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Götz Neuneck
Preventing the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Role of Deterrence

„In the modern world, nuclear weapons are not the only weapon of mass destruction. The Review therefore addressed the continuing risks arising from the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. The Government is committed to their elimination. But the difficulty and complexity of this task should not be underestimated."

The United Kingdom’s Strategic Defence Review, July 1998, Essay 5: „Deterrence, Arms Control, and Proliferation", p. 33

After the end of the Cold War, more and more politicians as well as experts became aware that not only the proliferation of nuclear weapons but also that of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) can pose a serious threat to international security. As a result, one important question is how the use of CBW can be prevented. This paper is concerned with the question of what role nuclear deterrence should or could not play in that regard.

The theory and practice of nuclear deterrence for decades clearly dominated international security policy debates. Analyses, interpretations, and new concepts fill tens of thousand of pages elaborating technical, historical, political, psychological, or ethical views. During the Cold War, deterrence became the centerpiece of the military strategy of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Now that the Cold War is over, the role of nuclear deterrence has been reduced in the perception of the public but remains a controversial and critical subject. In the eyes of some, nuclear deterrence should now also be used to deter the use of biological and chemical weapons by non-nuclear-weapon states.

In chapter 1 of the 1998 Annual Report on Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen stated:

„U.S. nuclear posture also contributes substantially to the ability to deter aggression in peacetime. The primary role of U.S. nuclear forces in the current and projected security environment is to deter aggression against the United States, its forces abroad, and its allies and friends. Although the prominence of nuclear weapons in the nation’s defense posture has diminished since the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons remain important as one of a range of responses available to deal with threats or use of NBC [nuclear, biological, or chemical] weapons against U.S. interests. They serve as a hedge against the uncertain futures of potentially hostile nuclear powers and as a means of upholding U.S. security commitments to allies."

Others go a step further. In the Executive Report of the National Defense University’s Center for Counterproliferation Research, one can read:

„Effective retaliatory forces will always be a central requirement for and the ultimate foundation of deterrence - we place no credence in ‘virtual deterrence’. Forces-in-being provide a critical hedge against other nuclear weapon states, and serve to deter major

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aggression more broadly, including the use of chemical and biological weapons (CBW). Yet, in this new security environment the United States must be prepared to adjust to the way it structures deterrence, relying less on the threat of retaliation and more on denial and dissuasion." [ Center for Counterproliferation Research (NDU), Center for Global Security Research (LLNL): U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and Requirements , Washington D.C., July 1998.]

What Is Deterrence?

Nuclear Deterrence Theory

In a narrow sense „to deter" means „to discourage from action by making the consequences seem frightening." In a wider meaning the word is used not only to describe discouraging an action by the prospect of consequences that are frightening, but also „for situations in which the restraint arises simply from the prospect of failure to achieve the intended aims, or the prospect of costs exceeding an action’s expected benefits." [ The 1991 National Academy of Science Report „The Future of the U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Relationship", p. 13]

In a political or military context „deterrence" can refer to generating a credible prospect of punishment for an action (e.g., conventional or CBW attack) or of a denial of the expected objectives or of the costs exceeding the benefits (deterrence by denial). The cost-benefit ratio includes factors such as moral inhibitions, credibility, or military or political options (embargo, invasion, sanctions, etc.), and is heavily dependent on the outcome of a conflict. Deterrent measures, which always have an offensive character, not only must be maintained in peacetime, but also can induce countermeasures by the adversary, thus leading to a regional arms race. During a crises automated procedures can also increase the danger by an inadvertent, accidental, erroneous, or unauthorized attack.

