Lack of Leadership by Washington and Moscow Undermines Treaties and Norms

Hopes that the New START Treaty will lead to disarmament and nonproliferation have yet to be realized. (Photo: Eric Bridiers / Flick Commons)

Hopes that the New START Treaty will lead to disarmament and nonproliferation have yet to be realized. (Photo: Eric Bridiers / Flick Commons)

In a blog post at Arms Control Now, Greg Thielmann writes about how the numbers of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia deploys have actually increased in the last six months, in advance of the deadline for rollback imposed by the New START Treaty.

The 1970 NPT is the keystone of international efforts to control and reverse the international nuclear weapons threat. But many countries have long questioned the bona fides of Russia and the United States in implementing the treaty’s NPT Article VI disarmament obligation, a skepticism that is especially evident at the deliberations of the NPT review conference every five years.

The Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference “affirm[ed] the need for the nuclear-weapon States to reduce and eliminate all types of their nuclear weapons and encourage[ed], in particular, those States with the largest nuclear arsenals to lead efforts in this regard.” But instead of putting on the brakes as they head around the bend toward next spring’s NPT review conference, Moscow and Washington appear to be leaning on the nuclear weapons throttle. Ignoring their commitment in the Final Document “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament” puts these countries on a diplomatic collision course at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

The result:

The failure to move forward expeditiously on shrinking U.S. and Russian nuclear forces encourages other nuclear powers to expand their arsenals.

As if that’s not bad enough

Moreover, non-nuclear-weapons states will be less likely to support tougher nonproliferation measures and more likely to spin their wheels on disarmament endeavors, such as premature pursuit of a worldwide nuclear weapons ban.

Meanwhile in an article in the National Interest titled Barack Obama Is Not a Realist, Paul Saunders writes that it’s not just nuclear weapons where the United States fails to demonstrate leadership, but (emphasis added):

… global rules and norms are in flux. America, the European Union, some components of the UN bureaucracy and progressive NGOs have attempted to redefine them, weakening state sovereignty and legitimizing force to right perceived wrongs. It is naive to expect others—especially dissatisfied major powers like China and Russia—to observe international rules and norms that we ourselves consider inadequate and are attempting to modify. This is a particularly daring assumption when we ourselves often try to change rules and norms through action and precedent rather than negotiation and consensus.

This parallels the U.S. nuclear-weapons policy, which can be characterized as do as we say, not as we do. And what follows echoes how “non-nuclear-weapons states will be less likely to support tougher nonproliferation measures.”

It’s also naive to think that once some major powers question rules and norms, others will not seek to modify them too—and in ways more suitable to their interests than to ours, whether in the South China Sea or in Crimea. … Because rules and norms are inherently subjective and open to contending interpretations, these perspectives matter—and arguments about what is “legal” go nowhere.

As with the Comprehensive-Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty:

The fact that the U.S. Senate has not ratified agreements like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, does not strengthen Washington’s hand.