The 1990s, the first post-Cold War decade, were years of progress and global growth in many ways. The world’s population grew 10 percent to almost 6 billion people. The American economy enjoyed its longest peacetime expansion ever, with the Dow Jones industrial average rocketing from 2600 to almost 12,000. Many other national economies also prospered, with Asian nations expanding, crashing and rebounding. Not coincidentally, the world’s nations now spend 30 to 40 percent less on defense than they did during the Cold War, despite several major regional conflicts. Computers increased exponentially in speed and the Internet grew in the blink of an eye from a defense computer network to an information super-highway linking students, experts and nations.

In one crucial area though, we have not advanced as much as was hoped at the beginning of this remarkable decade. The threat of the mass destruction of human beings by the most heinous weapons ever invented still haunts world capitals and vexes military and political leaderships. During the 1990s, fears that some group or nation would use internationally banned biological or chemical weapons actually increased. United Nations inspectors after the 1991 Persian Gulf war discovered that Iraq had assembled dozens of warhead filled with VX nerve gas and the biological agent, anthrax. The 1995 Tokyo subway attack by the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo using sarin gas led some experts to warn of future "super-terrorism" battles. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen calls it "a grave new world of terrorism—a world in which traditional notions of deterrence and counter-response no longer apply."

Other experts caution that the media and fictional novels have exaggerated the chemical, biological and cyber-warfare threats. Few can ignore, however, the brooding presence of the mountain of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials that still fill global arsenals. As the new millennium begins, eight nations—more than ever before—possess over 35,600 nuclear bombs containing 5,000 megatons of destructive energy. The equivalent of about 416,000 Hiroshima-size bombs, this global arsenal is more than sufficient to destroy the world.

With the end of the Cold War, we no longer fear anyone will intentionally launch a global thermonuclear war. Americans no longer have to worry about 5000 Soviet warheads screaming over the pole to incinerate the country; nor do Russians need fear volleys of American warheads pulverizing their nation. Tragically, however, there remains a very real danger that nuclear, biological or chemical weapons will be used in smaller—but still horrifically deadly—numbers. Whether delivered in the cargo hold of a ship, the belly of an airplane or the tip of a missile, just one modern thermonuclear weapon detonated today in just one city would be the most catastrophic event in recorded history. A one-megaton bomb would destroy 50 square miles of an urban area, killing or seriously injuring 1 to 2 million people. Even a smaller, more portable device of 100 kilotons (8 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb but small by today’s standards) would result in a radiation zone 20 to 40 miles long and 2 to 3 miles wide in which all exposed persons would receive a lethal total dose of 600 rad within six hours.

The Non-Proliferation Regime

Fortunately, there exist defenses to these threats. The first and strongest line of defense remains the non-proliferation regime – the interlocking network of treaties, agreements and organizations painstakingly constructed by the United States and its partners over the past 40 years – that helps reduce and prevent the threat in the first place. Centered in the nuclear domain around the Non-Proliferation Treaty and in other areas around the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, the regime is buttressed by numerous multi-lateral and bi-lateral agreements and arrangements, particularly by negotiations between the United States and Russia over the fate of their nuclear arsenals. Unfortunately, this regime is badly in need of repair and revitalization.

Hardly a week passes without a new problem surfacing. As we enter the new century, concerns with missile and nuclear programs in North Korea, Iran and Iraq remain unresolved; the slow motion arms race in South Asia keeps both nations intent on deploying nuclear weapons; Russia—the world’s largest warehouse of nuclear weapons, materials and expertise—spirals in economic decline; China modernizes its nuclear arsenal, Japan partners with the United States in missile defense, and the three nations link with the Koreas, Taiwan, India and Pakistan to form an Asian nuclear reaction chain that vibrates dangerously with each nation’s defense deployments. Meanwhile, international negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament and the Non-Proliferation Treaty review sessions drift inconclusively; the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty still patiently awaits ratification three years after it was signed: and it appears that President Clinton will complete his eight years in office without signing a single strategic nuclear reductions treaty, compared to the two his predecessor signed during his four-year term.

If the regime fails, there are, of course, other lines of defense. These defenses should be seen as an integrated whole, not as mutually opposing solutions. Military forces can—and do—deter the use of weapons of mass destruction by threatening overwhelming retaliation. Nations have a variety of counter-force options deployed and in development to strike mass destruction weapons, launchers and facilities before they can be used. Finally, should all else fail, a third line of active missile defenses might provide some protection. Missile defenses, however, have a dual nature. Offering an alluring technological solution to one type of mass destruction deliver system, effective missile defense weapons are a decade or more away from operational feasibility, yet, mere talk of their introduction stimulates the very arsenals they hope to deter.

