Nonproliferation Policy Education Center NPEC

See also: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Combating the spread of strategic weapons has been at the very top of President Clinton’s and President Bush’s list of foreign policy objectives. Iraq’s and North Korea’s development of long-range missiles, and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons has reinforced the gravity of this issue. Yet, for so important a topic, America’s fight against strategic weapons proliferation has generally been ineffective. Neither its policies nor the actions taken to implement them have been very successful … (about /Mission 1/2).

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About /Mission 2/2: … Powerful public officials may intone gravely about curbing the spread of particularly dangerous technology, but when confronted with cases that require tough action or some sacrifice, concessions are the norm.  

Part of the problem is that the reasons for acting against proliferators stemming the flow of “destabilizing technology” or promoting international “norms” of nonproliferation are too nebulous and abstract for busy policy makers. In contrast, confronting a nation engaged in proliferation runs risks that are real and negative. Thus, policy officials are normally unenthusiastic about taking firm stands until the problem is so advanced it is largely unmanageable.

Moreover, when action is finally taken it is frequently ineffective or counterproductive. For example, America’s initial response in the 1980s to Iraq’s and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons capabilities was to allow “civilian” nuclear activities in exchange for inspections. This did little to stop either program. Yet, in the absence of sounder alternatives, we can expect that simply doing more of this sort of bargaining is only likely to make matters worse.

Dangerous technology is dangerous, after all, because it can be converted into strategic weapons so quickly that no inspection regime can effectively safeguard it against being diverted. By failing to recognize this and making such technology available over the last 40 years (under the U.S. Atoms and Space for Peace nonproliferation programs), the United States and its allies have actually made it possible for nations like Iraq to “safeguard” their way to strategic weapons capabilities. To the extent that exchanging dangerous technology for peaceful pledges and “safeguarding” are also now being heralded as the way to address chemical, biological and missile proliferation problems, serious trouble is also likely arise in these nonnuclear fields.

Unfortunately, neither the United States nor the developed nations that depend on US guidance have come to terms with these problems. The long-term implications of maintaining our current nonproliferation policies may prove perilous. At a minimum, new nuclear problems in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India and North Korea will worsen. Even more daunting, however, is the prospect that instability in Russia and assertiveness and strategic modernization on the part of China may pose proliferation challenges to US and global security that are more intractable.

Unless we reevaluate what we have been doing and fundamentally change our nonproliferation approach, proliferation developments in the 1990s will not be merely an academic worry or a troublesome facet of military engagements like Desert Storm, but precursors to the type of wars the world experienced in the 1910s and 1930s. However, getting policy makers to recognize the problems in our current nonproliferation policies and the dangers of failing to develop sounder alternatives will not be easy. First, there is tremendous bureaucratic inertia behind the current approach. Second, both the press and academia are relatively new to this topic and have tended to focus on the most urgent or narrow aspects of proliferation. There is a large literature on a variety of specific proliferation issues but little understanding, inside or outside of government, of the policy relevance of this material. What’s lacking among policy makers, academics and the media, however, is the broader perspective necessary to give meaning to this analysis and to suggest sensible ways out of our proliferation predicament.

In order to develop a truly effective nonproliferation policy that busy policy makers can embrace, it is necessary to shift the focus of the current debate away from academic stability arguments and traditional concerns about maintaining international norms to the more pressing proliferation problems now emerging and the solutions they will require: … (full long text About /Mission).

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