or another by this administration-that would be a really major leap forward.

The question is, will there be the energy? Will there be the organization? Will there be the capacity to allocate priority time to get all these things moving in this sort of time frame? Will the domestic political environment, the Senate, everything else, sustain this much activity? These are difficult questions to answer. But in terms of what I think the rest of the world ought to be asking of the United States, this is a pretty relevant agenda.

ACT: You have spoken in the past about the need to bring the three non-NPT members into the global nonproliferation disarmament regime. How do you think the international community can best achieve that goal?

Evans: You have three logical options. One, which is not really an option at all, is to get them to sign up for the NPT itself, wearing either a nuclear-weapon-state hat or a non-nuclear-weapon-state hat, either of which seem to be totally implausible notwithstanding the endless numbers of speeches that continue to be made to this effect. The rituals of First Committees and NPT PrepComs and review conferences do seem to be in need of a bump along.[xii]

The second approach is to say, let's have a new whiz-bang nuclear weapons convention which basically starts from the beginning and brings together all the good things that are in the NPT, and the FMCT, and the CTBT, and creates a new universe from scratch-that has a place for these guys in it. There is a tactical question whether there is still some utility in trying to start an Ottawa or Oslo kind of process just to energize the grass roots for that sort of campaign.[xiii] In terms of getting real world results in the short to medium term, I think that is difficult to imagine happening.

So this leaves you with the third option, which is to somehow find other forms of discipline: new regimes, new strategies-bilateral, plurilateral, multilateral-that can subject these guys to global disciplines both on the nonproliferation and on the disarmament side. In that context, we have now the India-U.S. nuclear deal. The good thing you can say about it is that it does demonstrate that there are ways out there, institutionally, of subjecting nuclear-armed states presently outside the NPT to various disciplines that will be important in the long run. The fact that the Indians have to safeguard at least some of their facilities is an important step forward. But the trouble is that it is not nearly as good a deal as it should have been. Clearly it is a very weak discipline to which India is being exposed-with basically no inhibitions on fissile material production, not even on the issue of testing. It is not a model to be emulated, but it does point the way forward. We do have to somehow create parallel structures, parallel processes, parallel forms of discipline, and gradually bring people aboard on them.

ACT: In pragmatic terms, in the aftermath of the so-called India nuclear deal, what specific things do you think could exert that discipline as you describe it, and how can those be accomplished diplomatically in the years ahead?

Evans: That will be a central theme for this commission, and I do not have a clear sense of where we might come out at this stage. The NPT and the NPT Review Conference, as crucially important as they are, should not be seen as the be-all and end-all of our arms control efforts. It will be hugely important to get strong outcomes from the review conference, including by regenerating the 13 steps in some way, maybe producing some new consensus document into which others can ultimately buy in.[xiv] But the NPT by itself is not going to get us there.

We need to have other kinds of strategies moving, such as how you bring into a multilateral disarmament process not only Russia and the United States, not only China, and not only France and the United Kingdom, but India and Pakistan as well. Sooner rather than later we have got to start that kind of strategic dialogue. George Perkovich's idea of trying to encourage every nuclear-armed state to start doing the kind of studies and analyses of the national interests involved, and just what are the constraints and limitations of the moving-into-a-multilateral-force-reduction sort of framework, is a very useful one. We have to find ways of putting the heat on countries to sign up to the Model Additional Protocol, or variations on all these themes. Obviously, the CTBT and the FMCT are not NPT constrained; they have their own momentum, and it is important to generate momentum in relation to countries that are outside the NPT framework as well as within it.

Although my commission was originally billed by the two prime ministers as primarily about feeding ideas and momentum into the NPT Review Conference process, and while we are targeting a major report to be completed by the end of this year, which will have very direct resonance for that conference, it has always had a larger remit than just that. That is one of the reasons why the commission is going to continue its life at least until the middle of 2010, to survey the broader landscape as it then exists.

Another reason for giving the commission a reasonable life is some parts of its remit will take some time to explore. In terms of the peaceful-uses side, and the nuclear renaissance whether that happens or not, there are major roles and responsibilities for the civil nuclear industry in terms of developing and applying proliferation-resistant technology, and in relation to other proliferation-relevant areas. I think we will get started on generating some momentum and meeting with the industry people in Moscow in midyear. But in terms of actually getting deliverable results, I cannot see too much of that happening before the NPT Review Conference next May. One option for the commission is to host a conference bringing together the industry players with the government players. That is something that could well postdate the review conference.

ACT: One of the conversations taking place is what to do about the nuclear fuel cycle. There are ongoing considerations in that respect about the criteria that should be used to determine which states have access to any established international fuel bank, including whether or not non-NPT members should have access. What criteria do you think are appropriate for such an initiative?

Evans: I have not thought through specifically fuel bank supplies to non-NPT members, but the full range of safeguards including at the [Model] Additional Protocol level would not be a bad start. Australia, for one, has adopted a very tough view about that even though we went along with the Nuclear Suppliers Group exercise and to that extent supported the India-U.S. nuclear deal. We have remained extremely cautious committing ourselves to supplying Australian uranium.

There is a real utility in having some guaranteed nuclear fuel supply for all potential users. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei's vision of a single multilateralized facility under international control as a producer is very attractive indeed. But it is a vision that is going to take a long time to realize given what we know about the existing fissile material producers and their willingness to be brought under some sort of international umbrella. It is also a matter about making a judgment about whether there is going to be real demand for enough of this stuff in the future to justify the creation of new institutions, or whether the main emphasis ought to be on trying to change the role of the existing producers. It is a really complicated issue, and I and the commission are just beginning to get our heads around what the options are. It will be a major issue for this commission to wrestle with to see if we can take a little bit further the work the IAEA and others have been doing.

ACT: Moving back to the nonproliferation regime, the issues of Iran and North Korea are two of the key state challenges. There is concern that failure to deal with these challenges early on may serve to unravel or begin to unravel the nonproliferation regime. What steps do you think can be done to make sure that those challenges do not threaten the regime as a whole?

Evans: As far as the North Korea issue is concerned, it seems likely that there is going to be more of the same process with the six-party talks [with] "two steps forward, one step back" being the name of the game maybe in perpetuity. But at least the situation is now stabilized. There is no particular evidence that any more bomb material is being made. Whether anything is happening on the highly enriched uranium side, as distinct from plutonium side, remains a matter of speculation.[xv] It is an unsatisfactory process. It is a limping process. But it beats the hell out of the non-process we had before.

Iran is rather more difficult, and on this one, I have my own views. Whether they will prove to be the commission's views I do not know. My view is that there is a doable deal there to be done right now with the Iranians, but it will require a deep breath on the part of the West-and that is accepting the reality of Iranian fissile material production. By all means, spread out over time the achievement of industrial-scale capacity, and by all means try to multilateralize the process to some extent with the kind of consortium arrangements that the Iranians themselves still seem prepared to sign up to.[xvi] But let's not pretend that any form of pressure at all-given the pride and all the other domestic and international political factors that are in play-is going to persuade the Iranians to go back to zero or even to stop where they are now. What I believe is doable is drawing the red line that really matters, that against weaponization.

I have had a sustained dialogue with the Iranians about this. As recently as last weekend, I had 45 minutes with Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani in Munich, and I was in Tehran last year talking to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and many other key players. On the other side, I've talked to key U.S. players; Undersecretary of State for Policy Bill Burns and others in the previous administration, plus with the Europeans, [including] EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, his adviser Robert Cooper the EU director-general for external and politico-military affairs, and various ministers. So I have a pretty clear idea of what is going on and a sense of what options are in people's heads.

The way through this is for Europe and North America to recognize the reality on the fissile material side of it, but to draw an absolute red line against weaponization which I think would be sustainable. There are a whole bunch of reasons why the Iranians should in fact have made the cost-benefit judgment that it would do them much more harm than good to actually acquire a nuclear weapon But that is distinct from having a perceived breakout capability, the capacity to produce one. They want that very much. That is non-negotiable, I think. But having got that much, I think they would be content with it.

The issue is of course, verification: trust but verify. The Iranians should have to sign up to a highly intensive, highly discriminatory monitoring and verification regime. That, at the very least, would have to be the Model Additional Protocol and all the bells and whistles that go with that-but probably a special Additional Protocol-plus regime to enable the West to have a little more confidence, not only on the fissile material side but also concerning physical weaponization and missile delivery systems. The Iranians are not very happy about anything that constitutes further "discrimination" since their whole argument is they have been discriminated against in exercising their rights under the NPT. But, as I say to them: you guys have had a program,- maybe not committing you to weaponization but certainly to exploring the options-which everybody is concerned about. And with your president spooking a lot of people internationally with his public statements, and with the kind of existential threat that even the possession of just one or two weapons would represent and be perceived to represent to the Israelis, you have to recognize that very stringent verification indeed will be required.

I think there is a deal to be made where the West makes a big concession, the Iranians make a big concession, and then you just juggle it out on the basis of incentives and disincentives. You keep, very obviously, the military option should they step across that red line [which is] the 800-pound gorilla in the background. You also have lots of incentives in the form of normalization of relations and progressive relaxation of sanctions, all of which would create an environment under which we could fairly rapidly achieve some serious normalization of relations in the region and very much play into a much more constructive Iranian approach on Syria, Lebanon, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I think the nuclear issue is the key to resolving all those others. You are just not going to begin to make progress on them unless you can resolve this one.

Larijani's speech at Munich last week was fairly fierce. Ninety percent of it was pitched to a domestic hard-line constituency, but as to 10 percent of it, the doors and windows were wide open. Similarly with Vice President Joe Biden's speech and what has come out of the administration so far the doors and windows are open. The trick will be to manage the process now and find ways of exploring the kind of deal in essence that I'm describing, to get each side past the initial barriers of mistrust that are inhibiting any serious discussion. I could go into much more detail about why I think the Iranians do not actually feel themselves committed to a nuclear weapon, on the contrary, but that is another story.

