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New Report Recommends Unilateral Steps for the Next U.S. President to Reduce Threat of Nuclear Weapons, Lead World to Eventual Ban
WASHINGTON (February 13, 2008) -- To prevent more nations -- and eventually terrorists -- from acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States should drastically reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in its security policies, according to a report released today. The report, “Toward True Security,” outlines 10 unilateral steps the next president should take to transform U.S. nuclear policy, which would strengthen national security and put the world on a path to eventually banning nuclear weapons.
“The next U.S. president can reduce the dangers that nuclear weapons pose to the United States and to the rest of the world by taking unilateral steps to lessen U.S. dependence on nuclear weapons,” said Lisbeth Gronlund, a physicist and co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program, and a report co-author. “It has been nearly two decades since the Berlin wall came down, but U.S. policy is still mired in Cold War thinking. It’s time for a major change.”
The report was authored by analysts from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and independent experts with long experience in nuclear weapons policy issues.
The greatest nuclear dangers to the United States, according to “Toward True Security,” are an accidental, unauthorized or mistaken Russian nuclear attack, the spread of nuclear weapons to more nations, and the acquisition of nuclear weapon materials by terrorists. U.S. nuclear weapons policy, the report concludes, fails to adequately address these risks and too often exacerbates them.
The report echoes the sentiments of former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn. They outlined their prescription for how the U.S. should embrace a “vision of a world free of nuclear weapons” in two Wall Street Journal op-eds. The first ran in January 2007; the second ran last month.
“Toward True Security” argues that the United States should not wait for bilateral or multilateral agreements; it should take unilateral steps to begin the process. These steps, the report maintains, would make the United States safer, whether or not the eventual goal of a worldwide ban is ever achieved.
“Our next president should declare that the only purpose for U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter and, as a last resort, respond to the use of nuclear weapons by another country,” said Christopher Paine, director of NRDC’s Nuclear Program and a report co-author. “Making it clear that we will not use nuclear weapons first would reduce the incentive for other nations to acquire them to deter a potential U.S. first strike.”
Richard Garwin, a National Medal of Science recipient, one of the developers of the hydrogen bomb, and a report co-author, added that the U.S. stockpile would still provide a credible deterrent with significantly fewer warheads. “The United States should unilaterally cut its nuclear arsenal to no more than 1,000 nuclear warheads,” he said. “There is no plausible threat that justifies maintaining more than a few hundred survivable nuclear weapons, and no reason to link the size of U.S. nuclear forces to those of any other country.”
“Toward True Security” also stresses the need to take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert. “Increasing the amount of time required to launch U.S. weapons would ease Russian concerns about the vulnerability of its nuclear weapons,” said Ivan Oelrich, a physicist and vice president for strategic security programs at FAS, and a report co-author. “That would give Russia the incentive to take its weapons off alert, reducing the risk of an accidental or unauthorized Russian launch on the U.S.”
The report recommended 10 specific, unilateral steps that the next president should take to demonstrate global leadership and bring U.S. nuclear weapons policy into line with today’s political realities:
- Declare that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter and, if necessary, respond to the use of nuclear weapons by another country.
- Take nuclear weapons off alert, so they can be launched within days instead of minutes.
- Eliminate preset targeting plans. Replace them with the capability to promptly develop a response tailored to a specific situation if nuclear weapons are used against the United States or its allies.
- Promptly reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal to no more than 1,000 warheads.
- Halt all programs to develop and deploy new nuclear weapons.
- Retire all U.S. nonstrategic (tactical) nuclear weapons.
- Commit to making further cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal on a bilateral or multilateral basis.
- Declare that the United States will not resume nuclear testing, and work with the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
- Halt further deployment of the ground-based missile defense system and drop any plans for a space-based missile defense system.
- Reaffirm the U.S. commitment to pursue nuclear disarmament and present a plan to meet that goal.
“If the next president takes these unilateral steps, the United States would greatly enhance global security and set the stage for negotiations to reduce nuclear arsenals around the world and eventually ban them,” said Gronlund. “By taking this leadership role, the United States would also demonstrate to the rest of the world that it is serious about addressing what remains one of the gravest threats to human civilization.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. Founded in 1969, UCS is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has offices in Berkeley, California, and Washington, D.C. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.