The Day After Tomorrow: Why Nukes Will Always Be With Us

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Following the end of the Cold War's arms race between the U.S. and Russia the question of nuclear proliferation has continued to dominate the concerns of leaders with and without nuclear capability. Worries about nuclear proliferation have become more intense in recent years, as countries with unpredictable behavior have come closer in acquiring the technology necessary to develop nuclear weapons, namely Iran and North Korea. In addition, the concern of nuclear warfare augments when nuclear states are involved in sovereignty disputes in their region, such as Israel over Palestine, Pakistan and India over Kashmir, and Russia, to a lesser extent, over its peripheral territories. The tensions that these conflicts create, raise the interest in these states to maintain nuclear weapons so that they may project their power, but it also creates the possibility that nuclear weapons may be used. The political tensions that exist are thus considered threatening, and this has fueled interest in the discussion for the abolition of nuclear weapons amongst all states.

The aim of the Carnegie report is thus to contextualize this debate, and further, to promote a serious international analysis and discussion that recognizes the divergent views within the group of nuclear armed states, as well as with those that do not possess weapons. The report argues, more specifically, that there is an absence of sufficient action towards complete disarmament on behalf of nuclear states. As a result, this renders many non-nuclear countries increasingly resistant to efforts to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency system of nuclear safeguards that is designed to ensure civilian nuclear facilities are not used for military purposes. The report highlights that this is especially disconcerting considering the expectation of significant global expansion on nuclear energy production.

In order to evaluate the type of discussion that needs to take place, and the measures that should be implemented to reassure all parties that nuclear disarmament is beneficial to all, the report first outlines the use of nuclear weapons by the 9 nuclear states. The report acknowledges that different nuclear states perceive the utility of nuclear weapons in different terms. For example, Pakistan is reported to use it as a general balance to India's overall strategic advantage. France, on the other hand, does not consider its nuclear capability's existence as dependent upon a nuclear threat from any other state. The article concludes that because different states use nuclear weapons for different reasons, that is, they understand nuclear security applies to them in different ways, all states will need to take different steps for disarmament to take place.

More significantly, however, the report highlights the challenges that will continue to inhibit the process of abolishing nuclear weapons. First, the Carnegie report notes that a concern for nuclear powers like China and Russia, is that abolishing nuclear weapons would provide the United states with a significant military advantage over them, as their conventional forces are especially strong. This implies that nuclear abolition could only truly succeed if it was accompanied by adjustments in broader military relations, as well as confidence building measures between states. In addition, unsettled sovereignty disputes that were mentioned above will also need to be stabilized for serious negotiations on abolishing nuclear weapons to take place. Finally, a fear of nuclear terrorism also diminishes the willingness of nuclear states to abandon their weapons. Yet, the likelihood of terrorists to develop such weapons is very low. They would be more likely to purchase them from a nuclear state, again contributing to the motivation factors for abolishing these weapons. Ultimately, however, greater transparency will be required so that countries, both nuclear and non-nuclear, reduce their fears based on speculation concerning how their arsenals rank in comparison to those of other states.

The Carnegie report offers an illuminating account on the political conditions that will be necessary for the abolition of nuclear weapons to take place. They make a convincing point when they argue that because such an event depends on many complex agreements, that international organizations, and think tanks in particular, must take the initiative to explore the necessary conditions and tactics that may bring about an opportunity to seriously pursue complete nuclear disarmament. However, other reports have undertaken short-term challenges that problematize disarmament. The Council on Foreign Relations, in particular, addresses the complex situation that is implied in managing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. While the focus and aims of the two articles are different, the suggestions of the Council on Foreign Relations article provides more specific suggestions, for the U.S. in particular, to bring about the type of conditions that the Carnegie Report has deemed as conditional for disarmament. Unfortunately, however, the issues that are highlighted by the report on the nuclear proliferation of the Middle East, indicates that the complexity of the situation is one that will unlikely be overcome in the near future. The objective they challenge leaders to undertake is then not that of global nuclear disarmament, but instead a more sober goal of managing Iran's access to nuclear weapons.

Although such a task would appear less daunting, the report quickly demonstrates that numerous factors must be addressed for such an objective to be completed. The authors of the report, Reidel and Samore, present the different options that they US would have if their diplomatic efforts fail to stop Iran from achieving nuclear capability. It could accept Iran as a nuclear-capable state with a breakout option and try to build firebreaks to prevent Iran from actually producing such material. If that fails, the US could attempt to contain and deter a nuclear-armed Iran while seeking to discourage others in the region from developing nuclear weapons. Or the United States could decide to attack Iran's nuclear facility in an attempt o set back Iran's break out capacity. Although the author's indicate that the U.S. is not under a time constraint in terms of Iran's technological capabilities to produce nuclear weapons, there are significant obstacles in the way of "managing Iran."

First, is the question of Israel, which faces a perceived existential threat and could decide to take matters into its own hands even before the United States has decided that the course of diplomacy has been exhausted. Neither an American nor an Israeli military option is likely to produce sufficient gain to be worth the potential costs, but paradoxically, without a credible military threat, Iran is much less likely to make nuclear concessions.

As a result, the report strongly encourages any negotiations with Iran to be consulted with its allies in the region, as well as other actors that may influence Iran's behavior. For example, more effective U.N. sanctions require cooperation by Russia and China.

The Obama administration will also need to develop an approach to overcome the current diplomatic stalemate, that is, it should resume direct bilateral talks with Iran on a range of issues, including the nuclear issue, U.S.-Iranian relations, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian process, without requiring Iran to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities as a precondition for such talks. As such, the report considers the question of managing nuclear proliferation in Iran to be inextricably linked to a rapprochement between Iran and the West more generally.

Related articles discussing the feasibility of nuclear disarmament also highlight different cases that would impact the possibility of abolishing these weapons. The Boston Globe takes this perspective as it focused on nuclear terrorism, and the current nuclear states that would be most likely to allow for the proliferation of these weapons to non-state actors. Citing a Foreign Policy pole of 117 non-governmental terrorism, the Boston Globe notes that 74% of experts consider Pakistan the country most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorist groups in the next 5 years. They explained this by noting that Pakistan has just recently released Kahn from house arrest, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, who admitted passing nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Taking this as their point of departure, the Boston Globe noted that the U.S., and other nuclear states engaged in limiting nuclear proliferation, not only had to focus on states that might develop a nuclear arsenal like North Korea and Iran, but that they also had to focus on limiting the ability of non-state actors, that would be more difficult to manage should they ever acquire such weapons.

In contrast to the suggestions proposed by the report of the Council on Foreign relations, which pushed for greater pressure towards Iran in nuclear negotiations, the Boston Globe cited that alternative incentives should be employed, and more importantly the question of Pakistan's stability should be addressed in order to prevent the conditions that allow for terrorists groups to become powerful.

Pakistan's provinces bordering Afghanistan offer safe haven for nuclear terrorists including Al Qaeda's top leaders, such as Bin Laden who continue to seek nuclear weapons. To reduce the danger of Asian nuclear arsenals, the US should consider venues such as economic development and democratic support, in order to enhance the stability of the country.

The range of suggestions covered by the different reports highlights well the complexity of geopolitics that rests behind the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

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