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The Future of Arms Control
By Michael A. Levi Michael E. O'Hanlon
Brookings Institution Press Copyright © 2005 Brookings Institution Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One Introduction and Rationale
Arms control, for decades a key tool of American foreign policy, is nearly moribund today. Its detractors denounce it as dangerous and outmoded, while its advocates often pin high hopes on its ability to fundamentally alter the international security environment. Most Americans, meanwhile, ignore what appears to be a shrill and unimportant debate. As a result, politicians largely avoid acquiring any detailed understanding of the subject.
This combination of factors-polarized debate among specialists, indifference throughout the population at large, neglect by political leaders -is unhealthy. Arms control is still important, because dangerous technologies abound and no practical strategy exists whereby one country or small group of countries can successfully safeguard them. Coordinated international effort to regulate the development, production, and use of the world's most threatening technologies-in other words, arms control-is imperative. But the old ways of pursuing arms control are mostly obsolete, and the very definition of the term requires refinement and reinterpretation. A new arms control framework designed for a new world is urgently needed.
In the years that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, traditional arms control did not die; indeed, for a moment, it appeared to flourish. The United States and Russia agreed to slash their strategic nuclear arsenals through the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START) and made rapid progress toward a follow-on, START II, while simultaneous unilateral declarations by presidents George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin led to deeply reduced deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, particularly by the United States. South Africa destroyed its nuclear weapons and joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan relinquished their shares of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal; Brazil and Argentina abandoned nuclear programs and joined the NPT as well. By 2004, only ten countries were believed to have nuclear weapons or well-advanced programs, in contrast with sixteen in the 1980s and twenty-one in the 1960s. North Korea (the DPRK) and the United States negotiated the Agreed Framework, which constrained and aimed ultimately to end North Korea's nuclear capabilities. Russia acknowledged the existence of its clandestine biological weapons program and agreed to eliminate it, while the world's leading powers signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, banning chemical weapons worldwide. Nongovernmental organizations built support for a treaty banning land mines, and much of the world signed up.
These successes came on the heels of a host of cold war arms control accomplishments. The Limited Test Ban Treaty, Outer Space Treaty, and Antarctic Treaty had removed areas of possible military competition that could have been hard for either superpower to resist had the other not done so too. The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and a series of hotline agreements had helped reduce the danger of a crisis turning into a hot war, as their drafters intended, at a time when missile defense had little prospect of significantly reducing the damage from any potential nuclear conflict. (Debate admittedly continues about whether Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative-which would eventually have collided with the ABM Treaty-contributed to the fall of the Soviet regime.) The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty helped avoid runaway proliferation in the 1970s and 1980s.
During the cold war, taking part in arms control negotiations also allowed top U.S. and Soviet officials to develop personal ties at a time when tensions were high and finding alternative means of interacting was difficult. Both sides recognized that personal relationships could be useful for calming nerves and easing communication during crises. Some in the West put too much stock in these personal relationships and let down their guard against the potential Soviet threat, which did not disappear as a result of arms control and detente. And arms control had other important shortcomings-it did little to meaningfully limit the number of nuclear and conventional arms deployed by the superpowers or to dampen low-level conflict in the developing world. But its accomplishments were important too. And the contacts it fostered were beneficial and recognized as such by most policymakers from both major American political parties.
Yet whatever its cold war legacy and whatever momentum it carried into the 1990s, arms control began to founder as the century wound down. In 1998, India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, despite the existence of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (these two countries were among the last holdouts) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was still open to new signatories. In that same year, North Korea fired long-range missiles, highlighting the absence of any formal multilateral restrictions on long-range delivery vehicles, and Iraq toyed with United Nations weapons inspectors searching the country for chemical and biological weapons, leading the inspectors to terminate the UN mission. Although the United States and Russia signed the START II treaty, successive delays in ratification prevented it from ever going into effect. The U.S. Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, and at the decade's end, the days of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty were numbered (see the appendix for synopses of these and other treaties).
Amid this decline, President George W. Bush entered office accompanied by advisers who were overwhelmingly opposed to most forms of traditional arms control. Such complete lack of nostalgia for cold war treaties helped them dismiss approaches that appeared to have outlived their usefulness. In the president's first year in office, he abandoned negotiations on START III and committed the United States to withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. In 2002, he signed the Moscow Treaty, requiring the United States and Russia to cut their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by the end of 2012, but the treaty was notable for its lack of detail and of binding, monitored provisions. President Bush also chose to reject the Ottawa Convention banning land mines and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, while shunning further negotiations on the monitoring protocol of the Biological Weapons Convention. As the president took these actions, his administration worked to develop a spirit of partnership with the government of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, especially after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In this way, Bush attempted to demonstrate that, at least in many aspects, U.S.-Russian relations had reached a point where arms control negotiations and treaties were no longer needed to facilitate diplomatic interaction or to ensure cooperation.
In that, the president was right. But the Bush administration did not develop a new framework to replace the old one. It did show leadership on a few specific and important issues. Most creatively, it promoted a loose coalition known as the Proliferation Security Initiative, which aimed at interdicting shipments of materials used in developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), particularly in the coastal waters of participating countries. And it proposed prohibiting access to nuclear power technologies that could also be used in nuclear weapons programs by any countries not already possessing those technologies.
