The human race continues to be seriously threatened by thousands of strategic nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. U.S. and Russian nuclear missiles can be launched in under four minutes, and have launch to landing times of 30 minutes or less. Additionally, various agents are seeking to acquire unsecured weapons and materials for clandestine missions of human destruction.
Today’s world has nine nuclear-armed states—unlike when the U.S. was the only nuclear power and first used the technology against Japan without fear of reciprocation. About twenty additional states have the technology and know how to produce plutonium and make warheads, these countries are known as “virtual nuclear weapons states.” These virtual states are considered capable of producing a weapon within months if one chose to do so. All of these countries are linked in a highly complex geopolitical interaction. Any nuclear action, whether ordered by a state or done by an independent agent, could be mistaken for an act of nuclear war. This could rapidly lead to nothing less than the end of all human life on earth.
Given the scope of the problem, one is inclined to assume that worldwide attention would be seriously focused on ways to eliminate the threat. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
What has brought us to this point?
The largest international effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and disarm states already with the capability is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This treaty was the result of increased negotiations within the United Nations during the early 1960s, following momentum gained by President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” plan, which proposed to spread peaceful nuclear technology while guarding against the spread of weaponization capabilities to more countries. The treaty was opened for signatures in 1968 and currently is ratified by 189 countries.
The treaty has ten articles, with the basic idea that the world is inherently less safe if nuclear weapons technology spreads to more countries. Therefore, the countries already possessing nuclear weapons would not share the technology with, or use a weapon against, a non-nuclear weapon state (Article I). While, a non-nuclear weapon state would not attempt to obtain the technology (Article II). The treaty specifically grants the “inalienable right” for all member countries to develop and use peaceful nuclear technology (Article IV).
The treaty was also meant to lead to complete disarmament. Article VI says countries should undertake negotiations to end the nuclear arms race and work towards a “Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” However, when these negotiations were to take place was not specified and have been frequently delayed due to the U.S. and Russia’s unwillingness to completely disarm. While the NPT is signed by all but four countries in the world, this unwillingness to disarm by the two largest possessors of nuclear weapons, along with contradictions within the treaty itself, have seriously undermined the treaty’s effectiveness.
There was a period in the 1980's when the Nuclear Freeze Movement seemed to be making headway. Following the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989, President Bill Clinton proudly said at the beginning of his term that for the first time in several decades, Russians and Americans were not aiming nuclear missiles at each other's children. Needless to say, that was good news; the statement reflected the long-awaited reduction of political and military hostility between the superpowers.
Yet, the threat of nuclear annihilation remained. For starters, Clinton failed to mention that it takes just a few seconds to redirect both Russian and U.S. missiles to their Cold War targets. Additionally, even as the president announced the great upshot of the so-called “Peace Dividend,” the U.S. Department of Defense under his command issued a set of strange statements that seriously undercut this message of hope. A study by the U.S. Strategic Command entitled "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence," recommended that the U.S. continue the threat of nuclear destruction with an "irrational and vindictive" policy to ward off potential attackers such as North Korea, Iraq and others that were viewed as rogue states. The study stated:
Because of the value that comes from the ambiguity of what the United States might do to an adversary if the acts we seek to deter are carried out, it hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and coolheaded... The fact that some elements may appear to be potentially 'out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers. That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be part of the national persona we project to all adversaries."
Clearly, President Clinton's publicly stated optimism was severely contradicted by policy planners within his administration. To his credit, he did seek support in the U.S. Senate for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty although it was rejected, and to extend the Non Proliferation Treaty, which was set to expire in 1995. However, his overall effort to seek implementation of the disarmament provisions of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), were anemic at best. And, his optimistic portrayal of U.S./Russian nuclear threat reductions helped to put the issue of nuclear war back into the closet.
When George W. Bush assumed the U.S. Presidency, any progress achieved since 1989 was quickly nullified. At the onset of his first term, Bush’s military planners crafted a nuclear threat policy that appeared in the administration's "Nuclear Posture Review" (NPR)—a classified document mandated by Congress that was leaked to the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times in March 2002. The NPR was a basic outline of the goals of the administration's national security strategy, including every situation in which the President might choose to use nuclear weapons. It outlined three such scenarios with which the U.S. would use nuclear forces:
1. Nuclear weapons could be deployed against targets capable of surviving non-nuclear attack;
2. In retaliation for use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons:
3. In the event of "surprising" military developments.
The NPR also said:
Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including weapons of mass destruction and large-scale conventional military forces. These nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets that are important strategic and political objectives.
