- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

The gravest danger the U.S. faces is the rise of global terrorism coupled with the increasing availability of weapons of mass destruction. Over the half-century of the nuclear era, America was kept safe from these weapons by the dual strategy of nuclear deterrence and nonproliferation.

Today, this dual strategy is still the only one that can save us from the different, but still devastating, threats we now face. However, both elements must be reshaped to be effective against new adversaries.

Unfortunately, rather than respond to this new challenge we have let both elements atrophy. Since the Cold War ended, no administration has informed the nation of the vital role nuclear weapons still play in national security and how our nuclear strategy and arsenal must be transformed. Lacking this leadership, we have never engaged in the national debate that can stimulate much-needed action.

Nuclear deterrence. This is the principal force that kept us safe throughout the Cold War. It worked flawlessly. To maintain this deterrence, we had to change our nuclear weapons continually to meet new threats, advancing technology and shifting adversary strategy. And we always held at risk those assets our adversary valued most highly. Our deterrent was so effective not one nuclear weapon was ever used, despite many major crises and frequent hot wars.

Today everything has changed — our adversaries, the threats and technology. But we haven’t transformed our nuclear strategy and weapons accordingly. We have been frozen in time, looking backward at a Cold War stockpile that has virtually no relevance today. Our nuclear weapons are those we depended upon for massive retaliation against an immense Soviet threat — except they’re 15 years older.

Thus we have lost our nuclear deterrent, our best defense against tomorrow’s threats. An example: The U.S. seeks to have a rogue state stop producing and deploying nuclear weapons. Ultimately, we threaten.

The adversary, however, is convinced the U.S. will not use its 500-kiloton, surface-burst weapons against the adversary’s nuclear weapons sites buried deep in hard rock and possibly kill many thousands of innocent civilians.

So they continue building their arsenal; and the risk of nuclear weapon use (by someone) increases. Our nuclear deterrent simply doesn’t work. It isn’t believable where it counts — in the minds of our adversaries.

We must re-establish a nuclear deterrent against likely new adversaries: rogue states, failed and failing states, powerful terrorist groups able to take over nuclear-weapon states and terrorists based in sanctuary states.

Nuclear deterrence can be as effective now as it was in the Cold War, but our weapons must be changed. We must hold at risk those elements of national power our current adversaries value most, and they must believe we will use nuclear weapons.

We need new weapons with much lower yield, much greater accuracy, uniquely tailored weapons effects, and greatly improved intrinsic security and controllability.

We must be able to destroy deeply buried targets — sites containing chemical or biological agents (which should be neutralized); targets deliberately located near large civilian populations, etc. And our new weapons must be absolutely unusable by terrorists.

To date, this essential reshaping has been blocked by those unwilling or unable to understand nuclear weapons’ important new role in national security strategy, those who mistakenly fear new U.S. nuclear weapons development and testing will somehow stimulate proliferation, and those placing domestic politics over national security.

Nonproliferation. The demise of “nonproliferation” as a force for our security was due to different causes. At the dawn of the nuclear era, America initiated the international nonproliferation effort. And we led it throughout the 1950s and 1960s, negotiating the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Its purpose was crystal-clear — to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by countries that did not have them.

The NPT was signed in 1970 by 43 states. Five (U.S., Russia, China, U.K. and France) signed as “nuclear-weapon states” (NWS). All others signed as “non-nuclear-weapon states” (NNWS). Today there are 188 parties to the NPT, and the original five are still the only internationally approved NWS.

There is a vast difference between NWS and NNWS. The NPT places no restrictions on the five NWS designing, testing and producing new nuclear weapons. In fact, it arguably obligates the five NWS to regularly modernize their nuclear arsenals to maintain safe, reliable and effective weapons.

Article VI of the NPT places the following long-term obligations on all signatories, including the five NWS: “Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

This article was a visionary long-term goal, to be pursued as international conditions permitted; while the rest of the NPT dealt with immediate actions to prevent proliferation.

Unfortunately, the NPT’s focus was lost in the 1970s and 1980s. A “global nonproliferation regime” led by the U.N. General Assembly, its Conference on Disarmament, most of the world’s nations and countless nongovernment organizations, “reinterpreted” the treaty without changing its language.

They show little interest in stopping proliferators (India, Pakistan), or in preventing rogue states (North Korea, Iran) from acquiring nuclear weapons. Instead they pursue completely different agendas — principally nuclear disarmament and test bans — with the U.S. the primary target.

This trend accelerated in the 1990s to such degree the global nonproliferation regime is now inimical to U.S. security interests. America is under increasing attacks on Article VI compliance, despite two obvious realities: First, today’s world is dangerous. Nuclear weapons exist. They can’t be disinvented. There are tens of thousands of them, many inadequately secured. More states possess nuclear weapons than ever. More than half the world’s population lives in states that have them. Many other states and terrorists are determined to acquire and use them. The world depends upon the U.S. to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent.

Second, America has led the world in responsible compliance with Article VI. We ended the nuclear arms race, reduced our stockpile by tens of thousands, signed the Moscow Treaty to reduce it by many more thousands, dismantled entire classes of weapons, provided billions of dollars to help Russia dismantle ex-Soviet nuclear weapons, and took hundreds of other actions.

Terrorism using weapons of mass destruction is a global threat, and it must be met by a global response, of which America’s Proliferation Security Initiative is a good example. “Coalitions of the willing” of this type will be far more effective in preventing proliferation — forcibly if necessary — than U.N.-led activities.

In sum, America must still fight nuclear terrorism with the dual strategy of nuclear deterrence and prevention of proliferation.

To re-establish deterrence, we must transform our nuclear arsenal to new weapons whose threat is credible in our adversaries’ minds. This will require nuclear testing, which the NPT permits for NWS. This “build-down” also complies with Article VI. America’s resulting nuclear stockpile will have far fewer weapons, with a vast reduction in total megatons.

In parallel, the United States must shift the focus of international proliferation prevention from that of the misguided global nonproliferation regime to tough-minded prevention of proliferation, using force if necessary.

In the longer-range , we can never prevent proliferation without “a cop on the beat” to enforce it. We already have one — the five NWS who’ve proved their responsible stewardship over the last half-century. For this purpose, these five must continually upgrade and test their nuclear arsenals to be safe, reliable and effective under changing conditions.

As spokesmen on left and right have advocated, the administration must initiate America’s debate on this issue, so we can move with strong public support and bipartisan consensus in Congress and lead the world into a safer future.

Robert R. Monroe, a retired vice admiral of the U.S. Navy and former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, is a member of the Nuclear Strategy Forum.

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