However, given the small size of much dangerous weaponry and equipment and thus the difficulty of finding and tracking it, attempts at interdiction alone are insufficient to meet the massive and mounting threat of WMD proliferation. And the administration's approach to tightening access to nuclear-related technologies asks a great deal of less developed countries without offering much in return. While unobjectionable if it could be realized, the proposal seems unlikely to be acceptable to much of the world and thus unlikely to be particularly effective.
Most controversially, the Bush administration adopted the option of preventive war for thwarting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -often promoted as a doctrine of preemption. But preventive war, while occasionally appropriate, is a tool that can do as much to spur proliferation as to contain it. The administration's doctrine also appears to have weakened Washington's ability to build strong international coalitions to deal with security problems like proliferation.
The United States and the world thus still need a new strategy for controlling dangerous technologies in an age of terror. The tragic events of September 11 awoke Americans to the arrival of that age and put an emphatic end to the transition period between the end of the cold war and whatever strategic era was to come next. This does not appear to be, as some had predicted, an age dominated by U.S.-Chinese rivalry. Nor is it the "End of History," when large-scale violence and strong ideological struggle are mostly confined to the developing world. It will also not be the age of world government or global confederation. Some of these possibilities may have their day decades in the future, but not yet. The current period in American and broader Western foreign policy must first be one of controlling terrorists, rogues, and the technologies that can make them so dangerous.
Still, to develop broad international support, which is needed to maximize cooperation and reduce the number of problem cases, a new arms control framework must serve the interests of other countries as well as those of the United States. In particular, to the extent possible it should address civil conflict. Severely exacerbated by small arms and financed by illicit resource trading from Africa to Latin America to Central and Southeast Asia, such conflict continues to take hundreds of thousands of lives each year and creates a breeding ground for terrorists and their financiers. Arms control alone will not solve this problem; indeed, it is at best a secondary and supporting instrument of policy. But it can help. If the United States shows a commitment to use this and other policy tools-such as military training, humanitarian assistance, diplomacy, and, in extreme cases, multilateral armed intervention-to address the security needs of non-Western countries, it will attract broader support for America's overall arms control agenda. Given the role that failed and warring states play in global terrorism, it will also directly benefit U.S. security.
While they often contain valuable ideas, too many of the more prominent proposals for arms control would ignore these basic realities and thus lead the United States down the wrong path. Assessing them provides a useful way to begin constraining future arms control choices.
At one extreme, some argue explicitly that the procedures and substance of U.S.-Soviet cold war arms control should be resuscitated. Debate over the 2002 Moscow Treaty on strategic offensive arms reflected this desire, as many critics lamented what had become of superpower arms control. Though the critiques of the treaty differed, their common theoretical underpinning was concern that, in contrast with previous nuclear weapons accords, this treaty would provide little future predictability regarding stockpile size and composition. For example, the never-ratified and now defunct START II Treaty had contained detailed limitations on missiles with multiple warheads and strategic bombers, while the Moscow Treaty contained only an aggregate limit. Some argued that the new ambiguity would force both the United States and Russia to hedge, resulting in larger and more menacing arsenals. Such arguments, however, rest on the assumption that each nation's decisions about sizing and structuring its nuclear arsenal are based directly on the size and structure of the other's arsenal. This type of sizing is increasingly less prevalent, as the end of the cold war permeates both countries' bureaucracies. Rather than assuming that the shape of one side's forces determines the shape of the other's and investing efforts in more detailed U.S.-Russian arms control, further efforts should be directed at shaking up the nuclear planning establishments, breaking them of their residual cold war habits.
If some would return to cold war arms control, others would abandon arms control altogether. Indeed, some arms control critics dismiss not only cold war paradigms, but also the entire enterprise of negotiating controls on dangerous weapons and technologies. This is a mistake. It ignores the seriousness of the global threats that arms control attempts to address while overestimating the universal applicability of other policy tools, such as military force or unilateral sanctions. Indeed, whatever their rhetoric, even most critics of arms control implicitly recognize that fact. For example, few openly dismiss the value of establishing supplier cartels for sensitive technologies, banning the possession of weapons of mass destruction by other states, or disarming radical regimes by targeted efforts that leverage international taboos against chemical and biological arms.
The alternatives to some sort of arms control-interdiction, blockades, and military action, carried out unilaterally or by coalitions of the willing -are not up to the task of controlling dangerous arms. Each of these activities may be necessary at some point, but alone-and even as a group-they will be insufficient. Limited attacks to disarm countries will often prove impossible because of insufficient intelligence about the location of key enemy assets. All-out invasions to overthrow offending regimes are hugely difficult and risky; in some cases they would be even more so than in Iraq in 2003.
More fundamentally, were the set of countries pursuing advanced weapons of mass destruction to significantly expand, even the United States and its close allies would not have the financial, human, or political capital necessary to forcibly restrain them. Coercive instruments of policy can work only in a rather small number of cases, given the diplomatic and military difficulty of employing them. Arms control cannot provide absolute guarantees that countries will not acquire or sell dangerous materials. But it can provide disincentives to such actions, make it more difficult to carry them out, and make it easier to detect illicit activity. By doing so, it can also help to establish predicates, if necessary, for coercive action. Indeed, arms control can and should be viewed as a complement to coercive action, not as a substitute for it.
Cooperative controls on dangerous technologies and weapons might not be needed were the world clearly and permanently separated into two classes, incorrigible bad actors and well-intentioned good states.
Excerpted from The Future of Arms Control by Michael A. Levi Michael E. O'Hanlon Copyright © 2005 by Brookings Institution Press . Excerpted by permission.
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