This was an extraordinary admission of the benefits that U.S. leaders attributed to nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy—benefits they sanctioned solely for themselves and a small group of other nuclear-weapons countries. The report further called for the development of contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against Russia and China, as well as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya. Additionally, the administration's 2005 "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" reinforced the provisions of the NPR, including its policy of preemptive attacks on national or terrorist groups using weapons of mass destruction, the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
In sum, the Bush administration developed a strategy for indefinite reliance on nuclear weapons, and the maintenance of maintaining an industrial infrastructure to produce new and updated warheads to replace older models. This was a move explicitly opposed to measures agreed upon by the U.S. at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Moreover, the Bush Administration began taking an aggressive stance against Russia, its one-time partner in de-militarization. One move that has been a central stumbling block is the proposed deployment of a ballistic missile defense system in Central Europe.
Russia's response to the Bush nuclear strategies, especially to the deployment of a ballistic missile defense system, was outlined in the October 3, 2003 issue of The Moscow Times. The article reported that President Vladimir Putin had ordered top military commanders to put multi-warhead SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles on combat duty. A Defense Ministry paper released in conjunction with Putin's statement warned that Russia might have to modify its plans for nuclear defense strategy if NATO did not change what it called its “anti-Russian strategy.”
Russia’s movements were not, in themselves, aggressive. They were reactions to the Bush administration’s threatening posture. In that same 2003 article, Putin noted that his new efforts were instituted to upgrade his country's land-based strategic nuclear arsenal and to maintain its defense system. "I am speaking here about the most menacing missiles, of which we have dozens with hundreds of warheads," Putin told a gathering of commanders and Kremlin officials at a defense military headquarters. "Their capability to overcome any anti-missile system is unrivaled."
In addition to Russia and the U.S., the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty explicitly recognizes six other nuclear weapons states: The United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The latter three states are outside of the treaty and have each presented their own unique challenges.
India was one of the first countries to propose an end to nuclear testing in 1954, as well as provided many of the principles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1965. However, India has not signed the treaty because it says that rather than addressing the central objective of universal non-proliferation, the treaty legitimizes the continuing possession of nuclear stockpiles by those few states that possess them. The treaty only worked when nuclear weapon states disarmed, in addition to non-weapon states not attempting to acquire them.
In a speech before the United Nations in 1988, Rajiv Gandhi, then India's Prime Minister, argued, "We cannot accept the logic that a few nations have the right to pursue their security by threatening the survival of mankind...nor is it acceptable that those who possess nuclear weapons are freed of all controls while those without nuclear weapons are policed against their production.”
Within 15 years of independence from British Colonialism, India lost badly in a short war started by China over disputed territory. India’s feeling of vulnerability was heightened by China’s successful nuclear weapons testing in 1964. This led to the creation of their own nuclear program that same year, and the successful detonation of a nuclear device in 1974. India was thwarted from detonating additional tests on three additional occasions—in 1982, 1995 and 1997—primarily due to being caught by CIA spy satellites preparing for the tests and the heavy international pressure that ensued to abandon the testing. Despite this, in what is considered one of the CIA’s biggest intelligence failures, India was able to test five nuclear devices in 1998.
Even though remaining outside of the NPT, the U.S. announced a nuclear cooperation deal with India that would allow it to trade in nuclear materials. While, part of the agreement requires monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the U.N. sanctioned monitor of the NPT, this deal further erodes the treaty’s strength. India received its first batch of uranium fuel from France in March 2009 and will continue to receive regular supplies from French and Russian companies.
Pakistan began its nuclear program in response to India’s successful detonation in 1975. Both countries have also taken a similar position on the NPT and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Uranium enrichment reportedly began in 1976, after A.Q. Khan stole blueprints of a centrifuge from a European lab. Allegations have also been made, mostly by India and the U.S., that the origins of Pakistan’s program lies with China, in part because Pakistan’s bombs closely resemble Chinese design. While Pakistan’s technical base was slower than India’s, the U.S. concluded Pakistan had the capability to build a nuclear device in 1990. The first device was not detonated until 1998, three weeks after India’s successful test.
Shortly after this, scandal arose when it became clear that Khan was at the center of an international proliferation network. In a televised confession in 2005, Khan admitted selling nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea between 1989 and 2000. The network involved many middlemen and stretched from Germany to the Middle East and from China to South Asia. It was the worst known case of nuclear proliferation in history.