The Regime Works

The need for military counters to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a necessary condition of international life. Certainly, the threat of devastating retaliation helps deter the use of these weapons. Today, conventional forces alone threaten national destruction on a scale that few leaders would risk. However potentially effective other counter-proliferation efforts may be, historically, the non-proliferation regime has one great factor in its favor: it works. Not even the most fervent advocate would claim the regime works perfectly, and there exists a long line of experts (as this conference demonstrates) ready to discuss in detail the flaws in the regime.

However, it is safe to say that diplomacy, negotiations and treaty restrictions have prevented and destroyed far more weapons of mass destruction than military measures have. The Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, for example, provide financial and technical assistance to help the states of the former Soviet Union fulfill their obligations under the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). For the cost of one B-2 bomber ($2.5 billion over the last seven years) these programs have funded the deactivation of 4838 nuclear warheads and the elimination of 387 nuclear ballistic missiles, 343 ballistic missile silos, 136 nuclear submarine launch tubes, and 49 long-range nuclear bombers in the former Soviet Union. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated an entire class of missiles from the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union (consisting of 846 U.S. and 1846 Soviet missiles, including the modern Pershing II and SS-20 systems). UNSCOM inspectors in Iraq uncovered and verified the destruction of far more biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and facilities than were destroyed in the massive bombing and ground assaults of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Agreed Framework with North Korea, for all its problems, is successfully containing and perhaps reversing a nuclear weapons program that threatened to plunge the Korean peninsula into war in 1994. A Council on Foreign Relations Task Force concluded, "The Agreed Framework stands as the major bulwark against a return to the kind of calamitous military steps the United States was forced to consider in 1994 to stop North Korea’s nuclear program." There was not, and still is not, a viable military answer to that particular international dilemma.

More importantly, since the beginning of the non-proliferation regime in the 1960s, the spread of mass destruction weapons has been, if not prevented, at least greatly restricted. President John F. Kennedy worried that while only the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France then possessed nuclear weapons, by the end of the decade 15 or 20 nations could obtain them. However, with determined bi-partisan presidential efforts and global cooperation, by 1970 only China had joined the ranks of, what has remained to this day, the five recognized nuclear-weapon states.

Fifteen years ago, experts and governments warily eyed the nuclear proliferation risks posed by the top ten states of concern: India, Israel, South Africa, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iraq, Libya, South Korea and Taiwan. Today, three of these (South Africa, Argentina, Brazil) have abandoned their nuclear weapon programs, two (South Korea and Taiwan) would be a risk only if their regional situation sharply deteriorates, one (Libya) is of moderate concern, one (Iraq) remains of high concern, and three (India, Pakistan and Israel) now have nuclear weapons. There are other states that bear watching, but over the past fifteen years only two other nations of high concern must be added to the list: North Korea and Iran. Two others—Algeria and Romania—briefly joined the watch list but have since renounced any nuclear ambitions and Algeria acceded to the NPT in 1995.

At the same time the governments have used the instruments of the regime on a number of fronts with impressive results. Perhaps the most historically significant is the successful de-nuclearization of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, after those new nations had inherited thousands of nuclear weapons from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the implementation of the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici programs in the states of the former Soviet Union. Chemical weapons were officially banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993; the Non-Proliferation Treaty was successful extended and strengthened in 1995; and a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was finally negotiated in 1996. The regime has sustained serious setbacks and defeats, there may very well be more in the near future, and there remains a distinct possibility of a catastrophic collapse of the regime. Overall, however, the treaty regime has done a remarkable job of checking the unrestricted global proliferation Kennedy feared.

A Global Regime with United States Leadership

The global non-proliferation regime truly is an international effort. Large states and small have all played crucial roles. Ireland, for example, introduced the United Nations resolution in 1961 that began the negotiations for the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Australia played key roles in the extension and strengthening of the NPT in 1995 and in securing the successful negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. States capable of making nuclear weapons, but who have eschewed their development, such as Canada, Sweden, South Africa and Brazil, are critical to efforts to forge a new agenda for the regime.

The United States, however, plays a unique role. While some demonize it as the source of many of the regime’s problems, the United States remains the one nation in the world with the resources, status and potential leadership capable of galvanizing international non-proliferation efforts. That leadership role has always been strongest when it has enjoyed the support of both major political parties. Its difficulties in leading now can be traced in large part to the fierce partisan divide that characterizes American politics at the turn of the century.

The proliferation policy debates of the past few years have been dominated by calls from influential members of the U.S. Congress and their allies for increases in military spending, for more resolute opposition to arms control treaties and for the rapid deployment of new weapons systems, particularly a national missile defense system.

