This site examines the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War international security environment, which faces emerging and constantly evolving threats from state and non-state actors alike. Specific topics discussed include arms control; deterrence; civilian nuclear power; South Asian nuclear strategy and power balance; nuclear terrorism; and the role of the United States in nonproliferation.


"We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state"

Reiterating its steadfast position regarding North Korea, its nuclear program and normalization of relations with Kim Jong-Il's regime, the US yesterday affirmed that it will not accede to demands from the DPRK that it be recognized globally as a nuclear-weapon state.

North Korea says it will recommit to the NPT and start working again on arms control measures towards disarmament -- as soon as the world accords it the status it feels it deserves.

So the simple answer would be to say, "OK, Kim, you're a nuclear weapons state. There you go. Now let's take those nukes off your hands." Right?

Wrong. Here are a few reasons why it isn't that simple:
  1. TRUST -- To put it bluntly, the world can't trust the DPRK. In the context of the Six-Party Talks, the North Korean negotiators have become very adept at dancing a delicate yet highly effective dance, in which they start trending towards the "positive" (for example, agreeing to allow inspectors back into Yongbyon), and then suddenly reverse momentum and go "negative" (for example, conducting an underground nuclear test). The DPRK is like a pendulum, except there is no way of telling when they will swing back the other way. You never know what to expect, so believing the North is hard.

  2. COMPLICATIONS -- The problem isn't that simple. There are lots of other factors to keep in mind, including but not limited to DPRK-ROK relations, economic aid and the lifting of trade barriers, and humanitarian relief. Recognizing North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state doesn't automatically mean that Russia, China, South Korea and Japan will automatically come to consensus on all these other issues. Which brings us to point 3:

  3. PERSPECTIVE -- To the DPRK, being granted a certain recognized status is a legitimate desire. Through the North Korean lens, having military nuclear capabilities means you get taken seriously on the world stage, and it isn't difficult to see why that is the sentiment there. The world's five recognized nuclear powers (US, UK, France, China, Russia) belong in the top 12 list of largest economies (by nominal GDP), and even India (#11), Israel (#40) and Pakistan (#45) are significantly more robust economically than North Korea (#88). So from North Korea's perspective, perhaps having nukes means more trade, more aid, and more credibility.

    This of course doesn't work for the other countries involved in the Six-Party talks, especially the US and its strongest allies, the ROK and Japan. They see a clear security concern, and the US has had to make numerous assurances regarding its defense of its allies through its extended "nuclear umbrella." Japan and the ROK, for their part, are concerned about the nuclear presence in North Korea, though for very different reasons.

    In short, every country (and I haven't even touched on China or Russia here) has a different perspective on giving North Korea what it demands.
There are additional reasons, if we dig deeper, why simply according North Korea nuclear-weapon status isn't going to address a major concern of the US (and, it can be argued, much of the world). But these three points are, I think, help illustrate just how complex the "North Korean situation" really is.


India, Pakistan, Nukes and US Policy

Last week, this writer had the immense privilege of presenting at the annual Project on Nuclear Issues Conference in DC, organized by CSIS. My presentation there was on US leadership in addressing nuclear proliferation challenges in South Asia.

Of course, the US should care about Indo-Pakistani relations. Not only is India a robust and quickly-growing world economy that engages in large-scale daily trade with the US, and not only do we need the help of Pakistan in our ongoing counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier Province, but we have additional strategic concerns in the region with regard to the growing power of China, concerning humanitarian and aid relief efforts, and as a part of our overall diplomatic overtures to the Islamic world.

But the US -- and indeed the international community -- has even more reason to cool tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi, owing to the nuclear presence in both countries' defense strategies.

Regardless of why India and Pakistan have pursued acquisition of the bomb, the fact is that both have it and, from each country's perspective, have plenty of reason to use it against the other. But this is exactly what must not happen. In a recent article, I referenced the effects a hypothetical limited regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan would have on the subcontinent and indeed on the world. The scientists who carried out this study had worked with Carl Sagan in the 1980s on the idea of nuclear winter, and the conclusions they drew from their analysis is absolutely chilling.

