AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Although the United States has undertaken significant nuclear arms reductions since the end of the Cold War, as has Russia, and is currently on track to achieve the cuts agreed under the terms of the Moscow Treaty by 2012, many people argue that the contemporary security environment warrants further reductions. (1) The Nuclear Posture Review of 2002 formally recognized the termination of an adversarial relationship with Russia and set out a move away from a Cold War-styled "threat-based" approach, instead adopting a "capability-based" approach. This would provide a "credible deterrent at the lowest level of nuclear weapons consistent with U.S. and allied security," with the broadest possible range of options to respond to any one of a variety of security challenges. (2) The capability-based approach established a "new triad" composed of offensive nuclear and non-nuclear strike systems, active and passive defenses, and a "responsive nuclear infrastructure." (3) On 5 April 2009, Pres. Barack Obama gave a groundbreaking speech on nuclear weapons in Prague, Czech Republic, stating the United States' commitment to the visionary goal of "the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." (4) Working in the strategic environment, this article considers the direct and indirect nuclear threats to the United States and evaluates the relative merit of retaining extant US nuclear force levels, undergoing complete nuclear disarmament, or implementing unilateral denuclearization to the level of minimum deterrence. (5) It concludes that the United States should denuclearize now to an objectively determined level required for true minimum deterrence, reject the first use of nuclear weapons, and unequivocally articulate its rationale for so doing.
Nuclear Threats in the Contemporary Global Environment
Direct threats to US security stem from proliferation, risks of accidents and unauthorized or inadvertent use, and nuclear terrorism. Roger Molander, of the RAND Corporation, asserts that "in the near future, a large number of countries are each going to develop a small number of nuclear weapons." (6) The Union of Concerned Scientists considers this the greatest long-term danger confronting both US and international security today. (7) Moreover, the more widely proliferated nuclear weapons become, the more theoretical opportunities may arise for theft of nuclear material. Conversely, a minority of public proponents argue that wider proliferation may lead to more stability and that the existence of nuclear weapons potentially makes it possible to approach a "defensive-deterrence ideal," reducing the probability of any warfare breaking out. (8) This minority cannot, however, escape the fact that the chances of an explosive accident or an unauthorized or inadvertent launch increase as the number of nuclear states increases.
The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002) declared that "the gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology." (9) Similarly, the national security strategy of 2006 is unequivocal in its assessment that, in the wake of 9/11, "there are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD [weapons of mass destruction]." (10) Despite programs such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, hundreds of complete weapons and even more nonassembled critical weapon components are currently stored in conditions that leave them vulnerable to theft by determined criminals. This parlous state of nuclear security has not gone unnoticed by the criminal fraternity. (11) Hans Kristensen, of the Federation of American Scientists, however, considers the threat of nuclear terrorism "very hypothetical" and certainly not something that justifies an "operational nuclear weapon" for a response. (12)
It should be noted that none of the direct threats arise from the use of nuclear weapons by state actors. These actors, however, do present indirect threats to the United States through their potential to inhibit US influence and their contribution to regional instability.
Although China has long declared a "no-first-use" policy, its nuclear strategy is becoming increasingly differentiated. (13) At the strategic level, although minimum deterrence continues to govern China's strategy, with Russia's nuclear capability deteriorating during a period of conventional US dominance, Chinese policy makers may be turning towards new nuclear strength in order to prevent the United States from securing military supremacy in perpetuity. (14) The greater visible threat, however, is China's regional counterforce strategy, driven largely by developments in South Asia. (15) Here, it could employ a parallel, two-tier strategy, with short-range missiles "useful for political coercion, and, if necessary, for defeating Taiwanese military forces, while its long-range missiles induce restraint by the United States." (16)
North Korea is one of only two nations (with Iran) identified in the national security strategy of 2002 as posing a serious security challenge to the United States. (17) Apparently, North Korea has produced weapons-grade fissile material and continued its missile-development program with the launch of a Taepodong 2 on 5 April 2009. In a stance reminiscent of superpower attitudes during the Cold War, most analysts believe that the North Korean regime views nuclear weapons as a means of retaining the status quo, preventing the collapse of its totalitarian regime, and keeping its enemies at bay. (18) More specifically, the objective of a North Korean nuclear capability might even be only to preclude US intervention in a regional conflict. (19)
As a de facto nuclear power, India offers a rationale for nuclear weapons driven by three factors. (20) First, several Indian leaders judge that "India is a great power and should have weapons that great powers have." (21) Second, India does not view the Nuclear-Weapon States' (NWS) positive security assurances as an adequate level of reassurance in lieu of the nuclear weapons that the Non-Nuclear-Weapon States (NNWS) have had to forgo under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). (22) Third, India perceives that China poses a major threat. Unfortunately, Indian policy generates regional conflict, driving Pakistan's nuclear strategy, whose sole declared reason for holding nuclear weapons is to deter any possible Indian aggression. (23)
Israel's official posture is one of calculated nuclear ambiguity. As the only extant presumed nuclear power in the region, Israel holds as declared "policy that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East." (24) Meanwhile, Iran is pursuing programs that could enable it to develop nuclear weapons within several years. Its acquisition of nuclear weapons could prove extremely destabilizing within the Middle East, and "spillover" from a nuclear Iran would present a variety of regional threats, not the least of which is emboldened support for terrorism and Shia activism. (25)
Often classified as a "former" threat, Russia today poses no realistic threat of premeditated nuclear attack. (26) Nevertheless, of the five NWSs, Russia is the only one, apart from the United States, having a four-figure arsenal of nuclear weapons; moreover, the Nuclear Posture Review of 2002 describes Russia as a possible resurgent threat and peer competitor of the future. (27) The remaining two nuclear powers--the United Kingdom and France--pose little threat to global or US security. The rationale for both forces was well expressed in a speech delivered by French president Jacques Chirac in 2006: "In the face of the concerns of the present and the uncertainties of the future, nuclear deterrence remains the fundamental guarantee of our security. Wherever the pressure comes from, it also gives us the ability to keep our freedom to act, to …