President Obama is successfully taking the rhetorical high ground on the key issue of arms control and disarmament, but it is time for actions to supplement his words. President Eisenhower's warnings about the military-industrial complex in 1961 and the importance of the nonproliferation regime established in 1969 have never been more pertinent. The Nonproliferation Treaty required the major nuclear powers to reduce their strategic weapons, but recently the United States has paid only lip service to this requirement.
U.S. criticism of Sunday's North Korean missile launch would have been more credible and perhaps effective if the Obama administration would address the major errors of the Clinton and Bush administrations over the past sixteen years on arms control policy.
These errors include abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; the deployment of a national missile defense in California and Alaska; a cancellation of plans to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic; the failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; the step back from serious verification and monitoring safeguards in the reduction of strategic weapons as well as the conventions for chemical and biological weapons; and inadequate support for the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Obama is still playing with the option of placing missiles and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic, respectively. It is simply ludicrous to buy into the notion that a defensive missile system is needed anywhere in Eastern Europe as a safeguard against a possible Iranian missile launch.
Only a science fiction writer, and not a war games planner, could justify a defense against an Iranian attack on Europe of all places. And since the current technology does not work, it is time for the Obama administration to unilaterally declare an end to any possibility of creating missile defense in Eastern Europe. There would be no better way to convince the Kremlin that the United States is serious about disarmament.
At the same time, Obama must begin the reexamination of the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which served for three decades as an obstacle to a greater strategic arms race. The ABM Treaty ended strategic defense, offered the opportunity to all nuclear states to put fewer resources into its strategic arsenals, and persuaded China to maintain its strategic deterrent at fewer than 20 strategic nuclear warheads. The European allies looked at the ABM Treaty as an international guaranty of political and strategic stability, and Third World nations saw the treaty as evidence of the role of international diplomacy to limit the strategic arsenals of the world's superpowers.
Various steps could be taken to demonstrate that Obama is earnest about arms control and disarmament. He could press the Congress to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Clinton and Bush administrations failed to do. The necessary two-thirds majority for ratification is not guaranteed in the Senate, but it is past time for pressuring recalcitrant senators to move in the direction of arms control.
Obama must also develop a multilateral arrangement on nuclear arms reductions as well as a fissile material cut-off treay, and conclude an agreement to extend or replace START I, which is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. A wider dialogue is need with Russia to find common ground on tactical weapons as well as a dialogue with China to create more transparency and confidence-building measures on strategic weapons. Iran and others possibly could be dissuaded from acquiring uranium enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, if they observed that the United States and others were genuinely serious about reducing their nuclear arsenals.
Finally, Obama should initiate steps to prevent collisions between nuclear missile submarines, such as the recent collision between British and French submarines that were armed with more than 100 nuclear warheads. The damage to the submarines was minor, and the warheads were not compromised, but a stronger impact could have dispersed plutonium into surrounding waters. If strategic aircraft can submit flight plans to prevent midair collisions, then nuclear submarines can report cruising depths to prevent collisions. Actual locations could remain secret, but depths could be assigned by agreement.
Obama demonstrated that he was serious about arms control and disarmament when he named Rose Gottemoeller to be assistant secretary of state for arms control. Gottemoeller was previously deputy undersecretary for nonproliferation at the Department of Energy, and played a major role in the denuclearization of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Obama must also revive the moribund arms control community and make sure that the Policy Planning Department of the State Department takes a more active role in long-term plans for disarmament.
Currently, there is nothing comparable in the policy or intelligence communities to the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, which directs long-term research and prepares strategic studies to justify force modernization. Fortunately, there is a bipartisan group of elder statesmen, including William Perry, Sam Nunn, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger, who are prepared to offer support to a serious disarmament agenda and to provide cover against the neoconservatives who believe that disarmament measures are no more than gestures of appeasement.
Melvin A. Goodman,a regular contributor to The Public Record, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent more than 42 years in the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. His most recent book is "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA."