Disarmament’s Cause and Effect Relationship With Nonproliferation — or Lack Thereof

One can’t help but experience something akin to gratification by a June 4 New York Times editorial on nuclear disarmament.

Did House Republicans somehow miss the end of the cold war? At a time when, for the sake of both security and fiscal responsibility, the country should be reducing its nuclear arsenal, the House has approved a defense authorization bill for 2013 that threatens to freeze the number of weapons at current levels and, over time, waste billions of dollars on unnecessary purchases and programs.

Thankfully, the bill isn’t likely to become law. But it is worth taking a closer look, both for what it says about Republicans’ misplaced strategic priorities — and about how far President Obama has already gone to appease them.

The A word — yikes! The editorial writer also injects some sly sarcasm (emphasis added).

The bill would bar reduction, consolidation or withdrawal of tactical weapons in Europe — we can’t imagine a more unnecessary weapon — unless several onerous conditions are met..

The writer also brings to light a point to which I personally hadn’t been exposed (or it hadn’t registered). As regular Focal Points readers know, a recurring theme here is the decoupling of nonproliferation from disarmament in recent years. In other words, Western nuclear powers seem to use the imperative to prevent non-nuclear weapon states, as well as terrorists, from obtaining nukes as a smokescreen. They seek to obscure — or rationalize — the leadership on disarmament that they’re failing to demonstrate by signing anemic treaties such as New START and funding modernization programs intended to endow nuclear weapons into perpetuity.

Meanwhile, hawks and realists both maintain that disarmament leadership means nothing to states that aspire to nuclear weapons anyway. In the past, this author has suspected that, messengers aside, they may be right. But the Times editorial states:

If the United States fails to keep pushing for even deeper cuts — or raises any doubts about its current commitments — it will have an even harder time rallying global pressure to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others. Remember George W. Bush’s contempt for treaties?

In other words, failure to disarm may be immaterial to states whose nuclear programs are at the dream stage, but it does have an adverse effect on states we petition to join us in preventing proliferation. Thus disarmament in itself may or may not have a direct effect on proliferation, but it can be a force multiplier in the quest for nonproliferation.