Several variants of deterrence with different operational modes exist:

  • The notion of „extended deterrence" includes the extension of nuclear deterrence to deter not only attacks or coercion against one’s own territory but also attacks against one’s allies’ territory, based on conventional arms or CBW. [ ibid. pp. 13-15.] In principle, one can extend this thinking by deterring even attacks by terrorists on important strategic targets. For some, extended deterrence has some stabilizing effects. For instance, extended deterrence contributed to the security of Japan and Germany, thus preventing these countries from building their own nuclear forces. For others, extended deterrence bears the danger of continuing nuclear proliferation and perpetuates the danger of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) use in a crisis.
  • The term „minimum deterrence" refers to the „scale of the nuclear response" to the aggression to be deterred or to the „range of threats to be deterred" by the prospect of a nuclear response.
  • The term „existential deterrence" points to the ultimate deterrent that arises from the sheer existence of nuclear weapons, regardless of what declared doctrines, specific delivery systems, targeting plans, and so forth the nuclear weapon states may have. One important argument against this view is that „existential deterrence", did not prevent many wars in the past, nor will it prevent violence and wars in the future. In particular the 1991 Gulf War showed that the threat of nuclear weapons did not work, because Saddam Hussein was not deterred for instance from setting oil fields on fire. Some believe exactly in the

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    opposite: that the easiest way to create a new world order, to guarantee security, and to prevent future wars would be to get rid of all nuclear weapons.

The self-contradictions of deterrence are well known. Deterrence implies self-deterrence. Deterrence arsenals can also be seen by the country or group of countries to be deterred as a war-fighting potential, so that it feels obliged to build up its own deterrent force. However, many believe that nuclear weapons have become more and more useless in a pure military sense. [ See the analysis of William Daugherty, Barbara Levi, and Frank van Hippel, „The Consequences of ‘Limited’ Nuclear Attacks on the United States", in International Security Vol. 10 no. 4 (Spring 1986): 5. By their analysis a Russian attack with 100 one-megaton warheads would kill between 3 and 66 million Americans and could cause between 10 and 71 million total casualties.] Even in the Western debate they are discussed mainly as political weapons. Nuclear weapons fulfill their purpose of protecting society only if they are never used, but a main problem of deterrence theory is that nuclear weapons do not deter if the other side does not believe that these weapons will be used. Hence, nuclear weapons have much more to do with credibility and communication than with military effectiveness and war fighting. The damage of the use of nuclear weapons would be so devastating that a rationale for the coordinated use of such weapons in a multipolar world no longer exists.

Deterrence policy is inherently always threat policy: Because one side feels threatened, it uses many financial, technical, and military means to counter the threat. A quantitative and qualitative arms race is the consequence, including the spread of weapons, manufacturing devices, knowledge, and scientists to acquire them. Vertical proliferation to maintain or improve the nuclear arsenal is the consequence. Horizontal proliferation is the other dark side of the coin. The flow of knowledge and technologies necessary to build and deliver means of mass destruction cannot be cut or completely halted. The nuclear arms race between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in fact has formed the pattern for other countries to acquire nuclear capabilities. After the end of the Cold War, one question is still unanswered: Why should the creation of nuclear devices be prohibited for most countries while some countries are permitted to possess them?

When traditional arms control emerged in the 1960s it was an answer to the threat of global nuclear annihilation. Three conceptual dilemmas existed from the introduction of nuclear deterrence into the U.S.-Soviet superpower relationship:

  • What deters?
  • How much is enough?
  • What if deterrence fails?

Nuclear Deterrence to Prevent the Use of CBW?

One serious obstacle for reducing the remaining nuclear arsenals is the question: „How much is relevant for deterrence?" In general, it is not clear what „unacceptable damage" means or what should be deterred. For some, deterrence is simply the threat of retaliation without qualifying the target; for others it is an immoral and impractical strategy: Threatening others with mass destruction should not be a means of influencing politics. For others, deterrence should be extended to deter the use of chemical and biological weapons. [ For the pros and cons see the contribution of Victor Utgoff in this book.]

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Kathleen Bailey argues: „The U.S. nuclear deterrent is necessary to address a host of threats - nuclear, chemical, and biological - posed by an increasing number of nations." [ Statement of Dr. Kathleen C. Bailey before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, 31 March 1998.] She further believes that:

„Deterrence works best when the potential aggressor understands that the retaliation will be swift and proportional. Because conventional responses may not be possible or proportional in some scenarios, the option to respond with nuclear weapons must be preserved and clearly communicated. If not, deterrence will be less effective."