ACT: The world is grappling with a number of challenges right now. How do we make sure efforts to lead to nuclear disarmament are given the momentum and attention they deserve?

Evans: That is a good question and one that has really troubled me. How do you energize a political constituency that basically, apart from the terror issue and the concern about nonstate actors getting hold of nukes, just does not really instinctively grasp the risks that are involved out there [and] which thinks that it's a Cold War problem and we've moved on. How do you move a public that is just not really energized or even interested in this issue at all and regards it all as just hairy-socks-and-sandals-placard-waving stuff from the sixties? Our own commission, and all of the other initiatives that are presently going on, have to find ways of demonstrating the nature and scale of the risks that are out there.

Telling some of the Cold War stories about how close we came during this allegedly sane and stable period may be helpful. The more information that comes out, the more disconcerting it is. Understanding the extent of the insecurity that is out there at the moment is also important. It helps to get those stories about the Air Force losing half a dozen strategic missiles for days on end. Similarly with stories about how much more work needs to be done to secure weapons stockpiles, particularly the small battlefield stuff, which is easily transportable, plus fissile material. Similarly to get the story out loud and clear about just how much damage these things can do. I do not think we have spent enough time getting city-impact diagrams out there about the damage that a Hiroshima-sized bomb would do, as compared say with the 9/11 attacks, and then of course what a strategic weapon could do. In all of this it is a matter of getting the information into the heads of the senior policymakers, and it is a matter also of energizing something bottom-up with the civil society constituency.

ACT: How do you do that without the sort of scare tactic we have seen in the recent commission report that says in the next five years there's a 50 percent chance of an attack with weapons of mass destruction?[xvii]

Evans: You harness the scare tactics to the extent the data and analysis will support them. Some people like Graham Allison are saying that there is a 10 per cent chance in the next 10 years of a major nuclear incident in a major city in the world. For example nonstate terrorist actors taking a boat into New York harbor and bolting together some sort of gun-type device, not just a radiological or dirty bomb but a real nuclear bomb.[xviii] If that figure is defensible, nobody in the universe would think a similar level of risk, a 10 per cent chance in 10 years , is acceptable in building, for example, a nuclear reactor power plant.

The risk of something going very badly wrong with nukes, and the catastrophic implications of this for the whole world, are right up there with the level of risk involved with the present economic meltdown and the climate change story. The nuclear threat really is one of the big three in terms of the sheer scale of the damage that could be done by getting it wrong.

There is also the story about how readily available the relevant technology is, not only through the help of Mr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, but via the internet. This is very much more real, and dangerous, than it was 15-20 years ago in terms of what is doable by the malignly disposed. Then if you get more players in the proliferation game, it gets worse. The United States and Russia had a pretty well-orchestrated set of minuets that they danced in terms of the control arrangements, hotlines and the rest. But elsewhere things are more problematic. I was in Pakistan just three weeks ago and a senior official told me privately, "You know we put in place so-called hotline arrangements between ourselves and India after some of the earlier scares to try and minimize the risk of anything untoward happening. But with all the tension we've had since Mumbai, lasting many weeks now, that telephone line has not been used and there has basically been no direct senior-level communication at all." I know from being in both Indian and Pakistani capitals how high the level of tension was. It has been a classic situation with great potential for miscalculations and escalation. Yet those mechanisms, rudimentary as they are, are just not being used.

All of these stories have to be told and in a way that has resonance for policymakers. You are not going to get them to make any of the changes we want just by making the moral case or the technical case-the verifiability issue, and the argument that military uses are negligible and probably counterproductive. You have somehow to make a political case, talking about the cost of weapons possession, the downside risks associated with it, and somehow change the parameters of the political debate. The best chance of doing that is with the new administration here in the United States that is seriously committed to thinking and talking in those terms. Your presidential bully pulpit is infinitely more significant than any commission, or anything that any nongovernmental organization can do.

ACT: Thank you.

[i] The Australian government established the Canberra Commission in 1995 to provide recommendations for steps toward global nuclear disarmament.

[ii] The eighth NPT review conference held in 2005 concluded without any substantive agreement on its consideration of the provisions of the treaty and has therefore been widely seen as a failure. The same year, the UN General Assembly held a high-level summit that adopted a final document that excluded any reference to nuclear disarmament, which was contained in earlier drafts. The Conference on Disarmament is a 65-member negotiating body on nonproliferation and disarmament matters. Since 1997, it has been unable to agree on an agenda to begin substantive work.

[iii] Former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), sometimes referred to as the Gang of Four, joined to write two op-eds in The Wall Street Journal in 2007 and 2008 calling for steps toward a nuclear weapons-free world. See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "Toward a Nuclear-Free World," The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13. Both essays can be found on the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Web site. See www.nti.org/c_press/c3_opeds.html.

[iv] Global Zero is an international civil society campaign launched in 2008 working to promote global nuclear disarmament.

[v] In 1988, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi called for an international convention banning nuclear weapons as an effort outside the NPT. Since then, Indian leaders and officials have often repeated this call. New Delhi has refused to join the NPT, which it characterizes as "flawed and discriminatory" due to the division of nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states.

[vi] The IAEA Board of Governors adopted the Model Additional Protocol in 1997 to address concerns that states may carry out undeclared nuclear activities in an effort to develop nuclear weapons. States that adopt an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements provide the agency with greater legal authority to monitor all nuclear activities carried out in that country.

[vii] The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty prohibits all nuclear explosions and will formally enter into force after 44 designated "nuclear-capable states" have ratified the treaty, including the United States. As of March 2009, 35 of those countries have done so. The United States maintains a nuclear testing moratorium, but the U.S. Senate declined to give its advice and consent to ratify the CTBT in 1999.

[viii] In 1993 the United States called for a multilateral convention banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear explosives, often called a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed on a mandate to negotiate such a treaty in 1995, but the CD has failed to reach agreement to begin negotiations on such a measure. Following a U.S. policy review of the proposed FMCT, in 2004 the Bush administration determined that the treaty was not effectively verifiable and indicated that it would not support the inclusion of verification provisions in the treaty. The Obama administration has indicated that it would reverse that position.

[ix] The United States and Soviet Union signed the START in 1991 to limit the number of strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems each state would deploy by December 2001. The treaty expires in December 2009 but may be subject to five-year extensions or superseded by another agreement.

[x] The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), or Moscow Treaty, was concluded by the United States and the Russian Federation in 2002 to limit each country to 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads. The deadline for implementation and expiration date for the treaty is December 31, 2012.

[xi] Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, estimated in his 2004 book Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe that the chance of a terrorist attack involving nuclear weapons occurring by 2014 is a greater than 50 percent.

[xii] The UN General Assembly First Committee meets annually to address disarmament and international security issues. NPT states-parties hold conferences every five years to review the treaty and preparatory committees (PrepComs) for those review conference each year for three years preceding those review conferences.

[xiii] The Ottawa and Olso processes were arms control negotiations on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions, respectively, conducted outside the formal, established disarmament negotiating fora. The efforts were pursued following a lack of agreement in negotiating fora such as the CD about whether and how to limit the use of such weapons. Both negotiations resulted in treaties prohibiting the use of specific classes of arms.

[xiv] As part of the 2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document, the states-parties agreed on a list of 13 "practical steps" aimed at "systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI" of the NPT. The Bush administration opposed a number of the 13 steps, including the early entry into force of the CTBT and refused to reference the 2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document in the agenda of the NPT review conference in 2005.

[xv] The United States has accused North Korea of maintaining an undeclared effort to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) in addition to its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. The extent of any such North Korean HEU effort remains unclear, but Pyongyang is known to have imported materials of relevance to a gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment program.

[xvi] Iranian officials have proposed that other countries participate in Iran's nuclear activities, including its uranium-enrichment effort, as part of a multinational consortium.

[xvii] A December 2008 report by the congressionally created Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism concluded that "it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013."

[xviii] A gun-type nuclear device is the simpler of two forms of nuclear explosive mechanisms. It entails firing one piece of weapons-usable fissile material into another in order to achieve a critical mass and produce a nuclear chain reaction. It can achieve a desired nuclear explosive effect without the need for nuclear testing.


Interviewed by Miles A. Pomper and Peter Crail

Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama Shares Views on Arms Control and Nonproliferation Issues with Arms Control Today




For Immediate Release: September 24, 2008
Press Contacts: Miles A. Pomper, Editor, Arms Control Today, (202) 463-8270 x108 and Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.): Arms Control Today, a leading journal on nonproliferation and global security, today released Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's answers to a dozen questions posed by the monthly magazine's editors on arms control and nonproliferation issues to both major party presidential candidates.

Arms Control Today has published such surveys of the presidential candidates going back three decades. The Obama survey answers are available at http://www.armscontrol.org/2008election and a PDF version is available here.

The questions covered areas from negotiations with Russia to relations with Iran and from appropriate U.S. policy on cluster munitions to the right approach to nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan.

They were submitted to both the John McCain and Obama campaigns in June, with responses originally scheduled for publication in the magazine's September issue, but neither campaign was able to respond in time and the segment was rescheduled for the October issue.

The McCain campaign has previously expressed a willingness to provide answers to the same questions and has been cooperative in dealing with ACT. But the Republican presidential nominee's staff did not provide Arms Control Today with answers to the survey questions in time for the publication of the October issue of Arms Control Today. Arms Control Today will publish Senator McCain's responses to the survey whenever they become available.

In addition to the survey, please turn to the Website of the independent Arms Control Association (ACA), the publisher of Arms Control Today, for several other sources of information on the presidential candidates' views on arms control and nonproliferation issues:

  • An ACA panel discussion on "How the Next President Can Strengthen the Nonproliferation System" with representatives for the McCain and Obama campaigns. The discussion, which took place at ACA's annual luncheon in June, featured Stephen E. Biegun, now a foreign policy adviser to Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who spoke on behalf of the McCain campaign, and John D. Holum, the former director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under President Clinton, who spoke for the Obama campaign. It is available at http://www.armscontrol.org/events/20080617_Presidential_Debate.
  • This month, Arms Control Today also made past presidential questionnaires from as far back as 1976 available online. You can access the full list at http://www.armscontrol.org/historical_armscontrol_surveys.

