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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 17, July - August 1997

US Academy of Sciences Calls For Nuclear Doctrine Review

On 17 June, a report from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) called for a major revision of US nuclear and arms control doctrine, centrally involving a rejection of a general theory of nuclear deterrence and, stemming from this, the pursuit of considerable further reductions in nuclear arsenals. However, the report, The Future of US Nuclear Weapons Policy, authored by retired major general William Burns, former Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), does identify a "core function" for US nuclear weapons - preventing a nuclear attack on the US and/or its allies. Thus, deterrence should remain the guiding principle of US policy, though its remit should be strictly defined and constrained. The major effect of this narrowing would be, in the words of the report, that "the United States would no longer threaten to respond with nuclear weapons against conventional, chemical, or biological attacks."

The report expresses scepticism to the merits of seeking to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free world (NWFW), arguing that, while theoretically possible, "it is not clear today how or when this could be achieved."

Editor's note: on 26 June, a report from the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University proposed a three-stage programme for nuclear disarmament involving all five nuclear-weapon States. The report's objective, according to its authors, James E. Goodby and Harold Feiveson, is to reduce complacency:

"...while many people seem to think that we are on a glide-path to a nuclear-weapon-free world, or, in any event, to a world where nuclear weapons no longer pose much of a problem, this is a dangerous illusion."

The three stages proposed are:

(1) Preservation of the US-Russia Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; a commitment to eliminate the bulk or totality of sub-strategic weapons; a START (Strategic Arms Reduction) III Treaty reducing US and Russian warheads to 2,000 each (from 3,500 under START II); cancellation of rapid launch procedures; preparation of a comprehensive verification regime, in anticipation of extremely low levels of weapons.

(2) Five years after the completion of Stage 1, the US and Russia would move to a warhead ceiling of 1,000 each. Further, all fissile materials made available during the disarmament process would be stored and monitored in internationally-operated facilities.

(3) By 2020, all five nuclear-weapon States should each have no more than a few hundred warheads, and these should be stored separately from delivery systems.

Reports: US should change nuclear weapons policy - National Academy of Sciences, Agence France-Presse International News, 17 June; NAS report calls for further reductions in nuclear weapons, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 18 June; Stanford study outlines path to nuclear disarmament, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 27 June.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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