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August 18, 2009 |  Print  Your Opinion  

Tom Z. Collina

Topic The Road to Zero: Just Look Down

Tom Z. Collina: The three prerequisites to stable nuclear reduction must be pursued consistently by both Russia and the US. Only after we achieve real success can we begin to judge whether Global Zero is truly possible. Our map to disarmament makes the beginning clear but our choices will define the path.

There has been much debate about the feasibility of a world without nuclear weapons since President Obama's Prague speech. This is understandable and useful. But the answer to the question "can we really get there and how do we do it?" is in may ways unknowable until we get further down the road. The last thing we want to do is distract ourselves from the real work at hand. And that real work is the nuclear security agenda that President Obama outlined in Prague and has been pushing ever since. If we can get this done, we will be well on our way. Here are the main sign posts:

1. Achieve deep, permanent US-Russian arms reductions

This July in Moscow Presidents Obama and Medvedev agreed to replace the 1991 START treaty with a follow-on agreement, or "New START." Modest as it may be (it has to be finished before START expires in December), New START is an essential down-payment toward further verifiable reductions in each side's bloated nuclear arsenals. The new agreement will create 25% lower limits on strategic delivery systems and associated nuclear warheads.

Given the December deadline, this new treaty will not deal with some of the most important and difficult issues that will lay the basis for nuclear elimination. 
Therefore, US and Russian leaders must expeditiously begin to outline the next agreement-I'll call it "New START II."

In this next phase, the two sides should drastically reduce nuclear arsenals to a total of no more than 1,000 weapons of all types-strategic, tactical, deployed, and reserves. As part of the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review, the United States should adopt a policy that explicitly limits the purpose of nuclear weapons to deterring their use by others. Tactical weapons would likely be eliminated.

All retired weapons going forward need to have their dismantlement verified and their nuclear materials rendered unusable for military purposes. This is one of the most important steps we can take to make arsenal reductions "irreversible" and enhance the prospects for zero.

2. Find common ground on missile defense

Beyond New START, it is unlikely that Russia will agree to significantly lower levels of nuclear arms in the face of the possibility of unlimited US missile defense deployments. The time has come to set priorities, and the Obama administration should choose arsenal reductions. The security value of arms control is proven; strategic missile defense is not.

The US interceptors planned for Europe have not been tested and are years away from possible deployment. There is time for Moscow and Washington to explore and develop truly cooperative approaches to counter Iran's potential long-range missile threat and agree to limits on defenses. If the US and Russia can work together to contain Iran's nuclear and missile programs, then there would be less need for a European deployment.

3. Strengthen global nonproliferation efforts

Other key priorities include ratification and entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a verifiable ban on fissile material production for weapons, and a strengthened Non-Proliferation Treaty to contain the spread of nuclear weapons to more states and to terrorist groups. The fewer states that have the bomb, and the fewer bombs they have, the easier it will be to round them up.

This is an ambitious agenda. Achieving it will take time and make the world safer in the near-term, and help us toward the long-term vision of a nuclear weapons-free world. Once we complete this first phase, the world will be in a better position to determine the next steps. The United States and Russia, for example, will at some point need to bring China, the United Kingdom and France into talks. We will need to talk with India, Pakistan and Israel. Many good questions remain.

The map we have to a nuclear weapons free world-- incomplete as it may be--is good enough to start the journey. In fact, we are using it now. Just look down; we are already on our way.

Tom Z. Collina is Research Director at the Arms Control Association

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Tags: | Russia | US | NPT | Non-Proliferation Treaty | nukes | Global Zero |

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