Arms Control Today, a leading journal on nonproliferation and global security, today released Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's answers to a dozen questions posed by the monthly magazine's editors on arms control and nonproliferation issues to both major party presidential candidates. (Continue)

Presidential Elections – Candidates Responses 1976 to Today


Since 1976, Arms Control Today has given presidential candidates the opportunity to present their views on a range of arms control and national security issues. Over the years presidential candidates have all taken the time to share their opinions with our readers. These fora are an excellent opportunity to compare leading politicians' opinions on critical issues in more specific detail than usually provided by campaign material.

Below you will find an archive of all the questions and answers Arms Control Today has exchanged with presidents and major party nominees since 1976.

Candidate Views on Arms Control 1976-2008

1976: Jimmy Carter vs. Gerald Ford
1980: Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan
1984: Walter Mondale vs. Ronald Reagan*
1988: Michael Dukakis vs. George H. W. Bush
1992: George H.W. Bush vs. Bill Clinton
1996: Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole*
2000: George W. Bush vs. Albert Gore
2004: George W. Bush* vs. John Kerry*
2008: John McCain** vs. Barack Obama

* Ronald Reagan did not answer the survey in 1984 and Bob Dole declined in 1996. In 2004, the survey was not conducted when one of the major party candidates declined to participate.
**The McCain campaign has previously expressed a willingness to provide answers to the same questions and has been cooperative in dealing with Arms Control Today. But the Republican presidential nominee’s staff did not provide ACT with answers to the survey questions in time for the publication of the October issue of ACT. ACT will publish Senator McCain’s responses to the survey whenever they become available.




Since 1976, Arms Control Today has given presidential candidates the opportunity to present their views on a range of arms control and national security issues. Over the years presidential candidates have all taken the time to share their opinions with our readers. These fora are an excellent opportunity to compare leading politicians' opinions on critical issues in more specific detail than usually provided by campaign material. (Continue)

Candidates Differ on Iran, Agree on Sanctions

Peter Crail

Over the past month, the issue of how the United States will address Iran’s nuclear program has become one of the centerpieces of the foreign policy debate between the two presumptive major-party presidential candidates. The candidates differ in particular on their perceptions of the usefulness of direct dialogue with Iran, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) indicating that he would drop U.S. preconditions for meeting with Iran and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declaring that such an approach would only strengthen the ruling regime in Tehran.

The Bush administration maintains that it will not hold discussions with Iran on the nuclear issue until Iran complies with UN Security Council demands to suspend its enrichment-related activities and halt the construction of its heavy-water reactor. The Security Council has adopted four resolutions reiterating these requirements.

Obama, however, has affirmed that he would be willing to engage in direct talks with Iran without these preconditions. During a Nov. 11, 2007, Meet the Press interview, Obama characterized such preconditions as meaning that “we won’t meet with people unless they’ve already agreed to the very things that we expect to be meeting with them about.”

He stated in a June 4 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that he would present Iran with a “clear choice” between cooperation or increased pressure and argued that, should Iran fail to cooperate, such a diplomatic overture would “strengthen our hand with Russia and China as we insist on stronger sanctions in the Security Council.”

Obama has also suggested the possibility of a summit-level meeting with Iran but has cautioned that such a meeting may not involve Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He told reporters May 27 that there is no reason to meet with Ahmadinejad “before we know he [is] actually in power,” adding “he’s not the most powerful person in Iran.” Iran will hold its presidential elections in mid-2009. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the highest political authority in Iran.

On several occasions, McCain has criticized Obama’s willingness to hold direct talks with Iranian leaders without preconditions, suggesting that such an approach would only strengthen the regime in Tehran. In a June 2 speech to AIPAC, McCain claimed that a meeting between the U.S. president and the Iranian president or supreme leader would “harm Iranian moderates and dissidents” and grant the hard-line elements of the regime “the appearance of respectability.”

During a May 19 campaign speech, however, McCain stated that the United States should “communicate with Iran our concerns about their behavior” at an “appropriate” diplomatic level.

Public support appears to favor direct talks with Iran’s leadership. According to a May 19-21 Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans support holding direct talks with the president of Iran.

Aside from their split over the value of direct negotiations, the candidates hold markedly similar positions on ways in which the United States can increase pressure on Iran.

Each maintains that no options should be “taken off the table”—a reference to the potential use of military action—and stress the need for more robust multilateral sanctions against Iranian financial institutions and its energy sector. In particular, the candidates advocate going beyond Security Council sanctions to apply financial and political pressure on Iran.

McCain said June 2 that, should the Security Council “delay in [its] responsibility” to impose harsher sanctions against Tehran, Washington must lead “like-minded countries” to do so. Obama echoed this suggestion during his June 4 speech, stating that the United States should “find every avenue outside the United Nations to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Among the measures both candidates have cited as necessary to increase pressure on Iran are sanctions to limit Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum and encouraging a private divestment campaign modeled on the international divestment effort against the apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1980s.

McCain and Obama have also supported legislation that would mandate U.S. sanctions on foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. firms that do business with Iran and that call for listing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

The IRGC is a military organization, comprised of about 150,000 individuals, that oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program and elements of its nuclear program. It also controls an array of commercial enterprises.

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Over the past month, the issue of how the United States will address Iran’s nuclear program has become one of the centerpieces of the foreign policy debate between the two presumptive major-party presidential candidates. The candidates differ in particular on their perceptions of the usefulness of direct dialogue with Iran, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) indicating that he would drop U.S. preconditions for meeting with Iran and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declaring that such an approach would only strengthen the ruling regime in Tehran. (Continue)

New Presidents, New Agreements? Advancing U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Control

Alexei Arbatov and Rose Gottemoeller

With the Sochi Declaration in April 2008, the poker players in Washington and Moscow effectively laid down their strategic arms control cards for the last time in the Bush and Putin administrations. They reiterated their intention to carry out further reductions in strategic offensive arms, they pledged to continue development of a legally binding post-START arrangement, and they restated their commitment to Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for eventual total elimination of nuclear weapons.[1]

They also agreed to disagree on missile defenses, with Russia continuing to object to the U.S. proposal to establish defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and reiterating its own proposal regarding the Gabala and Armavir radar sites. What was absent from the statement was any indication of an intent to press forward and finish the negotiations in time for President George W. Bush to sign a new treaty before he leaves office in January 2009.

In one sense, this slow motion is worrisome because START will go out of force in December 2009, giving the new U.S. president and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, only 12 short months to decide on the follow-on to START. Without START, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) signed in May 2002 will lose the verification and counting provisions that had made this short and streamlined treaty somewhat meaningful. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) expressed this concern very well in a speech in January 2008: “We must not forget that this new concept (SORT) was buttressed by…the START Treaty.… In other words, the conceptual underpinning of the Moscow Treaty depends upon something that is about to expire.”[2]

In another sense, this lack of progress at Sochi is a good outcome. The major difference between the two sides on the future of START remains the Bush administration’s insistence that verification and monitoring measures should be binding only politically; the agreement itself may be legally binding, but its accompanying monitoring regime would not be.[3] Moreover, the administration’s concept for monitoring evidently focuses on a number of transparency measures—visits to missile deployment sites, for example—without a rigorous definition of what activities would be permitted once such an on-site visit was underway. Clear definitions characterized the START verification regime, and the Russians are at ease with such an approach.

They are not at ease with a simple transparency regime. In Russian strategic culture, transparency for the sake of trust is an alien notion. The Russian interagency establishment accepted a transparency regime only once, in the Open Skies Treaty, but that step was decided mostly to supplement the verification regime for the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which did not include the territory of the continental United States, while the Open Skies transparency regime did. The secretive Soviet and now Russian system has traditionally viewed transparency as a way for the other side to acquire intelligence information not available through the usual channels.

Moreover, although Russia currently plays somewhat fast and loose with the rule of law—Medvedev calls this tendency “legal nihilism”—the Russians are sticklers for international treaty law. A legally binding international treaty generally overrides domestic Russian law and regulation, thus a treaty is necessary for successful implementation. In particular, it provides for the access of foreigners to sensitive military and nuclear sites, which would never be permitted under a simple transparency regime agreed on an informal basis.

The mood in Moscow, therefore, is one of wait and see. Russian experts both in and out of government appear to believe that this essential difference concerning legally binding verification measures will not be resolved with the Bush administration. Perhaps more importantly, Russian analysts voice a great deal of concern about the administration’s proposed missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. They are concerned about the long-term impact of unconstrained missile defenses in Europe on the Russian strategic arsenal. They do not believe that the currently proposed deployments, an X-band radar of limited range and 10 anti-missile launchers, will have such an effect, but they do worry that the long-term outlook will not be good once the United States begins such deployments. In particular, they have become neuralgic with concern that U.S. missile defenses in Europe could eventually deny a second-strike capability to the steadily weakening Russian offensive forces.[4]

Waiting for the New President

Along with the conclusion that they cannot “get to yes” with the Bush administration on these issues, the Russians have been watching with great interest relevant developments in the U.S. presidential campaigns. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was first out of the box with a clear statement of intent to pursue further deep reductions. He pledged his allegiance to the goal articulated by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn to begin decisive steps toward achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.[5] Obama also took steps to solidify his own agenda in this regard, authoring a piece of legislation with Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that would speed up U.S. efforts to denuclearize.[6]

What took many in Moscow by surprise was Senator John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) evident willingness to join the denuclearization camp. In a speech at the University of Denver in May 2008, he declared his own allegiance to the goals laid out by Shultz and his colleagues, referring back to their origins with President Ronald Reagan at the Reykjavik summit in 1987.[7] The Russians were particularly surprised at the Denver speech because they were still chewing over McCain’s speech in Los Angeles six weeks earlier when he had roundly criticized Russia and pledged once again to throw the country out of the Group of Eight (G-8) highly industrialized countries.[8] To the Russians, the vigorous agenda of nuclear arms reductions that McCain proposed did not compute with his urge to throw them out of the G-8. With whom did he expect to negotiate?