Numerous Senators took to the Senate floor in the days after the India tests, citing the "India threat" as justification of a crash program to field a national missile defense system. Although the legislation was blocked (twice) by Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said in support of the bill, "Only effective missile defense, not unenforceable arms control treaties, will break the offensive arms race in Asia and provide incentives to address security concerns without a nuclear response."

Hundreds of articles and speeches by conservatives have used the South Asian tests and the Korean and Iranian missile launches as proof that future threats are inherently unpredictable, our intelligence estimates are consistently unreliable, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction fundamentally unstoppable and, thus, the only truly effective response is reliance on American defense technology. Conservatives have skillfully deployed expert commissions and congressional investigations to endorse this view.

The reports of the Rumsfeld Commission on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States in 1998 and the Cox Committee on U.S. National Security and the People’s Republic of China in 1999 were particularly influential in shaping media and political elite opinion. The Administration’s response has been to cede ground, embracing missile defense and budget increases while husbanding the political and personal capital devoted to the first line of defense. With the most conservative elements of the Republican Party in control of congressional committees, treaty ratifications and diplomatic appointments have been delayed for years. The impact is global. A regime in need of repair and revitalization remains in a state of suspended anticipation.

A Republican-built Regime

It wasn’t always this way. Efforts to contain the spread of weapons of mass destruction began immediately after World War II and enjoyed broad, bi-partisan support and the initiatives of President’s Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. As part of his efforts, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to promote the peaceful uses of atomic energy while the world's nuclear powers "began to diminish the potential destructive power of the world's atomic stockpiles."

President John F. Kennedy presented a "Program for General and Complete Disarmament" to the United Nations on September 25, 1961. His ambitious plan included all the elements that negotiators still pursue today: a comprehensive nuclear test ban; a ban on the production of fissionable materials for use in weapons (plutonium and highly enriched uranium); the placement of all weapons materials under international safeguards; a ban on the transfer of nuclear weapons, their materials, or their technology; and deep reductions in existing nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles, with the goal of eventually eliminating them. In his short tenure, he was able only to secure the Limited Test Ban Treaty, ending nuclear tests in the atmosphere.

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson successfully completed negotiations for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. President Richard Nixon signed the treaty, bringing it into force, at a Rose Garden ceremony March 5, 1970. "Let us trust that we will look back," he said, "and say that this was one of the first and major steps in that process in which the nations of the world moved from a period of confrontation to a period of negotiation and a period of lasting peace." In many ways it has been, and, to a surprising degree, in large part due to initiatives by Republican presidents.

President Nixon followed his treaty signing with efforts that successfully established in the early 1970s the Non-Proliferation Treaty Exporters Committee (known as the Zanger Committee) to control the export of nuclear-weapons-related materials and equipment. He negotiated and implemented the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty limiting defensive armaments and the companion Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) limiting offensive arms, both signed in May 1972.

President Nixon also dramatically announced in November 1969 that the United States would unilaterally and unconditionally renounce biological weapons. He ordered the destruction of all US weapons stockpiles and the conversion of all production facilities for peaceful purposes. At the same time he announced that, after 50 years of US reluctance, he would seek ratification of the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use in war of biological and chemical weapons (subsequently ratified under President Gerald Ford on January 22, 1975). The President renounced the first use of lethal or incapacitating chemical agents and weapons, unconditionally renounced all methods of biological warfare and threw the resources of the United States behind the effort to negotiate a Biological Weapons Convention. The treaty, singed by President Nixon on April 10, 1972 and ratified by the Senate in December 1974, prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and transfer of biological weapons.

In his second term, President Ronald Reagan negotiated and signed on December 8, 1987, the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, requiring the destruction of all US and Soviet missile and their launchers with ranges between 500 and 5500 kilometers (a treaty some argue should be globalized to prohibit all missile of this range anywhere in the world). President Reagan also began the first effort to control the spread of ballistic missile technology—the Missile Technology Control Regime—in 1987, and he negotiated the first strategic treaty that actually reduced (rather than limited) deployed strategic nuclear forces.

President George Bush signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in1991 and kept the momentum going by negotiating and signing in January 1993 the START II treaty, the most sweeping arms reduction pact in history. President Bush also negotiated and signed, that same month, the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer or use of chemical weapons. Of particular significance in this time of negotiations deadlock, President Bush on September 27, 1991 announced that the United States would unilaterally withdraw all of its land- and sea-launched tactical nuclear weapons and would dismantle all of its land- and many of its sea-based systems. The President also announced the unilateral end to the 24-hour alert status of the US bomber force and the de-alerting of a substantial portion of the land-based missile force. (On October 5, 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated with similar tactical withdrawals and ordering the de-alerting of 503 Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles.)

