What about Iran and North Korea?

The end of the Cold War reduced both the danger of a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange and the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. In 1991, the U.S. had approximately 10,000 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Last year, the U.S. cut that number to just over 2,000 under the Moscow Treaty signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. The relatively modest additional reductions agreed to by Presidents Obama and Medvedev do little to change that fundamental picture.

What has changed fundamentally is the likelihood that nuclear weapons could end up in the hands of irresponsible rulers, or terrorists who can't be deterred at all. Unfortunately, President Obama's talk about a world free of nuclear weapons seems to have little connection to the passive U.S. responses to North Korea's and Iran's nuclear activities.

There is certainly room for additional reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but it is unlikely to have any effect on those countries. Indeed, if the new treaty constrains U.S. missile defense efforts, it could be counterproductive. Although President Reagan wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons--believing it dangerous to rely indefinitely on a balance of nuclear terror--when Mikhail Gorbachev offered to eliminate ballistic missiles in exchange for eliminating missile defenses, Reagan refused the deal.

The new treaty provides an opportunity to question whether we are doing enough to confront the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists and irresponsible regimes.

To be serious about a world without nuclear weapons, we must face some serious questions--questions that have nothing to do with U.S. or Russian numbers:

Is the U.S. doing enough to develop effective missile defenses? How can we prevent the language in the treaty's preamble--linking offensive and defensive weapons--from blocking more ambitious U.S. missile defense efforts in the future?

What will the administration do to counter Iran's nuclear program if sanctions prove no more effective than engagement? What about North Korea? Is there no way to peacefully promote more responsible leadership in either country?

What are we doing to preserve the safety and reliability of our diminishing number of nuclear weapons?

Since we are reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons, how can we strengthen our conventional deterrent in the face of determined efforts to deny us nearby basing options?

Twenty one years ago, when the SALT II Treaty was signed, Sen. Sam Nunn (D., Ga.) believed that the most important way to reduce the danger of nuclear war was to improve U.S. conventional deterrence, and he made that a condition for Senate ratification of the treaty. Similarly, the new treaty provides an opportunity to question whether we are doing enough to confront the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists and irresponsible regimes.

Paul Wolfowitz is a visiting scholar at AEI.

Photo Credit: Flickr user _fLeMmA_/Creative Commons

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Paul
Wolfowitz

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
    MON
  • 21
    TUE
  • 22
    WED
  • 23
    THU
  • 24
    FRI
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.