Russians recall many U.S. political campaigns that have spurned Russia and then returned to achieve agreements at the negotiating table. The most well-known version of this narrative involves Reagan himself, who reached an agreement to denuclearize with President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit after a long journey launched when he declared the Soviet Union to be the evil empire.[9]

Some Russians seem to believe, therefore, that McCain’s anti-Russian rhetoric will be tempered should he take office, and this conviction is growing now that the Denver speech is on the table. Ironically, the talking point still exists in Moscow that Russia can make more headway with a Republican administration than a Democratic one, whose members might be overconcerned about issues such as democracy and human rights—this after eight years of a rather determined Republican campaign of democracy building.

Consensus to Move Forward, but Not on Next Steps

Although action in the negotiations is on hold for the moment, both sides seem to have ample will to move forward once Bush leaves office and the U.S. presidential transition is underway. Certainly neither country is resisting the notion that a follow-on to START must be found and urgently. Each country clearly recognizes the deadline of December 2009 and seems to accept that a successful extension or replacement of START will do much to create a positive environment when the next nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference gets underway in the spring of 2010.[10]

That said, several different options are already on the table, and others continue to be developed. For example, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn called for a straightforward extension of key provisions of the existing START in their Wall Street Journal op-ed published in January 2008.[11] Russia and the United States, meanwhile, have agreed to the more ambitious goal of seeking a follow-on agreement to START, not merely an extension of the current agreement. Worries exist in both capitals about whether such an agreement can be negotiated, ratified by the two legislatures, and brought into force in a period of little more than a year. For that reason, some experts have called on Russia and the United States to take unilateral steps to extend the life of START and also perhaps to achieve further reductions. For those seeking to achieve a negotiated agreement, the options also range across a spectrum determined by START at one end and SORT at the other.

The pros and cons of these various approaches deserve to be widely debated. Several points may be highlighted to inform the discussion.

• A simple extension of START for the five years called for in Article XVII of the treaty would be the most straightforward approach and would create time and space to achieve a reasonable, negotiated outcome. According to the terms of START, if this step is to be taken, it will have to be decided by the end of December 2008, one year before the treaty goes out of force. Both governments, however, already have moved beyond this position. Each has its own arguments for saying that START is too cumbersome, a Cold War-era treaty that should not be extended. The Russians base their arguments mainly on the expense and complexity of the START Verification Protocol. They are fond of saying that a number of the notifications and inspections required no longer make sense and should be dropped from a future agreement for a streamlined and less expensive verification arrangement. The U.S. side makes a broader argument about the treaty being no longer relevant to the more friendly environment of the current era. Although this argument has become strained in recent years, it continues to be at the center of the Bush administration’s argument against extending START.

• Agreed steps to continue the main constraints of START, such as the limitations, counting rules, and major verification provisions, on an informal basis could be a valuable goodwill gesture should negotiations continue without success after the December 2009 deadline. In fact, they could play a significant role in ensuring confidence in the continued implementation of SORT, which has depended on START remaining in force “in accordance with its terms.”[12] In particular, such steps would ensure that further reductions in strategic forces are mutually transparent and correspond to SORT guidelines. An agreement of this kind also would address the complication that START signatories include Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, who would have to agree to a formal extension of START.

• Another proposal has emerged to base further reductions in strategic nuclear forces on parallel unilateral statements made by the two presidents either immediately before the START deadline or after the deadline has passed. For example, the U.S. president might unilaterally state his intention to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces to 1,000 operationally deployed warheads while declaring his intention to eliminate warheads in storage. Such a declaration might begin to assuage Russian concerns about the upload potential of U.S. nuclear systems, a point to be discussed further below. Experts from both countries, however, have raised questions about such an approach. Similar to the transparency problem, Russians tend to see unilateral measures as a trap, forcing in motion reductions or changes in their nuclear arsenal that the United States might very well escape by reversing a unilateral decision. Some U.S. experts, by contrast, argue that the United States should never give something for nothing where the Russian nuclear arsenal is concerned, and the only way to ensure that the two countries are giving and getting in equal measure is through a legally binding negotiated reduction.

• “START-Plus” is another option for which some experts have been arguing.[13] This concept may include extending START until such time as a new treaty is negotiated, building further reductions in launch vehicles and warheads into the START structure, instituting a streamlined START verification regime, and accounting for conventional ballistic missiles under existing START counting rules. At a later stage, it would involve dealing with the problem of nondeployed warheads, for example by placing further limits on the number of delivery vehicles or creating a regime to verify nondeployed warheads, an idea the United States proposed in 1997 as the underpinning for a START III. Russian experts have not been particularly enthusiastic about the START-Plus idea because as in the case of a simple START extension, it will create both military-technical and political problems for Russia. Russian experts believe that START generated some difficulties for operating their strategic nuclear forces and in the future may hamper its planned modernization, in particular the deployment of Topol-M-type ICBMs with multiple warheads, formally called multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). A reworked START, for that reason, would not be the preferred approach in Moscow.

The Idea of an Enhanced SORT

An alternative approach, which we prefer, would be to pursue an enhanced SORT. This would not be a simple extension of SORT, which is six years old and was agreed by the past administration in Moscow and soon-to-be past administration in Washington. An enhanced SORT would not return to the complexities of START, however, which, as the Bush team is fond of repeating, was negotiated during the Cold War, now long over. We must emphasize that we do not love SORT and are joined in that view by other experts in Moscow and Washington. As one senior retired Russian diplomat commented during a recent meeting at the Carnegie Moscow Center, SORT “reflects the times, even if we are unhappy with it.”

An enhanced SORT would in fact remedy SORT’s major weaknesses while addressing the main disagreements that have sprung up between the two sides over its implementation. For the Russian side, the major goal would be to maintain a semblance of parity with the United States while addressing the basic problem with SORT, the lack of acceptable counting rules and corresponding verification procedures. For the U.S. side, the major goal would be to maintain sufficient transparency with respect to Russian strategic nuclear forces while making sure that force cuts would not be too expensive for the United States and would be acceptable in force structure terms, i.e., would not require the United States to move immediately from a triad of nuclear forces to a dyad.

These goals may be achieved by structuring an enhanced SORT so that the upper limit allowed for strategic nuclear forces would be 1,700 deployed warheads, to be achieved by the end of 2012. Presently, this number is the lower end of the 1,700-2,200 reduction level called for in SORT. The main issue to be addressed within this limit would be the counting rules, in particular how to account for the possibility that conventional warheads could be placed on Trident-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) or other delivery platforms and how to understand the U.S. principle of counting only “operationally deployed” warheads.

For the conventional warheads, the United States should simply agree to count them as nuclear warheads. Otherwise, we will end up with verification measures that are much too intrusive and to which neither Russia nor the United States would agree at the current time. Such a counting rule should be acceptable because the United States only plans to deploy a few tens of such conventional missiles. Although the overall treaty limit remains at 1,700, counting them as nuclear will only slightly impact the U.S. strategic nuclear potential.

As far as counting operationally deployed warheads is concerned, Russia is not particularly worried about the United States storing warheads, as also has been the case with all past strategic arms control and reduction treaties. Russia is most concerned about the number of launchers that remain in deployment and the number of warhead re-entry vehicles (RVs) that it would be possible to load on those launchers. Russian experts call this “upload potential.”

In START, this problem was addressed through a rule on downloading, according to which not more than two warhead RVs could be removed from a launcher without converting the MIRV dispensing platform, called the “bus,” to carry fewer RVs. Even then, the maximum number of warhead RVs that could be removed—and credited against START limits—was four. The number of types of missiles that could be downloaded and the overall number of downloaded warheads were limited as well.

Interestingly, at the time START was negotiated, Moscow was interested in much more liberal restrictions on downloading than Washington. Now, as has happened many times in the history of strategic arms control, the positions of the sides have reversed. Because converting MIRV platforms is an expensive and lengthy process that sometimes requires additional flight tests, this downloading rule is in fact a tangible constraint on upload potential, particularly if buses with a smaller number of warheads have not been earlier tested on a given missile type.

We are not proposing to adhere to this downloading rule but would look for a cheaper and more acceptable approach that would give the United States some flexibility and give Russia some reassurance about U.S. upload potential. For example, the two sides could agree to liberalize the START downloading rule: not more than 3-4 RVs could be removed without converting the bus and not more than 4-5 with such a conversion.

Russia could easily agree to a ceiling of 1,700 warheads because it would help to save money by not having to extend the service life of some obsolete systems. It would also allow Russia to allocate more funding to a reasonable force modernization, including early-warning and command and control systems. The Russian triad has been shrinking and, regardless of any treaty, will have no more than 1,800-2,000 warheads by 2012, of which about 70 percent will be deployed on obsolete delivery systems or launchers with an extended service life. Under an enhanced SORT, by 2012, Russia could have a more modern force with about 300 ICBMs (700 warheads), along with eight to nine submarines (600 warheads), and 50 bombers with 400 air-launched cruise missiles. As an option, Russia could make the transition to a more economically rational dyad that would include the same force structure at sea and 350 ICBMs (1,100 warheads) on land. In this case, the bombers would be removed completely from the strategic nuclear arsenal and converted for regional missions.

The United States might find it more difficult. With a limit of 1,700 warheads by 2012, its force structure might include 14 submarines with 336 Trident-2 missiles and approximately 1,000 warheads (3 per missile); 300 ICBMs of the Minuteman III type, with one warhead per missile; and about 400 cruise missile warheads on 40 bombers. (The remaining bombers would be redeployed to conventional missions.) If the United States decided to save money by making no changes in MIRV dispensing platforms, leaving 4-5 warheads on each SLBM, then it would have to reduce further the number of Minuteman III ICBMs and bombers with cruise missiles, or it would have to remove two to four submarines from the strategic nuclear forces.