In his first term, President Clinton seemed to be continuing the momentum established by his predecessors. Secretary of Defense William Perry and Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary firmly established and expanded cooperative treat reduction programs with the states of the former Soviet Union that dismantle nuclear missiles, submarines and bombers and secure the over 700 tons of fissile material not in weapons. Clinton negotiated the Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994, successfully managed the indefinite extension and strengthening of the NPT in 1995, lead efforts to conclude and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, failed in 1996 but came back in 1997 to win Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and resisted repeated efforts to repeal the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

While the non-proliferation regime has enjoyed bi-partisan support in the United States for most of the past 40 years, even this quick historical review indicates that many may have overlooked the importance of Republican presidents in creating and nurturing the regime. Today, thousands of dedicated civil servants in the United States and around the world toil to implement and strengthen the institutions Republicans and Democrats have built for pragmatic security needs and as a legacy for future generations.

Prospects for the New Administration of President George Bush

The historical record and the declared positions of the new president of the United States indicate that the administration may be willing and able to implement sweeping arms reductions and advance arms control measures more effectively than the Clinton administration.

This is by no means certain—and a great deal will depend on the outcome of struggles between the far right ideologues and the conservative pragmatists in the Bush camp—but it is quite possible.

Democratic presidents seem to be always looking over their right shoulder, fearful of being attacked as "weak on defense." President Bush has no such concerns. He has already promised to unilaterally cut nuclear weapons to "the lowest possible number consistent with our national security." He also favors de-alerting nuclear forces, arguing that the present posture has unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch: "The United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status—another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation."

A number of his advisers believe there is little reason to field more than a thousand strategic nuclear weapons. Conservative senators like Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, who legislated a prohibition against Clinton unilaterally reducing nuclear weapons below the START I level of 6,000, say they would gladly lift the restriction for Bush because they would have greater trust in his leadership. There is every reason to believe that after completing a promised strategic review, Bush will quickly and sharply reduce deployed nuclear forces, with or without treaty agreement, and without a conservative backlash. It is not just a matter of trust; politically, the far right has no place to go.

Bush’s problem issue is the deployment of national missile defenses. Coupled with his nuclear cuts, Bush has promised to deploy theater and national missile defenses "at the earliest possible date." This is fine campaign rhetoric, but once in office he will be confronted with hard reality—there is nothing to deploy.

Pentagon officials will tell him that it will take the better part of this decade to field either land- or sea-based systems. It would not be until the end of the next decade that the United States could consider the space-based weapons that some of his advisers imagine.

The danger is that President Bush might abrogate the ABM Treaty before he realized the limits of the technology. Some will urge him to do so immediately. But other, more sober officials will tell him that breaking the treaty will provoke a serious international crisis, not just with China and Russia, but with the United States’ closest allies. The issue could dominate his first year in office, while there would be no military benefit any time during his presidency.

In short, the consequences of withdrawing from the ABM Treaty (particularly after the Senate rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) are so severe that George Bush may well do what his father and Ronald Reagan did—talk tough, spend money, deploy nothing, and stay within the treaty. He may well succeed in developing a sensible plan for the deployment of theater defenses, or he could develop joint systems with the Russians, or perhaps, after deep cuts in nuclear forces are implemented, he might negotiate modifications to the treaty that would permit the kind of very limited national defense that may someday be possible. In the meantime, it is possible that the nature of the regimes in Korea and Iran will change significantly, and with them, the alleged threat.

A great deal depends on the Congress. The House is marginally Republican, the Senate evenly split. While the House and Senate leadership will push the new president towards hard-line, anti-arms control positions, it is not clear whether they can command the loyalty of their members. Even so, President Bush probably has only 18 months to capitalize on this precarious balance of power, as election politics will thwart any major initiatives beginning in mid-2002. The Democrats are favored to capture a majority in the Senate in the 2002 elections, with an outside chance at retaking the House. Historically, a Republican President with a Democratic Congress has proven to be a favorable arms control combination.

There will also be struggles within the Bush cabinet. New Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed the CTBT and is very cautious about the technological promise of national missile defense (as are the Joint Chiefs of Staff). He will contend with the more ideological views of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, while Vice-President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice form the middle. One troubling sign is that key staff positions at defense and the national security council seem to be going to hard-line conservatives. Still, as of the end of January 2001, the Bush team does not appear likely to tear down the existing nonproliferation regime for a pipe dream of missile defense. They could well forge new arrangements, new definitions of security that do not depend on nuclear overkill.

Like Schrodinger’s famous cat, we won’t know if arms control is alive or dead until the Bush team finally assembles, conducts their strategic review, and opens the box.