Reducing Nuclear Dangers

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Activities to reduce the dangers of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction have been prominent elements in Stimson’s agenda throughout its 25 year history. Our work has included research and analysis, the convening of working groups of eminent people seeking to promote solutions to particular problems, successful attempts to unite the NGO community behind unified positions, thereby strengthening its influence on governments, and even — in one instance — working on Capitol Hill to help shepherd a treaty through the Senate. In all these efforts, our rationale was constant: Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose unacceptable risks to American security and to all humanity.  It is in the nation’s interest to make progress, whenever possible, toward their elimination.

One thread throughout our history has been the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan. This has been an abiding concern of our co-founder, Michael Krepon, who has travelled to the sub-continent dozens of times to introduce new ideas to dampen tensions, and to induce the two states to adopt confidence building measures which, if not sufficient to end their nuclear competition, at least could prevent war from breaking out inadvertently due to a technical flaw or human error. For years, Stimson has hosted Indian, Pakistani, and sometimes Chinese fellows — military officers, diplomats, government officials, and academics  — introducing them to US ideas for limiting the risk of nuclear war, creating a network of influential individuals with contacts in Washington and with each other, and sometimes bringing greater understanding of the other side’s positions. 

Stimson was particularly active — and successful — on the WMD front in the 1990s.  During that decade:

·        We organized a group of more than 20 NGOs to work together to create a unified agenda for the crucial 1995 Non-proliferation Treaty Review conference. It was the treaty’s 25th anniversary and its terms permitted the signatories, at that time, either to end it or to extend it for another period of time. Following months of discussions in Washington, the group — led by Joe Cirincione, now president of Ploughshares Fund — attended the preparatory meetings and actual conferences in New York.  In the end, the Treaty was extended in perpetuity — an outcome for which we can claim a modest share of the credit.

·        Also during this period, working closely with US and European NGOs, we closely monitored and offered suggestions for resolving deadlocks in the talks for a comprehensive nuclear test ban. The treaty was completed in 1996 and, again, the NGO community deserves credit for its assistance.

·        Finally, we worked closely with representatives of the US chemical industry to allay any fears that the inspections called for by the Chemical Weapons Convention, then awaiting Senate ratification, would not jeopardize industrial secrets. John Parachini, one of our first employees, rejoined the Center to work actively along with industry representatives in the Senate, with the executive branch, and with the media in support of the Treaty’s passage. It was ratified in 1997.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, our efforts to limit nuclear dangers also became more ambitious. Recognizing that with the end of the Cold War, the rationale for maintaining nuclear arsenals had disappeared, yet the dangers of nuclear devastation remained, we began to explore the feasibility of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. We convened a working group in 1994 chaired by General Andrew Goodpaster, former national security advisor to President Eisenhower, which included other retired military officers, such distinguished diplomats as Paul Nitze, serving members of Congress, and noted academic experts.  Supported ably by Cathleen Fisher, the group commissioned papers, met over a two-year period, and in its final report recommended the gradual elimination of all nuclear weapons. This was an important step in moving “elimination” from the fringes of policy debates to legitimacy in the eyes of the national security establishment. 

Ten years later, with “elimination” endorsed by the likes of former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, as well as former secretary of defense William Perry and retired Senator Sam Nunn, we began to explore the idea in greater detail. Beginning in 2007, Stimson began a detailed exploration of the feasibility of eliminating nuclear weapons under the direction of co-founder Barry Blechman. In 2010, Stimson published two volumes on the subject, one detailing the means of overcoming technical roadblocks to elimination, the second recording the political obstacles and how to overcome them, as seen through the eyes of nationals of nuclear weapon states and countries with advanced civilian nuclear tehnologies. The project’s chief researcher, Alex Bollfrass, also created a “computer game,” in which players took on the persona of a national leader and sought to cheat on an agreement to eliminate nuclear arms — a simulation which demonstrated the difficulty of such an undertaking.

Throughout its history, Stimson analysts have participated in the debate over nuclear limitations, commenting in op-eds and journal articles, as well as on radio and TV, debating in Washington policy forums and in public gatherings throughout the US and abroad.  Our work has ranged from analyses of the risks and benefits of naval nuclear weapons, to the advantages of alternative approaches to US/Russian arms reductions, to the security of nuclear stockpiles in Pakistan, to means of negotiating a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.  It is work we will continue so long as nuclear weapons remain a risk to humanity’s survival.  

Photo credit:  jonathan mcintosh via flickr

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