December 19, 2007

Embassy magazine

By Jonathan Granoff

Those of us who vigorously advocate for a nuclear weapon-free world are often thought to ignore positive efforts by nuclear weapon states. Let us put that to rest. Here is a short list of several noteworthy accomplishments by the United States:

• A 146 per cent increase in dismantled nuclear weapons over the previous year’s rate;

• The elimination of over 3,000 tactical nuclear warheads, as outlined by the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiative, which was finished in 2003;

• The removal of 374 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and 59 metric tons of plutonium from defence stockpiles, with the intention of down blending to low-enriched reactor fuel;

• Funding over 50,000 Soviet weapons scientists to allow them to engage in peaceful work;

• Reaching the National Nuclear Security Administration’s goal to increase rate of dismantlement of retired weapons by 50 per cent four months early;

• The removal of four ballistic missile submarines from service as well as thousands of missiles and 450 silos;

• Declared 174 metric tons of HEU and 52 metric tons plutonium to be surplus, announced it would remove an additional 200 metric tons of HEU.

The U.S. special representative for nuclear non-proliferation, Dr. Christopher Ford, in a sophisticated presentation to the 19th Annual UN Conference on Disarmament Issues in Sapporo, Japan, in August 2007, analyzed the security and moral context of nuclear disarmament advocacy. His tone reflects a recently much improved attitude of government officials to the pleas for increased progress on nuclear weapons elimination advanced by informed people the world over. He concluded:

“A sustained and serious effort to think practically and realistically about the challenges of disarmament is itself, I submit, a moral imperative. As the feminist theorist Jean Bethke Elsthain has suggested, ‘It is indefensible to proclaim “solutions” that lie outside the reach of possibility.’

“Such proposals do not represent progress at all, for they ‘covertly sustain business as usual’ by merely pretending to present alternatives. Today, it falls to officials, experts, activists, and academics such as ourselves to study carefully how we might make nuclear disarmament a realistic, practical, and desirable alternative to a nuclear-armed world. This is a formidable challenge, and it is perhaps not a foregone conclusion that disarmament can be achieved. Such serious study, however, is a challenge from which we dare not shrink.”

The programs of the Global Security Institute are designed to meet that challenge. Our advocacy is focused on lowering the political currency of nuclear weapons–thus enhancing security–fulfilling existing legal obligations, and providing confidence through verification. Each policy we support must stand on its own merits and decrease risks of use, diminish the access of terrorists to catastrophic weapons and materials to build them, and strengthen nonproliferation. These standards help set forth a realistic path to nuclear abolition. The practical steps are known, but the core problem is simple. The nuclear weapon states have not fully come to grips with their fundamental dilemma: they want to keep their nuclear weapons indefinitely and at the same time condemn others who would attempt to acquire them.

Because of this contradiction, even the cuts lauded above are not irreversible nor adequately verifiable. We believe that there is no substitute for negotiated, internationally legally binding and irreversible verifiable reductions. Such steps alone can substantiate claims of good faith compliance with disarmament obligations under existing treaties.

Jonathan Granoff is the president of the Global Security Institute.

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