Both India and Pakistan (though not the only ones) are not party to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and there are certain measures the US can take -- some symbolic, some actionable -- to lead by example and encourage both nations to understand better their priorities and interests in the context of changing circumstances and new global challenges.

One thing the US can do is keep the momentum of this week's Nuclear Security Summit going by hosting roundtable talks with India and Pakistan -- and perhaps even with other invested countries. Though it wasn't substantial, it certainly does count for something that at the Summit, Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani shook hands. PM Gilani later reported that PM Singh had accepted his invitation to visit Islamabad in the near future.

In the meantime, however, peace talks between the two countries -- which have been protracted over long-standing issues like Kashmir -- have completely stalled in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. The Indian government wants Pakistan to take a harder line against terrorist cells like Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the 26/11 attacks and widely believed to be receiving clandestine support and funding from the ISI, Pakistan's equivalent of the American CIA. Pakistan, for its part, officially denounces such claims and says that it too faces the same types of terrorist threats, and so asserts that the two countries should be working closely together on addressing mutual security concerns. The US, having a sustained interest in the region and relatively good ties with both countries, should mediate roundtable talks to address those mutual concerns.

Another thing the US can do is to continue bilateral work separately with each country to advance President Obama's goal of securing all loose fissile material worldwide within four years. Such measures would include stopping the production of all fissile material (a particular challenge for Pakistan), which may include a formal fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). In addition, the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal, agreed in 2005 and then signed and ratified in 2007-2008, should not become a template to be applied to other states -- especially Pakistan, who called just two weeks ago for precisely that.

Finally, the US Senate should ratify the CTBT as more of a symbolic gesture. At the very least, it wouldn't hurt.

There are additional measures the US can take, but those are more in the category of sweeping regime reform, which can be the topic of another article sometime soon.

The bottom line: if the US wants to maintain and strengthen nuclear security, and protect not only its borders but those of its allies and partners worldwide, it needs to bring India and Pakistan into the fold by leading the way.


Looking Ahead to the Nuclear Security Summit

In exactly one week, President Obama is scheduled to host his highly-publicized and much-anticipated Nuclear Security Summit, which will bring together nearly fifty heads of state to discuss a forward-looking plan to strengthen the security of existing nuclear weapons, material and technology worldwide.

At the same time, this summit must fit into Obama's nuclear strategy agenda, which he outlined very neatly in his Prague speech exactly one year ago today. The strengthening of the current non-proliferation regime is high on that list, as are Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a follow-up agreement to replace START I. Happily, the latter has been achieved, and additional pressure will be put on the Senate to ratify the CTBT in the months leading up to mid-term congressional elections later this year.

So here are a few points which this writer, who had the very great honor to meet and speak with President Obama last week, would stress to the administration as the President and his staff prepare for this historic summit:
  1. Curbing the production and spread of fissile material -- Discuss openly the possibility of a universal and legally binding fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) that would help stymie the spread of the plutonium and uranium needed to construct nuclear or even dirty bombs.
  2. Don't let the India-US deal become a model -- Though the topic of the summit is nuclear security, that realm inevitably will provoke discussion on the global balance that must be struck between military nuclear capability and civilian nuclear power. The 2005 Indo-US nuclear cooperation deal was, from the beginning, a bad idea that must not become the precedent or standard in nuclear-related cooperation agreements.
  3. Arrange follow-up roundtable talks -- In the case of India and Pakistan, in particular, do not let this summit be the end of nuclear security discussions. Many conversations will need to be taken "off line," or to the side, and those discussions must be promoted and nurtured in similar multilateral arenas. Arrange to conduct additional talks with India and Pakistan together, along with related key players, to examine how the security of nuclear materials can best be enhanced, while curbing the transfer of illicit technology and expertise. Similar models can be set up for North Korea and Iran (though for the former, do not recreate a six-party-talk environment, as that initiative has met with severe roadblocks).
There are additional suggestions and things to keep in mind of course, but these are, in my opinion, some of the most important as President Obama prepares for this summit.

To the President: Best of luck next week.