Of course, the argument for deterring the use of CBW with nuclear weapons at the same time is used to maintain and to perpetuate the nuclear arsenals in the hands of the five official nuclear weapon states (U.S.; U.K; France; Russia; and China). But there are important arguments against this view, mainly that the use of CBW in wars is unlikely to occur because these agents are unpredictable and unreliable. Nevertheless, their local use can inflict a lot of damage. Whereas some argue that the biological and chemical threat should not be minimized because there is the possibility of terrorist use, other analysts emphasize that the threat should not be dramatized. The effects of CBW and nuclear weapons are not comparable. [ For the analysis of different BW agents see: Colonel David Franz, Deputy Commander Army Medical Research and Material Command: Biological Warfare Threat, Congressional Hearing, 4 March 1998, Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information, Washington, D.C.] On the other hand, there should also be no excuse for maintaining CBW arsenals.

The threat of using nuclear weapons to deter the use of CBW is insufficient, unnecessary, undesirable, and unwise. [ See Report of the 27 th Workshop of he Pugwash Study Group on Nuclear Forces, Geneva, in Pugwash Newsletter 1998, p. 5.] It is insufficient because it does not adequately address the threat of clandestine use. What if CBW were used in such a way that the attacker could not be clearly identified? It is unnecessary because CBW can be addressed by conventional forces, by investing in improved CBW protection, and by implementing and improving arms control regimes. It is undesirable because it violates commitments made by the nuclear powers not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and because it legitimizes the use of nuclear weapons to deter threats other than those posed by nuclear weapons themselves. It is also unwise because it breaks the consensus on the sole function of nuclear weapons to deter the use of nuclear weapons.

Finally, the use of nuclear weapons to deter the use of chemical or biological attacks by emerging proliferators of the Third World is unconvincing. On the one hand, it is doubtful whether regional troublemakers really would be impressed by the U.S. threat to use nuclear weapons. Would the United States really take into account the deaths of 10,000 or 100,000 innocent people in heavily populated areas caused by one nuclear explosion? Former Commander in Chief (CINC) of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Gen. Lee Butler and others conclude that the option to threaten chemical or biological attackers with nuclear weapons is an „outmoded idea" and that „conventional retaliation" would be far more „proportionate, less damaging to neighboring states and less horrific for innocent civilians." [ Quoted from Martin Butcher, Otfried Nassauer, Stephen Young, Nuclear Futures: Western European Options for Nuclear Risk Reduction (London/Washington, D.C.:BASIC-BITS Research Report 98.5, 1998), p. 7.]

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Deterrence and the Clinton Administration

Presidential Decision Directive PDD-60

The top-secret Presidential Decision Directive PDD-60, signed by President Clinton in November 1997, replaces a directive signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and gives new guidance to the U.S. military on targeting nuclear weapons. [ See R. Jeffrey Smith, „Clinton Directive Changes Strategy on Nuclear Arms", Washington Post , 7 December 1997, pp. A1 and A8.] PDD-60 abandoned previous references to winning a protracted nuclear war with the former Soviet Union by no longer targeting Russian conventional forces. Moreover, it is widely believed that the list of targets was reduced from 16,000 (in 1985) to 2,500, thus resulting in fewer but more widespread targets. While this can be seen as a positive development, there is also a worrisome aspect of PDD-60: according to press reports, it allows for the use of nuclear weapons not only against „rogue states", but also against an attacker using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against U.S. territory, troops, or allies. [ See for details the excellent BASIC-Report 98.2 by Hans M. Kristensen, Nuclear Futures: Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and US Nuclear Strategy ( Washington, D.C./London: BASIC Report 98.2,1998). In the following quoted as BASIC 1998.]

The Living Single Integrated Operation Plan and Adaptive Planning

The changes in U.S. nuclear doctrine are the result of a seven-year-long review process. The U.S. military sees particularly in the increasingly dangerous threats from countries of the South a justification for maintaining strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons. The Gulf War, the clandestine Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and the lack of U.S. target data processing capabilities for the „Southern Hemisphere" accelerated the changes in the nuclear doctrine and posture. A globally focused, flexible „Strategic War Planning System" (SWPS) was introduced in 1992. A „living SIOP" (Single Integrated Operational Plan) was developed to establish a „real-time nuclear war plan which could receive virtually instantaneous war fighting commands and upgrades." [ BASIC 1998, p. 11.] The core of this planning system is „adaptive planning" It allows expanding the U.S. nuclear weapon capabilities to include WMD targets outside Russia in countries such as Iran, Iraq, or North Korea. Adaptive planning makes limited nuclear operations in regional contingencies against „rogue" nations possible on short notice. Hence, „adaptive planning" allows for future reductions in nuclear arsenals, but at the same time does not imply changes in U.S. nuclear declaratory policy.