Thus, the United States would find itself faced with some difficult choices. The more severe the constraints on downloading, the more money the U.S. side would have to spend on converting MIRV platforms, or the more ICBMs, submarines, and bombers it would have to retire from its strategic arsenal.

Much will depend here on the wisdom of Russian diplomacy to achieve an optimal outcome. Maybe even a large U.S. upload potential is less dangerous if it involves converting the Trident-2 MIRV bus, although Russia always finds it useful to achieve the maximum retirement of U.S. strategic weapon systems. In order to gain an outcome that would be more acceptable for Washington, it might be possible to give ground on some issues that are important for Moscow, such as the idea of a ban on deploying strategic nuclear forces outside national territory, counting real loadings (instead of an agreed average number) of weapons on bombers, or limiting missile defenses in Europe.

Still, depending on the new downloading rules, U.S. upload potential would be considerable: 1,000-2,000 warheads. In order to hedge against this potential, Russia might rely on some military-technical options in addition to an enhanced SORT. Foremost among such measures would be maintaining a strategic weapons production base in case Russia must quickly respond to a U.S. upload campaign. Russia has only one option for such a response, deployment of mobile Topol-M missiles equipped with MIRVs. Construction of new silos for fixed ICBMs, bombers, or submarines would simply be too expensive and take too long. At the moment, Russia is maintaining a policy of “balanced modernization” among the three legs of its triad; as a result, it only has enough resources to produce five to seven Topol-M ICBMs per year.

If Russia could expand that production potential to 30-40 missiles per year, along with the necessary RVs, then it would be able to add 1,000 warheads to its deployed strategic arsenal over three to four years if it had to do so in response to a U.S. buildup. Such a missile force would have high accuracy and robust command and control potential and sufficient launcher survivability. It would also have efficient countermeasures to any likely missile defense system. If Russia were able to maintain the production capability for such a force, then U.S. upload potential would not cause Moscow as much worry.

After 2012, Russia and the United States could consider deeper reductions, to a level of 1,000-1,200 deployed warheads, along with reasonable and verifiable reductions in strategic force readiness, which would have the added benefit of easing the transition in both countries from a triad to a dyad force structure. We should not fool ourselves; such measures are complicated by themselves, and they require a lot of work to resolve complex, interconnected problems, among them, what to do about missile defense systems, highly accurate long-range conventional weapons, space weapons, nonstrategic nuclear weapons (“tactical” nuclear weapons), the expansion of NATO and adaptation of the CFE Treaty, inclusion of third countries in further nuclear reductions, and strengthening of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Finally, the question of warhead elimination is crucial. Eliminating warheads will remain a largely symbolic activity and one expensive and difficult to verify if it is not taking place in the context of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). If an FMCT is negotiated, it will be possible to pursue agreed methods to verify and dispose of nuclear warheads and material. This is a completely new and hopeful but thus far largely unexplored sphere of nuclear disarmament.

The New Offense-Defense Relationship

To address these complex problems, one must begin by exploring current U.S. and Russian views of the offense-defense relationship. Strategic stability in the final decades of the Cold War was based on a shared understanding of that relationship, which was first enshrined in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks interim agreement (SALT I), both of which were signed in 1972. With the 2002 demise of the ABM Treaty, the United States initiated new missile defense deployments in the United States and in Europe and continues to develop new missile defense technologies for deployment either at the theater or the national level. At the same time, Russia continues to maintain its single national missile defense site with nuclear armed interceptors around Moscow and has been building, deploying, and selling highly effective theater defense missile systems, for example the S-300 and S-400.

At the Sochi summit in April 2008, the two sides continued to disagree about the need to deploy missile defense components in the Czech Republic and Poland, but they agreed to continue talking about how Russian and U.S. proposals to address the issue could be reconciled. In particular, they agreed to continue fleshing out confidence-building measures that would assuage Russian concerns about the Czech and Polish sites. Because one of the proposals—having Russian military observers at the deployment sites—would require the approval of Prague and Warsaw, the confidence-building proposals involve third parties and remain far from agreement. Nevertheless, even President Vladimir Putin, who had been the staunchest critic of the U.S. missile defense proposal, offered a “certain cautious optimism” during the Sochi press conference.[14]

Thus, the relationship between missile offense and defense has entered new territory, but there have been no real opportunities for Russia and the United States together to consider the full implications. For that reason, the two countries should sit down at an early time to discuss precisely this topic. The relationship between missile offense and defense could become the first subject of a new set of consultations on strategic stability.

We are aware that there are bad precedents. Strategic offense and defense negotiations were conducted in parallel throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and whereas the offense talks led eventually to START, the defense talks were largely sterile, devoted to a long exchange of angry views with little in the way of substantive outcome. That result is undoubtedly a product of the fact that neither side wanted to place new constraints on strategic missile defenses. In fact, some in the United States were already on the road to planning the demise of the ABM Treaty.

We should do what we can to avoid this precedent because a thorough and good-faith airing of differences on the defense topic will be the key to developing the foundation for very deep reductions in offensive forces as a follow-on to a proposed enhanced SORT. Moreover, without such a good-faith exchange and eventual move toward consensus, it is difficult to see how progress can be made on the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, as called for by Shultz et al. In fact, the need to move toward agreement on missile defenses is a major point that has been reiterated by Russian experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center since these four senior statesmen published their first Wall Street Journal op-ed in January 2007.

At this time, we are not endorsing a new negotiated agreement on missile defenses, for there are too many issues to be explored before either side will be ready to make that commitment. Instead, we are proposing a serious and detailed strategic stability consultation that would first air differences, then turn to developing specific ways in which the United States and Russia might work together in the missile defense arena.

This consultation should have two parts. The first would be an assessment of ballistic missile threats to the Russian and U.S. homelands and threats to allied territories in the Asian and European theaters and a joint consideration of optimal sites and modes of ballistic missile defense deployments to counter these threats. To the extent possible, the assessment should include sensitive information provided by both sides, to back up their own analyses of the threat. This process may also include a joint examination of the missile tests of Iran and other countries of concern, capitalizing on the experience of the START negotiations. During that period, Russia and the United States dedicated special attention to determining ways to verify the range and throw weight of ballistic missiles during tests.

The second part of the consultation would involve an exploration of how to develop significant cooperation between the United States and Russia on missile defenses. This aspiration, first expressed by Reagan at the time of his 1983 “Star Wars” speech, has never come to fruition, although progress has been made in some areas. In particular, the NATO-Russia Council has served as the umbrella for a productive working group on missile defense cooperation in the European theater.[15]

This working group has developed joint definitions of terminology and procedures for interacting on missile defense training, examined how Russian and NATO technologies might be used together in a theater missile defense system, and exercised missile defenses together over the last five years. In the comments of one Russian military expert, NATO and Russia have progressed greatly toward missile defense interoperability in the European theater thanks to the activities of this working group.[16]

Unfortunately, the demonstrable successes of this group have done nothing to dampen tensions over U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in the Czech Republic and Poland. The most successful technical discussions cannot overturn political disagreement, a reality with which the parties will have to grapple at the political level. Nonetheless, a detailed discussion of potential areas of technical cooperation, beginning with a thorough examination of the Russian Gabala and Armavir radar offers already on the table,[17] may play a useful role in addressing these tensions.

This area of consultation should also consider the legal and procedural issues that would facilitate the exchange of information and technologies that would be required to develop joint cooperation on missile defenses. Such issues have significantly complicated other areas of technical cooperation in the 15 years since the demise of the Soviet Union, such as interactions over the International Space Station. Nevertheless, the space program has resulted in successful technology cooperation between Russia and the United States, and its experiences should be mined to develop the agenda for legal consultations over missile defenses.

Although these consultations cannot by themselves clear the air of the grievances that have built up in Russia over missile defenses in Europe, they would begin to develop a new dynamic environment for considering the future of the offense-defense relationship. Because the consultations will take some time to accomplish this result, they should be backstopped from the beginning with confidence-building measures related to missile defenses. These would help early on to develop a better political environment for the discussions and highlight issues that could be fed into the agenda of the consultations. The experience of the NATO-Russia Council working group on missile defenses already provides some good examples of fruitful U.S.-Russian bilateral cooperation in command-post exercises within the context of the broader NATO community.

Another precedent of confidence-building measures that has in fact never been exploited is the New York Protocols of 1997 on delineation of strategic and theater missile defense systems. Russia and the United States negotiated these technical criteria and measures to improve mutual confidence in the scope and nature of the missile defense systems then contemplated or in deployment. The measures particularly emphasized a detailed exchange of technical information about Russian and U.S. missile defense programs. It is time to re-examine these confidence-building measures to see if they could be modified to assuage contemporary concerns about missile defenses, whether in Europe or at the national level.[18]

A third idea for confidence building, which should be rather straightforward to implement, would be to proceed with long-running plans to open a Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) for monitoring missile launches. The agreement regarding the JDEC was first signed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Putin at their June 2000 meeting in Moscow. Over the next several years, implementation of the center fell prey to bureaucratic issues between Moscow and Washington such as the question of which side would pay for upgrading the school building that had been selected for the site. In addition, the general disinterest of the Bush administration toward negotiated agreements with Russia, especially when negotiated by earlier presidents, served to shelve the JDEC further. The agreement remains intact, however, and the center could be rapidly established as a venue for confidence building on missile defenses.

A Solution on the Czech Republic and Poland?

This serious new examination of the offense-defense relationship could be accompanied in the near term by a formal diplomatic process to resolve the existing differences over the planned U.S. missile defense deployments in the Czech Republic and Poland. If the next U.S. administration decides to proceed with this plan, the basis of a compromise is already clear: Russia would agree to the assembly of the radar and construction of anti-missile base infrastructure as long as it receives technical assurances and is able to monitor on-site that this defense is not directed at Russian deterrence assets. The United States would agree to postpone deployment of interceptors until Iran successfully tests long-range ballistic missiles. Assessment of such tests would be done jointly, on the basis of work already accomplished in the consultative process outlined above, to provide objective analyses of range and throw weight.