The Pakistani government has since strengthened legislation on export controls and nuclear safety. Their official stance is that the Khan network is a closed case and all investigations are complete, while the full extent of other Pakistani official involvement in the network is still not clear. In addition to these problems, the U.S. has secretly provided at least $100 million to help secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal as part of the war on terror and the fight against the Taliban. This is only a small part of about $10 billion given to Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001.
North Korea’s history with nuclear politics dates back to the Korean War, when U.S. political leaders threatened the use of nuclear weapons to win a war that was otherwise grinding to a stalemate. The U.S. first put nuclear weapons in South Korea in 1958, and they stayed until 1991. North Korean government statements often cite the U.S. as a nuclear threat and claim the U.S. still has over 1,000 nuclear weapons in South Korea.
North Korea’s nuclear program dates back to the early 1960’s when it constructed a research complex and small reactor with help from the Soviet Union, who also provided fuel for the reactor until 1973. Its nuclear weapon program started in the 1980’s, when it constructed reprocessing facilities for the creation of Plutonium. Under international pressure, North Korea signed the NPT In 1985, but did not allow the IAEA to inspect its programs until 1992. A year later, North Korea announced it was withdrawing from the treaty which caused heightened tensions with the U.S. and South Korea. With intense diplomacy, North Korea agreed to stay in the treaty and to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for replacing the energy lost from the reactors.
Even after this agreement, North Korea secretly continued its program with the assistance of Khan’s proliferation network. In 2002, North Korean officials acknowledged the existence of a clandestine enrichment program. In January 2003, North Korea announced its intention to withdrawal from the NPT, again. Shortly later, North Korea admitted they possessed nuclear weapons and demanded one-on-one negotiations with the U.S. This time, however, the Bush Administration refused to engage bilaterally as the Clinton Administration successfully did. The unproductive diplomacy led directly to North Korea’s first nuclear test, a one-kiloton underground explosion in October 2006.
The explosion was a wake-up call to the world and caused a higher level of diplomacy with the six-party talks. The back and forth negotiations were seemingly going well, North Korea agreed to give a full accounting of its nuclear program and disable its facilities. The progress was most visible with the demolition of the cooling tower at a nuclear reactor site broadcasted by the international media.
Despite the apparent progress, the six-party talks met an impasse on a verification plan for disablement. Negotiations have deteriorated further with North Korea exploding a more powerful device on May 25, 2009 and test firing other ballistic missiles. In the meantime, they have also been constructing a long-range missile launch site since 2000. This site has a 10-story tower which can support their largest ballistic and space launch devices.
There is, however, one other nuclear weapons state. Israel has hidden its capabilities, and has placed its own interests above those of world safety. Israel has a history of preemptively bombing nuclear facilities in the Middle East, starting with Iraq in 1981. They again secretly bombed Syria in September 2007. U.S. and Israeli sources claimed that Syria was building a nuclear reactor with the help of North Korea. This history makes Israeli threats to preemptively bomb suspected Iranian nuclear facilities highly credible. Meanwhile, Israel certainly has nuclear weapons, but it has officially refused to confirm or deny this fact.
Its nuclear weapons program began with materials stolen from the U.S. in the early 1950’s. In the 1960’s, with the help of French engineers, Israel secretly constructed a nuclear enrichment facility. Located in the Negrev desert, the Dimona facility is capable of producing the plutonium necessary for nuclear weapons, not merely the uranium necessary for nuclear power. Israel has never permitted international inspectors to visit this site, and so has acted outside of international law.
Thanks to information leaked by nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal is without doubt. Shortly after revealing this information, Vanunu was lured to Rome where he was drugged and smuggled back to Israel. He was then convicted of treason and imprisoned for 18 years, with the first 11½ years in solitary confinement, being freed in April 2004. Based on his information, Israel is estimated to have at least 100 and perhaps as many as 400 strategic and nuclear weapons, with the fissile materials necessary to build more being stockpiled everyday.
Clearly, all nuclear weapons states have to be fully taken into account as incremental moves are sought toward nuclear disarmament and the abolition of both tactical and strategic weapons. However, the focus of this book is limited to the two greatest nuclear powers: the U.S. and Russia. Only when both of these global superpowers genuinely abide by the nuclear disarmament provisions of the NPT and work towards new agreements, will the abolition process have any real chance of success. Action to accomplish this goal must be started here in the U.S., now.
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