The distinction between strategic and tactical nuclear planning was also canceled in 1992. In sum, PDD-60 has to be seen as a series of detailed nuclear attack options for the Post-Cold-War period.

Consequences for Nuclear Force Modernization

As a result of this post-Cold-War nuclear guidance, modernizing and upgrading of nuclear weapon systems and the needed infrastructure is - in the eyes of U.S. planners - an imperative. The Navy is creating a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) retargeting system (SRS), which allows Trident submarines at sea a greater capability to attack fixed and mobile sites. [ BASIC 1998, p. 18.] The U.S. Air Force is upgrading its B-2 bombers for nuclear counterproliferation missions. Today the United States has more than 3,000 nuclear warheads

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operational for immediate launch from intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles on alert. An extra reserve supply of non-deployed nuclear warheads, the „hedge", provides an additional upload capability. The large Russian arsenal is still the focus of the U.S. nuclear forces. [ „Russia is not an enemy. Nonetheless, Russia remains capable of destroying America’s way of life. By most estimates, Russia retains some 20,000-25,000 nuclear weapons, and Russian political and military leaders repeatedly stress their reliance on nuclear weapons for their own security." Statement of General Eugene E. Habiger, USAF, Commander-in-Chief, US STRATCOM before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 13 March 1997.] However, PDD-60 clears the way for modifications of new U.S. nuclear weapons such as the B61-11, which allows introducing new capabilities for targeting proliferators in the „Third World". To cover the „Southern Hemisphere" it is necessary to implement data-targeting technologies from the Northern Cold-War coverage to obtain a „global capability". For example, the MILSTAR satellite communication system is designed to provide secure global command and control capabilities for nuclear war-fighting. [ See BASIC 1998, p.10.]

PDD-60 and Security Assurances

One major problem with PDD-60 is that nuclear deterrence against the use of CBW contradicts the negative security assurances accepted by the five official nuclear weapons states in the course of the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). [ On 5-6 April 1995, the five nuclear-weapon states published declarations giving „negative security assurances" applicable to the NPT. Russia, France, Britain, and the United States declared in separate statements that „these countries will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT, except in the case of an invasion or attack on their territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or States towards which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State, in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state." China promised „not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances" and „not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones at any time or under circumstances." See the documents in The Arms Control Reporter 7-95.850.393.] This dilemma is not neglected by Clinton Administration officials. As Robert Bell, Senior Director for Defense Policy at the National Security Council (NSC), pointed out in February 1998:

„You could say, 'if you attack us in any fashion - conventional, chemical, biological - we will use nuclear weapons.' That would be a categorical threat that would maximize your deterrence. Unfortunately, it would derail your nonproliferation policy and your nonproliferation agenda. So we have tried to strike the balance by maintaining long-standing U.S. policy in this area, actually dating back to Secretary of State Vance in 1978."

But Bell apparently did not have any problem with this dilemma and went on to say: „It is not difficult to define a scenario in which a rogue state would use chemical weapons or biological weapons and not be afforded protection under our negative security assurances." [ Defense News 5-11 January 1998, p.4/19.]

A strong argument against such a position is that if the U.S. deems nuclear deterrence necessary to prevent the use of CBW by their opponents, others could be encouraged to develop their own nuclear weapons. For if the country with the strongest conventional forces in the world deems nuclear deterrence necessary to prevent the use of CBW against its forces or allies, conventionally much weaker countries would have enough reason to also think about the nuclear option. Such a process could be a serious obstacle to further nuclear disarmament.

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The BASIC Report argues into the same direction:

„By using nuclear weapons in this way, the United States is sending a message that nuclear weapons are important for achieving prestige in world affairs and for accomplishing military and political objectives. Pointing with nuclear weapons at regional troublemakers will provide them with a justification to acquire nuclear weapons themselves. Encouraging nuclear proliferation can only increase the risk to U.S. security in the long term." [ BASIC 1998, p. 5.]