Although the basis of a compromise exists, the two sides currently differ on technical details and the question of how to structure an agreement; it will fall to the next administration to clear up these issues. We assume that if the Iranian missile threat is taken seriously in the United States, then it would be worthwhile to Washington to make concessions to Russia, to reassure it, and secure its cooperation, provided that Russian demands do not obstruct the very concept of defense. For example, Moscow’s claim that the Gabala and Armavir radars are an alternative to the radar and interceptor sites in central Europe is groundless and should not be accepted. On the other hand, U.S. insistence on reciprocal on-site inspections at Moscow ballistic missile defense sites is purely political and should be dropped, because this system is of no concern to the United States or NATO.

If and when Russia and the United States reach agreement on this matter, the Gabala, Armavir, and Czech radars might be linked to each other and to the proposed Moscow JDEC and current NORAD command centers and, if need be, to a proposed NATO command center in Brussels. Also, real work could start on making U.S. ground-based interceptors in Europe, sea-based Aegis systems, and other anti-missile systems interoperable with Moscow missile defense, S-300 and S-400 systems, thus laying the ground for the development of a joint or partially common ballistic missile defense. By that time, the work of the consultative groups outlined above should provide necessary and valuable input.

It may be that Russia and the United States never come to develop a new treaty on missile defenses but instead develop an array of cooperative programs that in essence succeed in managing both sides’ understanding of this complicated issue as it relates to strategic offensive forces. In that case, Russia and the United States could proceed with deep reductions in offensive forces, having confidence that the other could not derive advantage on the defense side from that process. Thus, two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States would no longer need to sustain mutual nuclear deterrence as a foundation of their strategic relationship, and they would no longer worry about the destabilizing effect of ballistic missile defenses.


Although Russia and the United States are entering a negotiating interregnum, both sides have ample will to move forward once Bush leaves office and the U.S. presidential transition is underway. Neither country is resisting the notion that a follow-on to START must be found and urgently. Furthermore, interesting proposals are already on the table as to how to replace START and cooperate on future missile defense programs. Therefore, this pause can be thought of as a rare opportunity to think carefully about how to move forward on the strategic nuclear arms agenda.

This process can also be a cooperative one. Historically, when a new leader arrives in power in Washington or Moscow, new arms control proposals would be developed unilaterally, then presented with great fanfare in a speech by the new U.S. president or Soviet general secretary. The negotiations would then begin, but only after a sometimes lengthy period of summitry and ministerial consultations.

The transition this time may be different. First, the talks between the Bush and Putin administrations have been productive, already resulting in understandings on some key issues. In particular, the two sides have agreed not simply to sustain the existing START, but to negotiate a follow-on agreement that would streamline some of START’s more complex verification measures. Furthermore, they have agreed that this follow-on must be legally binding in nature. Second, both sides recognize that there is only a short period in which to work before START expires in December 2009 and no time should be wasted in conducting the normal cycle of summitry and government consultations. Most importantly, communications between the two countries have improved markedly since the end of the Cold War. Although political tensions have sometimes been at nearly a fever pitch in the past year, close discussions have nevertheless continued and not only on a government-to-government level. Nongovernmental experts have also been able to work together more closely and productively than they could have in the past.

For these reasons, we urge that maximum cooperation between Moscow and Washington be maintained during this transition period so that talks can begin very early in the new U.S. administration on finding a follow-on to START and resolving differences over missile defenses. We propose the formula of an enhanced SORT, which we believe has the potential to satisfy current requirements for the strategic forces in each country while laying the groundwork for further and deeper cuts in the future. By building on the arms treaty signed by Bush and Putin, this approach also would incorporate results achieved by those administrations. Such a proposal, effectively an acknowledgement of the Bush-Putin contribution, could be important to gaining the broadest possible political support for the negotiations going forward.

Despite the poor political atmosphere between Russia and the United States, there are good opportunities to achieve a timely replacement to START and to begin developing new joint cooperation on national missile defenses. We have no time to lose, but we also have new potential to work together through this transition period.

Alexei Arbatov is head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Economy and International Relations and a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center. He previously served as a deputy in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma. Rose Gottemoeller is director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, former deputy undersecretary of energy for defense nuclear nonproliferation in the Department of Energy, and a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association.


1. For the full text of the Sochi Statement, see Office of the Press Secretary, U.S. Department of State, “U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration,” April 6, 2008.

2. See “Lugar Speech at Conference on Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction,” January 30, 2008, found at http://lugar.senate.gov.

3. Of course, the verification disagreement is not the only difference between Moscow and Washington in the negotiations. The Russians are also very concerned about the lack of counting rules for warheads and launchers if START expires and SORT is left to stand alone.

4. For more on this issue, see George Lewis and Ted Postol, “European Missile Defense: The Technological Basis of Russian Concerns,” Arms Control Today, October 2007, pp. 13-18.

5. For a summary of the steps contemplated, see George P. Shultz, Sidney D. Drell, and James E. Goodby, eds., Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2008). See also George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13. Both essays can be found at www.nti.org/c_press/c3_opeds.html.

6. The full name of this legislation is the Obama-Hagel Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act (S. 1977). U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction is only one aspect of the legislation, which emphasizes securing nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials worldwide by 2012. It also supports a new look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, pursuing a fissile material cutoff treaty, and other major nonproliferation goals. See “Senate Passes Obama-Hagel Provision Aimed at Preventing Nuclear Terrorism,” September 18, 2007, found at http://obama.senate.gov.

7. McCain also stated his commitment to a broad agenda of arms control and nonproliferation goals, including seeking the reduction and perhaps elimination of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and reconsidering the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty with allies and the U.S. Senate. See “Remarks by John McCain on Nuclear Security,” May 27, 2008, found at www.johnmccain.com.

8. See “Remarks by John McCain to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council,” March 26, 2008, found at www.johnmccain.com.

9. An excellent new history on this topic is Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007).

10. For a thoughtful commentary on the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, see Rebecca Johnson, “Politics and Protection: Why the 2005 NPT Review Conference Failed,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 80, Autumn 2005.

11. See Schultz, Drell, and Goodby, Reykjavik Revisited, pp. 78-79.

12. Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, art. II.

13. This description of “START-Plus” is drawn from the presentation “START Anew: The Future of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” by Daryl G. Kimball made at the Carnegie Moscow Center on May 12, 2008. The comments of the Russian experts are also drawn from this seminar.

14. Wade Boese, “Bush, Putin Leave Arms Disputes Unsettled,” Arms Control Today, May 2008, pp. 27-28.

15. For more on this NATO-Russia working group, see “NATO Topics: Missile Defence,” May 16, 2008, found at o.int/issues/missile_defence/index.html.

16. Russian military expert, conversation with authors, Carnegie Moscow Center, May 2008.

17. For a review of issues surrounding the Gabala radar offer, see “Putin Offers Further Missile-Defense Ideas,” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, June 8, 2007, found at www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/06/afd27c1c-8fcb-4484-a8c9-a56503c456bd.html.

18. For full texts of the protocols, which are related to national and theater missile defenses, see www.nti.org/db/nisprofs/russia/treaties/abmdescr.htm.

With the Sochi Declaration in April 2008, the poker players in Washington and Moscow effectively laid down their strategic arms control cards for the last time in the Bush and Putin administrations. They reiterated their intention to carry out further reductions in strategic offensive arms, they pledged to continue development of a legally binding post-START arrangement, and they restated their commitment to Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for eventual total elimination of nuclear weapons. (Continue)

“The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at Forty: Addressing Current and Future Challenges”



Arms Control Association (ACA) Annual Meeting and Luncheon
Monday, June 16, 2008, 9:30AM - 2:30PM

1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.

The 2008 Arms Control Association annual meeting and luncheon focuses on the 40th anniversary of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and how the global nonproliferation regime can be strengthened to last another 40 years and beyond.

9:30 a.m. Panel Discussion: Addressing the Challenges Facing the NPT

Click here for the transcript of the morning panel.

  • Andrew K. Semmel, Private Consultant at AKS Consulting and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation.
  • Sharon Squassoni, Senior Associate in the Nonproliferation Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

11:30 a.m. Luncheon Address: Making the 2010 NPT Review Conference a Success

Click here for a transcript of the luncheon.

1:00 p.m. Panel Discussion: How the Next President Can Strengthen the Nonproliferation System

Click here for the transcript of the afternoon panel.

Click here for CSPAN Coverage

  • Stephen E. Biegun, Representative for campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.); Corporate Officer and Vice President of International Governmental Affairs for Ford Motor Company and former National Security Advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
  • John D. Holum, Representative for campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.); former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and former Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Keynote by Ambassador Sergio Duarte, with a panel featuring representatives from the Obama and McCain campaigns.

Campaign 2004: The Politics of Arms Control

2004 Presidential Election Special Section

Miles Pomper

In the 2000 U.S. presidential election between Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, discussions of arms control, nonproliferation, and foreign policy were rare as the candidates chose to focus on domestic issues.

Yet, George W. Bush’s first term as president has been dominated by momentous foreign policy and arms control events from the September 11 terrorist attacks to nuclear crises with North Korea and Iran and perhaps, most centrally, the war with Iraq—the first war launched with the declared goal of ending a country’s efforts to develop and use weapons of mass destruction.

So, as the 2004 presidential elections approach, a serious debate has broken out on the campaign trail about the appropriate role for arms control policies in U.S. national security, particularly when it comes to reducing the threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Bush and each of his potential Democratic challengers have written or spoken in detail on such issues as how the United States should reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the best approach to negotiating with North Korea, and the value of researching a potential new generation of nuclear weapons.

Indeed, arms control issues may well take on a significance not witnessed since the 1964 re-election campaign of President Lyndon Johnson. To highlight Senator Barry Goldwater’s hawkish views, Johnson ran the famous “Daisy” television advertisement showing a young girl picking daisies amidst the countdown to nuclear war.

