International Security Studies

Events

Book launch – US Nuclear Weapons Policy: Confronting Today's Threats

February 02, 2007 // 11:00am12:30pm

Chris Chyba, book editor and Professor of Astrophysical Sciences and International Affairs, Princeton University; Dean Wilkening, book contributor and Science Program Director, Center for International Security and Arms Control, Stanford University


This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's Division of International Security Studies, the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.

Chris Chyba provided an overview of the new book, which explores the changing global nuclear landscape in the post-Cold War world. Chyba began by noting that one of the book's aims was to "sketch a vision for what the U.S. nuclear landscape should be in the twenty-first century." Among the central themes of the book is that the U.S. needs a comprehensive nuclear weapons policy for managing a variety of nuclear risks.

Chyba identified several potential nuclear risks in his discussion, including: dangers leftover from the Cold War nuclear arsenals of the P-5; activities by Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) countries like India, Israel, and Pakistan; further illicit nuclear proliferation along the lines of the A.Q. Khan network; loopholes in the existing NPT framework that allow countries to come close to the proliferation threshold; the spread of gas centrifuge technology; and finally, the dangers posed by nuclear smuggling and terrorism.

Because of this changing, uncertain context, Chyba argued that the United States should rethink the roles of dissuasion, deterrence, preemptive war, and diplomacy in U.S. strategy. He urged the United States to strengthen the nuclear Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) initiative, adopt the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and tighten supply-side measures like the IAEA protocol. Achieving nonproliferation successes, he said, requires tackling demand-side issues. "Supply-side policies provide time for which demand-side issues can be met." In addition, he recommended that the United States affirm that the primary purpose of nuclear weapons is deterrence, and work to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons held by nuclear weapon states.

Chyba then contrasted the approaches outlined above with the current Bush administration's, focusing in particular on diplomacy, dissuasion, and preventive war. On diplomacy, he noted that the administration had portrayed a great deal of skepticism toward multilateral agreements, especially those relating to arms control. He likened the administration's reluctance to work with others to the fear that, like the Lilliputians in Jonathan Swift's novel, multilateral treaties would somehow tie down the U.S. Gulliver.

Nor, argued Chyba, had the Bush administration properly availed itself of other tools, like dissuasion. He noted that dissuasion hadn't worked with Iran or North Korea and thus, he argued, needed to be rethought. In the latter case, Chyba said that the Pyongyang regime had crossed several redlines, most recently testing ICBMs, without eliciting a U.S. response. Thus, dissuasion as practiced by the Bush administration, Chyba agued, "has not prevented our adversaries from pursuing the technology we don't want them to pursue."

On preventive war (commonly referred to as preemptive war by the administration), Chyba noted it had always been an option available to U.S. presidents. But he cautioned that it was a policy that came with high costs, saying "There are only so many wars of counter-proliferation that the U.S. will be able to fight."

Building on Chyba's remarks, Dean Wilkening discussed existing and potential U.S. options in the event diplomacy, dissuasion, and deterrence fail. After briefly touching on interdiction, Wilkening turned to other defensive options. Differentiating between attack defenses (that protect you from attack) and passive defenses (that mitigate weapons effects after they go off), Wilkening stated that too much emphasis is being placed on missile defense and not enough on other forms of defense. Wilkening argued that the misbalance in national missile defense stemmed from a misconception of where the clear and present danger comes from today. He pointed out that neither Iran nor North Korea possesses ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, and argued instead that the more pressing threat stems from regional-range missiles striking U.S. interests in Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere. Finally, Wilkening said the U.S. was not placing enough emphasis on civil and passive defenses for other non-nuclear threats, such as biological threats, which are potentially just as dangerous, yet are not receiving enough attention or funding.

Chyba concluded the presentation by stressing the need for a larger public debate in the United States on all aspects of nuclear policy.


Report by Sara Bjerg Moller
Division of International Security Studies

Experts & Staff

  • Robert S. Litwak // Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies
  • Tonya Boyce // Program Assistant, International Security Studies

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