Thursday, September 23, 2010

Heads held high?

Interview with a true nuclear believer

Among the many obstacles to achieving lasting nuclear disarmament is the persistent belief that a nuclear arsenal provides a nation not just with security—a flawed notion itself—but with national prestige. The “superpower” status that allegedly comes with possession of nuclear weapons means that the rest of the world, particularly your enemies, will have to reckon with you. Thus, apart from their supposed deterring effects, a nuclear arsenal would put a nation in a position of parity with the “big boys”. At least, that’s how the argument goes. As a result, nuclear weapons are regarded by some as a source of pride. This sentiment is twisted and dangerous and continues to frustrate disarmament efforts.

A recent NEWSWEEK interview[1] with Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, widely considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and often hailed as a hero by the Pakistani people, reveals how this narrative is ingrained in Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions and posture.

Leaving the strong anti-West rhetoric aside—including legitimate grievances about the Western nuclear power’s double standards regarding nuclear security matters—Dr. Khan’s answers provide some valuable insight into the psychology behind nuclear pride and prestige. Considerations of security, status and pride—all three closely interrelated—make up this sentiment. Excerpts.

Q: Most here take pride in the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear state and believe this has served as a deterrent to conventional war with India.

A: Yes, I fully agree. Our nuclear program has ensured our survival, our security, and our sovereignty ... I am proud to have contributed to it together with my patriotic and able colleagues.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New START is a Needed Re-Start

The New START agreement, signed by US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev, is not a major leap forward toward nuclear disarmament.  Its goals are far more modest than needed, but they are still crucial.  For the Senate to turn down ratification of the treaty would be a disaster for the country and the world, opening the door to new arms races and to new justifications for nuclear proliferation.

The treaty will reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads on each side to 1,550 and the number of deployed delivery vehicles to 700 for each country.  The treaty will also provide for verification procedures to assure compliance.  Since the expiration of the START I agreement in December 2009, there has been no agreement on verification procedures between the two countries.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Testing a Fragile Relationship

This is a big week for nuclear weapon issues in the United States. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to give its take on the New START agreement with Russia a mere five months after the agreement was signed. Also, the US military has scheduled a test launch of a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for Wednesday morning.

For months now Republican senators and pundits have flooded the op-ed pages with warnings of the "bad deal" that is the New START agreement. "We're giving up everything while Russia gives up nothing," they say.

Now let's imagine that on Wednesday morning, instead of the US shooting off one of its ICBMs, it's the Russians doing it.
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