Nevertheless, these issues and the 2004 candidates’ positions on them are not widely known or understood by the public or the commentators who will be covering the race. Given our long-term commitment to public education, as well as the current importance of these issues, this edition of Arms Control Today includes special coverage and reporting on the politics of arms control in 2004.

In this section, Alton Frye, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, analyzes the role that arms control issues are likely to play in the 2004 presidential election. In addition, led by Managing Editor Karen Yourish, our staff has pulled together summary profiles of Bush and the Democratic contenders that outline their views on arms control and nonproliferation issues. The profiles are based on extensive research of the candidates’ records and public statements, as well as background interviews with their key foreign policy advisers.





In the 2000 U.S. presidential election between Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, discussions of arms control...

Election 2004: The National Security Context

Special Section: Campaign 2004

By Alton Frye

In U.S. politics, it is not always “the economy, stupid.” However often economic and domestic concerns have dominated U.S. political campaigns, national security and foreign policy issues also play frequent roles in shaping voter choices, especially for president.

Skip through American history and note the many instances in which international security problems, often intersecting with economic difficulties, impinged on U.S. politics. From the frictions with Britain and France and pirates that dominated the opening decades of U.S. diplomacy to the issues of war and peace that were central to the country’s emergence as a world power in the 20th century, presidents were forced to confront hard trade-offs among foreign policy choices and domestic campaign imperatives. Consider only the abrupt swings in Lyndon Johnson’s political fortunes that occurred between the 1964 and 1968 presidential elections. Fears of his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater’s nuclear recklessness contributed significantly to Johnson’s 1964 political landslide, even spawning an entire organization of “Scientists and Engineers for Johnson-Humphrey.” Yet, four years later, LBJ was forced to make an anguished withdrawal amid the Vietnam catastrophe.

These examples offer a partial context for anticipating the 2004 political campaign. The contours of the race are already visible, and they include a heavy weight for national security and foreign policy concerns. There will be arguments over the balance of attention the administration has given to unilateralism versus multilaterism, to military operations abroad versus measures to secure the homeland, to free-trade negotiations versus protecting American jobs, to pre-emptive action against plausible threats versus investments in intelligence to confirm actual dangers. Those contours, however, remain fluid, especially because of possible—in fact, likely—surprises on the international scene. A North Korean nuclear test, the assassination of President General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, collapse of the Karzai regime in Afghanistan, or a major additional terrorist success for the elusive Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda—any of these developments would complicate policy and politics severely, just as progress in any of those arenas would bolster the administration’s claim to effective international performance.

Bush’s Re-election Campaign

By all accounts, President George W. Bush and his advisers have been preoccupied with what they consider the lethal lesson of the first Bush presidency, namely, that domestic concerns trump even a successful foreign policy when it comes to voters’ behavior in the next election. After what was arguably the most successful major diplomatic-military campaign in American history—the mobilization of a global coalition to repel the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991—George H. W. Bush soared to astronomical levels of public approval only to lose the election the next year.

Moreover, the anxieties of the Bush team are well grounded in history. Time and again, even successful war leaders are dumped by voters, notwithstanding the general tendency of citizens to rally round the commander-in-chief during a crisis. Franklin D. Roosevelt surely benefited from the latter tendency in 1944 as the Second World War moved toward a climax, but Winston Churchill was unceremoniously removed from office a few months later.

It is understandable, therefore, that a slow sigh of relief has been rising from the White House as rather encouraging economic reports have blended with highly touted legislation to revamp Medicare with prescription benefits to improve Bush’s domestic political standing. Yet, it may be premature. In the end, Bush’s political future is likely to hinge on the public’s view of Bush’s performance on national security concerns as much as economic ones, and foreign policy issues may not play out to the benefit of the White House. In the end, voters may be forced to decide if they should hail and reward Bush for the strong leadership he exhibited after the terrorist attacks of September 11 or punish him for the unease they feel over protracted engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A New Terrain

No one can doubt that Bush has altered the terrain and the terminology of the national security debate. He has done so partly by force of circumstance, compelled to respond to the unprecedented implications of the September 11 attacks. Yet, quite apart from that traumatic event, Bush introduced sharply different perspectives and preferences to U.S. policy. From his campaign themes forward, Bush has displayed greater kinship to the style and substance of the Reagan presidency than to those of his father. That is nowhere more evident than in Bush’s habit of drawing lines in the sand comparable to Ronald Reagan’s famous declaration about the “evil empire” and his sharp-edged demands for Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Sometimes, however, a reach for moral clarity can breed political confusion, as one may argue was the case in Bush’s rhetorical flourish against the “axis of evil.”

Like Reagan, Bush’s rhetoric is polarizing: it invigorates his fellow Republicans while infuriating Democrats. Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s surge toward the nomination has drawn strength not only from the sense among Democratic base voters that they were robbed in Florida in 2000 but from their opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq and his perceived abandonment of America’s bipartisan traditions in foreign policy. In going to the polls, voters are likely to respond to Bush’s general approach to America’s international role as much as his policies on individual issues.

Nonetheless, many voters will find it essential, if difficult, to draw a scrupulous ledger of the assets and liabilities of Bush’s foreign policy record. There is much to be listed on the positive side of that ledger, and critics would do well to stipulate as much. Bush has taken the most advanced position of any president in supporting a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has made multibillion-dollar commitments to the global effort to deal with HIV/AIDS, and his recasting of U.S. foreign assistance programs into the Millennium Challenge Account will, if funded, represent major improvements. He provided sober and determined leadership after September 11, earning wide admiration. With more agility than many expected, Bush shifted from a wary initial posture toward China as a strategic competitor to forge what knowledgeable observers describe as the best relationship the two countries have known since the Tiananmen Square crisis of the late 1980s. The president will able to tout these and other aspects of his foreign policy record as the 2004 race proceeds. It is on other issues that challenges will center.

Consider for a moment developments in arms control. The vocabulary of arms control has become almost taboo, but Bush has certainly effected clear changes in arms control and nonproliferation policy and has been more balanced in his approach than is often advertised. No president before him has placed such emphasis on the danger that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) could lead to their acquisition by terrorists, presenting a threat that would be less susceptible to traditional means of deterrence. Bush’s highlighting of the enhanced risks of proliferation in an age of terrorism is the baseline for his national security policy, a formulation that is both sound and politically astute.

Nevertheless, this central preoccupation has bred controversial initiatives. Disregarding domestic resistance and nearly universal international opposition, Bush moved methodically—some would say gratuitously—to terminate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to pursue an as yet unproved national missile defense system. Yet, he coupled the action with commitments for further reductions in strategic offensive nuclear forces. Those commitments were embodied in a new treaty with Russia, albeit one of limited duration and scope. The president opposed reconsideration of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty but promised continued adherence to a testing moratorium. The latter policy, however, grew suspect with the administration’s plans to investigate new types of nuclear weapons and shorten the lead time for the possible resumption of testing, if deemed necessary for such hypothetical missions as deep-penetration bunker busters. Reflecting the administration’s skepticism of anything less than nearly perfect verification arrangements, the Bush team shied away from attempts to enhance inspection and enforcement provisions in the Biological Weapons Convention.

These elements in the Bush policy produce a complex mosaic that does not lend itself to single, definitive characterization. One thinks of Harold Laski’s aphorism that, when socialism came to America, it would be called capitalism. When arms control comes to the Bush administration, it is called defense policy.

A Controversial Strategy

A serious difficulty in the administration’s approach—one sure to attract criticism in the coming election season—has been a tendency toward inflammatory language and provocative concepts. Read as a whole, the administration’s National Security Strategy offered many reasonable, forward-looking dispositions, including acknowledgement of a host of issues that can only be addressed through effective international collaboration. The entire document came under a cloud, however, because of its brief assertion of a doctrine of pre-emption and a determination that the United States should strive to maintain its military dominance more or less permanently. Those ideas were bound to elicit worry and condemnation in many quarters; they were hardly rallying cries for other states to join in efforts to manage the wider array of shared problems identified in the paper.

Particularly controversial is the theory of pre-emption, and that controversy grows more serious with the failure to find expected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Other rationales for the war to remove Saddam Hussein may persuade many people, but the pre-war depiction of the Iraqi threat from weapons of mass destruction was primary, and the collapse of that argument is likely to heighten skepticism about any similar future U.S. claims. Though many Americans want to give their president the benefit of the doubt in such matters, especially after the attacks of September 11, international sentiment is rock solid in demanding that the concept of pre-emption be tied to an imminent threat of attack—that means a very high standard for intelligence, one the United States was clearly not able to meet during the months before the invasion of Iraq. Pre-emption without intelligence is Mars without eyes; the god of war may strike the innocent as often as the guilty.

Obviously, the verdict on Bush’s actions in Iraq hinges on developments still to come. It is already apparent, however, that the president acted on the basis of twin hypotheses, both of which proved dubious. The military decision rested on a worst-case assumption, crediting Hussein not only with WMD programs but with available chemical and perhaps biological weapons that might be used or passed to terrorists. The plans for postwar operations relied on a best-case assumption that Americans would be greeted as liberators and supported by functioning Iraqi institutions that could meet many of the country’s security and social needs. The president will be hard-pressed to obscure the inadequacy of those assumptions, even though he undoubtedly feels that the capture and expected prosecution of Hussein amply justify U.S. policy.

In the Iraq case, U.S. pre-emption certainly eroded the UN Security Council foundations for collaboration. Impatient though Americans may be with regard to the United Nations, there remains a strong desire in public opinion to share the burdens of international security with other nations. Only the most skillful diplomacy and flexible policies toward the transition in Iraq will enable the administration to engage UN and other collaborators in the process of accelerating the return of sovereignty to Iraqis before next November’s U.S. election.

