No Nukes is Good Nukes

Tamping down on nuclear weapons in the United States and the world

| July 5, 2007

The United States hasn't designed and developed a new nuclear bomb for more than 20 years, and that's making some people very nervous. Powerful voices in the United States are calling for a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program to trade out aging nukes with newer ones -- a move that would skirt the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by updating old weapons instead of creating new ones. John R. Harvey, the director of policy planning for the National Nuclear Security Administration, speaks for RRW proponents in a wide-ranging package on the subject in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (article not available online). Harvey writes that the program would make the nation's nuclear arsenal 'much more efficient, responsive, smaller, and, we believe, cheaper.' Opponents contend that the new warheads could end up pushing the world closer to nuclear war.

Programs like the RRW are taking the world 'in the wrong direction,' Hans Blix, former executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, writes in the Boston Review. Developing new kinds of nuclear weapons in the United States could undermine international efforts to keep nuclear weapons away from countries like Iran. It would be easier to convince Iran to give up its nuclear program, according to Blix, if the United States and its allies 'were ready to do the same.'

The idea that the United States needs to update its nuclear weapons 'strikes Middle Easterners as ludicrous,' Saideh Lotfian, associate professor of political science at the University of Tehran, offers in a counter argument to Harvey in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. US foreign policy is already seen as 'duplicitous' in the region, and attempts to modernize the nuclear arsenal while continuing to preach disarmament would only reinforce that perception. The way to stop the spread of nuclear arms worldwide, Lotfian argues, is a 'devaluation of nuclear weapons in the US national security strategy.'

Or it may be time for the United States to abandon its current disarmament strategy all together. Retired Lieutenant General William E. Odom argues in Foreign Policy (excerpt available online) that 'US policies for preventing proliferation have actually accelerated it.' In response to the Bush administration's tough stance against the 'axis of evil,' North Korea and Iran have started working harder to achieve their nuclear programs. The best way to stop the spread of nuclear weapons is to make countries feel like they don't need them. In other words, we'd do better to promote stability in tinderbox regions. 'Preventing nuclear proliferation,' Odom writes, 'requires making states feel secure.'

The issue is beginning to resonate outside foreign policy and government circles. In another roundtable conducted by the Bulletin, Lawrence S. Wittner, a history professor at the State University of New York at Albany, points to recent protests inside the United States as evidence of a resurgent anti-nuclear arms movement. In May, students at the University of California organized a hunger strike to protest the University's nuclear programs. Actions like these point to 'the possibility for a dramatic upswing in anti-nuclear weapon activism,' writes Wittner, and will continue to grow should the United States continue with its plans for newer and cheaper nuclear weapons.

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