The U.S. Counterproliferation Initiative

In December 1993, the then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin introduced the U.S. „Defense Counterproliferation Initiative" (DCPI) in a speech to the National Academy of Sciences. Les Aspin announced the DCPI as a response to new threats. Beside the „old nuclear danger", by which were meant the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenals, the U.S. Defense Minister observed the „new nuclear danger", which is „a handful of nuclear devices in the hands of rogue states or even terrorist groups." [ Remarks by Les Aspin, National Academy of Sciences, Committee on International Security and Arms Control, 7 December 1993.] Les Aspin continued that the three responses to the old threat, namely „deterrence, arms control and a nonproliferation policy based on prevention" worked but should be complemented by new measures: „At the heart of the DCPI, therefore, is a drive to develop new military capabilities to deal with this new threat." While failing to define what counterproliferation really is and how it works during peacetime and in a crisis, Les Aspin emphasized the military elements such as non-nuclear penetrating missions or mobile missile hunters, improving the military planning process on how to fight wars with different adversaries, or collecting intelligence. [ After months of discussions, the Departments of State and Defense agreed upon the following definitions of „Counterproliferation" and „Nonproliferation": „Nonproliferation is the ... full range of political, economic and military tools to prevent proliferation, reverse it diplomatically or protect our interests against an opponent armed with WMD or missiles ... [Such] tools include: intelligence, global nonproliferation norms and agreements, diplomacy, export controls, security assurances, defenses and the application of military force. Counterproliferation refers to the activities of the DoD across the full range of US efforts to combat proliferation, including diplomacy, arms control, export controls, and intelligence collection and analysis, with particular responsibility for assuring that US forces and interests can be protected should they confront an adversary armed with WMD or missiles." The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) determines U.S. counterproliferation policy, whereas the State Department is responsible for U.S. nonproliferation strategy. These two definitions and proposed measures overlap each other, thus inducing interservice and agency rivalries and confusing the international nonproliferation debate. In fact, the DCPI consists of a package of programs that were identified by the Pentagon for coping with WMD. The program was established in the aftermath of the 1991 Iraq-Kuwait war, the possibility of North Korea's nuclear program, and the ongoing disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Counterterrorism elements have been added after the Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subway in March 1995.]

The U.S. DCPI has three objectives. The first objective is to reduce incentives in the eyes of potential proliferators to acquire WMD by reducing the strategic advantages such weapons might have. This approach is based on the classical methods of nonproliferation, such as diplomacy and denial. The second objective is to deter the use or threat of use of NBC weapons by a country that has already proliferated. This role is not yet defined, but it would mean giving nuclear weapons a third role: deterring the use of biological and chemical weapons as well as nuclear and conventional ones. Finally, where proliferation does occur and deterrence does not work, U.S. forces should be well prepared through improved NBC

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protection and ballistic missile defenses, while preemptive military strikes against NBC arsenals of the opponent are not clearly ruled out as well.

Obviously, some CP programs are not new; others have found a safe haven, but the high-flying rhetoric of the first days of CP has given way to concrete force modernization, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs and passive protection programs. The U.S. DCPI is completely in the hands of the U.S. military.

The unveiling of the U.S. counterproliferation (CP) programs produced criticism, especially in the course of international preparation for the 1995 NPT review and extension conference, where the West was calling for an indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT. To many it was not clear how nonproliferation and counterproliferation are connected to each other and whether CP is a new substitute to or a complement of the traditional U.S. nonproliferation policy. International commentators wondered if the United States would try to pursue coercive action against emerging proliferants without authorization by the United Nations. Arms controllers stated that the DCPI could undermine international nonproliferation efforts and could be „counterproductive and dangerous" in the longer run. [ The Woodrow Wilson Center organized an international workshop in October 1994 to discuss the implications of the CP strategy with U.S. officials. The scientific contributions are published in Mitchell Reiss and Harald Müller (eds.), International Perspectives on Counterproliferation (Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center, January 1995, Working paper No. 29).]