The Iraq intervention stands in marked contrast to the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The administration’s justification for stern action after the 2001 terrorist attacks was scarcely questioned at home or abroad. Moreover, the president’s demeanor and the emphatic success of dislodging the Taliban from government as appropriate retaliation for harboring bin Laden’s terrorists deserve the nearly universal praise they won. Though tentative and fragile, progress toward restoring a credible and representative government in the face of chronic warlordism is one of the administration’s most impressive diplomatic accomplishments. Unless things fall apart badly for the Karzai government in Kabul, Bush will carry into his election campaign credible claims of historic results in Afghanistan.

One notes that in Afghanistan the president moved quickly to correct a damaging slip of the tongue. His initial reference to a “crusade” gave way to more careful and suitable descriptions, offering reassurances that the assault on the Taliban and al Qaeda was in no sense directed against Muslims in general. Yet, Bush’s own instinct for confrontational language, together with insensitive speech by others associated with his administration, has produced a troubling pattern of rhetoric that impedes effective policy implementation. No matter how confident the president was of U.S. military capability in Iraq, it was in no sense helpful for him to taunt the Iraqi resistance by the ill-chosen phrase “Bring’em on.” The hundreds of American and other personnel killed since he uttered those words are a profound rebuke to gratuitous tough talk. Similarly, a nation devoted to the rule of law was not well served by Bush’s recent sneer about “international law, maybe I better consult my lawyer.” These lapses of language diminish the president personally while eroding respect for the policies he espouses.

Counterproductive Labeling

Of all the rhetorical problems generated by the administration, the president’s ad lib remarks are less serious than the deliberate but utterly counterproductive labeling of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “axis of evil.” Part of the difficulty with that formulation was its ahistorical analogy. Unlike the original Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Japan, there is no Tripartite Pact formally linking the three targets of Bush’s ire. (Even with a formal treaty relationship, the original Axis powers were more wary of each other than actively cooperative—Theo Sommer described them as “accomplices without complicity.”) Moreover, the operational ties among them appear tenuous and occasional at most.

If the phrase “axis of evil” fails as an accurate description, it was positively pernicious as a basis for dealing with the three countries. Facing a Bush doctrine that contemplated pre-emption, would any of the regimes portrayed in such terms be receptive to accommodation with Washington? Or would they court favor elsewhere while seeking to bolster their own indigenous capabilities to thwart U.S. aims? Evidently, linking the three countries rhetorically did nothing to ease the path for U.S. policy to deal with each of them individually. It also triggered further doubts among close U.S. allies that Washington had a coherent view of the three quite varied situations or sound approaches to cope with them.

One wonders, however, if that notorious phrase, coupled with the demonstrated readiness of the Bush administration to use force, has played a part in nudging Iran onto a more constructive course. As evidence mounted of clandestine Iranian programs to develop nuclear capabilities it had pledged in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to forgo, European countries took the diplomatic lead. They did so, however, with U.S. military power actively engaged both west and east of Iran, and that fact surely constituted an important backdrop to the mission to Tehran by the German, British, and French foreign ministers. From those encounters and the subsequent negotiations under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, there emerged a far more forthcoming posture by the Iranian government, which submitted to intrusive inspections to guarantee that its nuclear programs complied with their professedly peaceful purposes. The intersection of U.S. and Iranian politics remains prickly, with little prospect of early normalization, but on the central issue of weapons of mass destruction, 2004 finds more promising restraints on Iranian efforts than had previously existed. Bush cannot be denied some degree of credit for that result. The same now appears true of the breakthrough in fresh commitments by Libya to curb its WMD ambitions and subject its activities to extensive international inspections.

The North Korea Problem

Harder to assess are the status and trajectory of the third member of the alleged axis, North Korea. It is tempting to blame Pyongyang alone for the heightened tensions and the breakup of the Clinton-era Agreed Framework to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Although details remain obscure, most analysts accept that the Kim Jong Il regime was cheating on the earlier deal by pursuing a secret project to produce enriched uranium for weapons (though that kind of program was not specifically prohibited in the Agreed Framework). Bush’s diplomacy, infected by the president’s intense antipathy for the North Korean totalitarian, contributed to North Korea’s expulsion of inspectors and withdrawal from the NPT. There is no virtue in assuming that a country’s nominal allegiance to the NPT solves the problem of proliferation; North Korea (and presumably Iran) was not reluctant to conduct weapons-related programs under cover of NPT membership, even when that membership was supplemented by more elaborate monitoring arrangements for the facilities identified in the Agreed Framework. There is even less virtue in taking steps that tempt a would-be proliferator to walk way from the NPT regime entirely.

Again, one records a mixed verdict on the administration’s policy toward North Korea. Better to know and confront Pyongyang’s nuclear cheating than to ignore it, but better still to shape a diplomacy designed to deal with the problem in a timely manner. There is merit in the Bush team’s determination to shift the focus from bilateral dealings between Washington and Pyongyang to six-power talks involving other countries with key stakes in the issue. Unfortunately, the tempo of those talks seems much too slow, if North Korea is in fact taking steps to fabricate additional nuclear materials and weaponize them in the near future. North Korea’s intentions and activities remain shrouded in mystery, and it is not yet clear whether Bush will enter the re-election campaign saddled with grave misgivings about his handling of this threat or boosted by progress in the six-power talks toward a sounder bargain to constrain it. Although the administration thwarted Congressman Curt Weldon’s proposal to lead a delegation to the DPRK in 2003, the New Year’s announcement that Pyongyang will receive an unofficial visit to its Yongbyon nuclear complex by a group including the former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory may indicate that Kim Jong Il is at least flirting with a possible accommodation.

All in all, the president’s personalization of policy toward North Korea, reflected in his overt hostility toward Kim Jong Il, does not bespeak prudence in the face of danger. The menacing reality on the Korean peninsula makes hostages of Seoul’s millions of citizens and the thousands of U.S. forces deployed there. North Korea’s massive firepower along the 38th parallel constitutes an awesome conventional deterrent and denies the United States any acceptable military option to counter the North’s WMD activities. Great powers do not usually advertise their anxieties, but if the president’s approach is to be faulted, it is probably because it embodies too much loathing and not enough fear.

The hazard of North Korean proliferation is amplified, of course, by the regime’s long-standing practice of selling weapons and weapons technology to other countries. The scope and character of Pyongyang’s involvement in secret missile and nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, Iran, Libya, and other states are still obscure, but North Korea has undoubtedly relied heavily on trade in such items to gain income vital to its survival. To cope with the possibility that North Korea might export fissile material, as well as missiles, the Bush administration has enlisted a number of countries in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), planning and conducting various exercises to interdict such exports at sea, on land, and in the air.

The PSI grew out of the embarrassing episode in which Spanish forces, acting on a U.S. request, intercepted a suspicious North Korean vessel, only to have to release it when Yemen claimed the missile shipment belonged to it. Without clear international legal authority for such interdictions, the PSI faces an uncertain future, but even if legal justification can be found, China’s reluctance to join the effort could leave a fatal loophole in attempts to interfere with North Korea’s exports. Further, PSI offers little aid in terms of preventing the transfer of the softball-size quantities of fissile material that would be required for a few nuclear weapons: actionable intelligence will be exceedingly hard to come by and, if somehow obtained, could still pose the daunting challenges of forcing U.S. or allied troops to shoot down aircraft or stop a highly motivated individual rather than stopping ships for inspection at sea. In short, the PSI is useful mainly as a means of mobilizing the needed international coalition to address the matter, but it cannot be a sufficient method for preventing proliferation beyond North Korea if Pyongyang intends to follow that course.


This mosaic of U.S. foreign policy at the start of the 2004 election season presents opportunities both for attacks on the incumbent president’s performance and for credible defenses of his record. If the Bush campaign’s opening ads signify anything, their stress on the incumbent’s commitment to “preemptive defense” reveal that he is staking his administration’s fate on the bold, but costly, national security initiatives he has launched.

The Democratic nominating process has already brought to the fore the main critiques: recklessness in a war of choice against Iraq, compounded by inadequate preparation for the aftermath; loss of focus on the main anti-terrorist war by diverting attention to Hussein’s villainy; failures of intelligence; dismissive treatment of allies and indifference to the rising tide of hostility to U.S. policy throughout the world. Whether those assaults will erode the president’s continued strong approval ratings depends most of all on the train of events unfolding in Iraq. If Hussein’s capture is followed by marked reductions in attacks on U.S. and other coalition forces, by demonstrable progress toward a representative government in Iraq, and by broadening international participation in the country’s reconstruction, Bush may well be able to drown out complaints that he based the war on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that have not been discovered.

Bush’s greatest diplomatic feat—and his greatest political and diplomatic failure—have centered on Iraq. His sober address to the United Nations in September 2002 placed the onus for enforcing Iraqi compliance with UN orders where it belonged, on the Security Council. Secretary of State Colin Powell followed up with immensely skillful negotiations to produce the unanimous Security Council resolution that sent inspectors back into Iraq for more extensive surveillance than had ever been undertaken in any country. Yet, in the next few months the United States brushed aside the concerns of its allies and aborted the UN inspection process. By doing so and failing to find the alleged weapons of mass destruction, the U.S.-led invasion confirmed the worst suspicions of many that Bush was merely going through the motions in seeking UN involvement and that his intention all along had been to eliminate Hussein’s regime.

The diplomatic price for that conclusion may well be paid for years to come in the wariness of other nations toward future U.S. appeals for cooperation in large endeavors, such as constraining Iran or North Korea. Whether or not that is the dominant diplomatic result of the war in Iraq hinges on the pace and durability of political developments in that country. By proclaiming the goal of building democracy in Iraq as the preface to democratizing the entire region, Bush has set the bar very high.

He surely will not clear it before November 2004. The president will need to demonstrate progress on Iraq to convince the American people that he is a capable and responsible commander-in-chief. Unless there are further terrorist attacks on the United States, the degree of progress, or lack of it, toward credible stability in Iraq will cast the longest shadow of any national security issue in the coming election. Like many presidents before him, Bush enters the campaign both fortified and jeopardized by the relentless realities of America’s place in a dangerous world.

Alton Frye is counselor and presidential senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he co-directs the Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy Program.

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