Beyond Deterrence: Ballistic Missile Defense and the 1972 ABM Treaty

After the 1991 Gulf War the United States decided to develop more capable theater ballistic missile (TBM) defenses. According to some analysts, programs such as the Army’s Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) or the Navy’s Theater Wide System are in principle also capable of intercepting long-range missiles. The U.S. administration’s original position was that THAAD was not able to intercept strategic missiles. However, independent analysis demonstrated that if THAAD worked as claimed against 3,500 km range TBM, it would also be effective against strategic missiles. [ Lisbeth Gronlund, George Lewis, Theodore Postol, and David Wright, „Highly Capable Theater Missile Defenses and the ABM Treaty", in Arms Control Today , April 1994, pp. 3-8.] Their mobility and high production rates raise concerns that they could also be deployed to defend U.S. territory. It is important to note that the effectiveness of the planned TDM systems is primarily dependent on their ability to deal with countermeasures. [ For a description of these countermeasures, see Lisbeth Gronlund, George Lewis, Theodore Postol, and David Wright, „The Weakest Line of Defense: Intercepting Ballistic Missiles", in Joseph Cirincione and Frank von Hippel, The Last 15 Minutes: Ballistic Missile Defense in Perspective (Washington D.C.: Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, 1996).]

In 1993 the United States began discussions with the government of the Russian Federation on modifications of the ABM Treaty, which limits strategic missile defense systems for both countries. Whereas Russia wanted to limit testing (and the interceptor’s speed to 3 km/h), the United States wanted the treaty to permit deployment of any TMD system as long as the system was not tested against incoming targets with a speed of 5 km/h. On 26 September 1997 the United States and Russia signed two separate „Agreed Statements" to specify which system could be considered treaty compliant. [ See the excellent analysis from Lisbeth Gronlund, „ABM: Just kicking the can", in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Vol. 54 no. 1 , January/February 1998, p. 15-16.] The „low-speed agreement" says that any system will be permitted if its interceptors do not travel faster than 3 km/h and if the system is not tested against targets that fly faster than 5 km/h. Unfortunately the „high speed

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agreement" only specifies that a treaty-compliant system must fulfill the same testing restrictions as the low-speed system and that the parties will „hold consultations and discuss" their „questions and concerns". For the United States this means that each party will have its own responsibility to determine treaty compliance. The agreement prohibits also the deployment of space-based interceptors and introduces two principles: [ Ibid.]

  • The scale of deployment of high-speed systems in terms of number and geographic scope;
  • The deployment of high-speed systems only if they do not pose „a realistic threat to the strategic nuclear force" of the other country.

According to Lisbeth Gronlund, the second principle introduces a new „force-on-force" interpretation. It permits intercepting strategic missiles as long as the defense systems do not threaten the entire retaliatory force of the other side. Whereas a mobile TMD system does not threaten an arsenal of several thousand nuclear weapons, it could in principle threaten an arsenal of a few hundred missiles, thus complicating future nuclear reductions to low levels.

Defensive weapons, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems, are a major component of counterproliferation. The largest portion of the DCPI budget is spend for BMD systems. Confronted with such a massive program, a study by U.S. scientists that analyzed the global missile threat and its dynamics for the next decade came to the conclusion that investing heavily in BMD programs is „misguided and dangerous":

„Essential international arms control treaties designed to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction have been held hostage to other issues. Funding is slashed for programs which provide the front line of defense against the nuclear danger by reducing the threat itself, while billions of dollars are being poured into ballistic missile defense, the last and more questionable line of defense." [ Cirincione and von Hippel, eds., The Last 15 Minutes. Ballistic Missile Defense in Perspective.]

Concerning the defense of ballistic missiles equipped with chemical or biological warheads, scientific analyses show that cheap countermeasures can be used to penetrate a BMD system. Chemical or biological warheads could be divided into dozens of small submunition bomblets that would be released from missiles after the boost phase. Multiplying the potential targets could overwhelm a national missile defense. For nuclear warheads the attacker could employ other measures to penetrate the defense (i.e., decoys, balloons, etc.).

Further questions that emerge by developing a nationwide system are:

  • Is the real WMD threat increasing and is it met by an national missile defense system?
  • Can the technological feasibility be proved?
  • What are the consequences for the nuclear disarmament process and the ABM Treaty?

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The Role of Arms Control and Disarmament

I cannot believe we are about to start the twenty-first century by having the Indian subcontinent repeat the worst mistakes of the twentieth century when we know it is not necessary to peace, to security, to prosperity, to national greatness or national fulfillment.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, May 1998

While this paper so far is concentrated on the obstacles to nuclear disarmament, it is also true that the process of delegitimization of nuclear weapons and of weapons of mass destruction proceeds in a remarkable way. The Canberra Commission, stating the immense destructiveness of nuclear weapons, emphasized that nuclear weapons are „held by a handful of states which insist that these weapons provide unique security benefits, and yet reserve uniquely to themselves the right to own them." The Commission called this situation „highly discriminatory and thus unstable." It follows that „the possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them." [ Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons: Executive Summary, August 1996, p. 7. The Commission proposes also a series of practical steps toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.]

A group of retired generals and admirals, having „acquired an intimate and perhaps unique knowledge of the present security and insecurity of our countries and peoples", published a statement explaining „the continuing existence of nuclear weapons in the armories of nuclear powers, and the ever present threat of acquisition of these weapons by others, constitutes a peril to global peace and security and to the safety and survival of the people we are dedicated to protect." [ See PPNN Newsbrief 4/1996, p. 23-24 on 5 December 1996. In London, 61 retired admirals and generals from seven countries made a „Statement on Nuclear Weapons" in which they called for the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free world. Among them are the Generals J. R. Galvin, B. Rogers, M. Carver, A. Lebed, L. Butler, B. Gromov.] The generals point out that „true nuclear disarmament has not been achieved" because the disarmament treaties „provide that only delivery systems, not nuclear warheads, will be destroyed." This permits the United States and Russia to keep their warheads in reserve storage, thus creating a „reversible nuclear potential." The signatories emphasize the necessity of developing other strategies for conflict resolution: „It is clear, however, that nations now possessing nuclear weapons will not relinquish them until they are convinced that more reliable and less dangerous means of providing for their security are in place."

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague declared in July 1996 that „the threat and use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and particularly the principles and rules of humanitarian law." In paragraph 3 the ICJ emphasizes „negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control" and in paragraph 4 the judges „call upon all States to fulfill that obligations immediately by commencing multilateral negotiations in 1997 leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons." All the judges agreed that „the threat or use of nuclear weapons" was „generally" unlawful, but could not „definitely" rule out the threat or use of nuclear weapons „in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State could be at stake."

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Another hopeful signal for nuclear disarmament is that two nuclear-weapon-free zones became effective (the treaties of Tlatelolco and Rarotonga) and that two new regional agreements emerged: the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty and the Treaty signed by the Southeast Asian Countries. [ See Louis Masperi, „Present and Future Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones", in INESAP Information Bulletin, no. 10, 1996, p. 1ff.] China and France signed the NPT in 1992, and this treaty was extended indefinitely in May 1995. Progress has also been made on concluding a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and a ban on the production of fissile material.

Newly published declarations are emphasizing that drastic reductions of nuclear weapons are possible. A group of prominent politicians stated in 1998 that „a long sought prospect of a world free of the apocalyptic threat of nuclear weapons is suddenly within reach (...) The world is not condemned to live forever with threats of nuclear conflict, or the anxious, fragile peace imposed by nuclear deterrence. Such threats are intolerable and such a peace unworthy. The sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons invokes a moral imperative for their elimination." [ Statement on Nuclear Weapons by International Civilian Leaders, Released by the State of the World Forum, 2 February 1998. This statement was signed by J. Carter, R. Butler, M. Gorbachev, V. Goldansky, E. Velikhov, H. Schmidt, E. Bahr et al.]

One can conclude that nuclear disarmament is moving slowly in the right direction but that many obstacles still have to be overcome - one important of them being the emphasis of the U.S. nuclear doctrine to deter the use of CBW. If this tendency will not be reversed, the world might move into the wrong direction: a 21th century seeing more states possessing nuclear as well as chemical and biological weapons.

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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Februar 2000

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