World Faces "Cascade of Proliferation," Report Says

(Dec. 16) -Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry is one leader of a panel that warned of imminent nuclear proliferation threats (Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images).
(Dec. 16) -Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry is one leader of a panel that warned of imminent nuclear proliferation threats (Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images).

A U.S. panel of experts said yesterday that the world faces a "cascade of proliferation" that could be spurred by nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, the Washington Post reported (see GSN, Oct. 21).

"It appears that we are at a 'tipping point' in proliferation," according to an interim report from the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States.

Additional nations might seek nuclear capabilities in response to activities in Iran and North Korea, said the panel headed by former defense secretaries William Perry and James Schlesinger (see related GSN stories, today). "As each nuclear power is added, the probability of a terror group getting a nuclear bomb increases," the report says.

The commission was formed by Congress to "examine and make recommendations" on U.S. strategic activities and force structure, along with potential strategies for reducing the danger posed by nuclear weapons. Its final report is expected in April 2009.

The interim document says that the threat of nuclear terrorism can best be countered through a worldwide nonproliferation plan, which "would require intense cooperation with other nations, especially other nuclear powers," along with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The United States should provide significant funding and backing for the U.N. nuclear watchdog and work with friendly nations to buttress the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the group said. The pact needs additional tools to function correctly, according to the report. "Its effectiveness has been undermined by errors in how it has been interpreted and by failures of enforcement by the U.N. Security Council," the document says.

While the panel did not address the Bush administration's stalled plan to develop the Reliable Replacement Warhead, it promised in its final report to "define the most efficient and effective way to maintain a credible, safe, secure and reliable deterrent for the long term" (see GSN, Dec. 6).

Total U.S. nuclear disarmament remains a worthy idea, the commission said; it added, though, that the nation's atomic arsenal might remain necessary for "the indefinite future" at a size "appropriate to existing threats."

"The U.S. deterrent must be both visible and credible, not only to our possible adversaries, but to our allies as well," the report says.

President-elect Barack Obama should also look at seeking U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, following a risk assessment of the move by the national laboratories and U.S. Strategic Command, the report says (see GSN, Nov. 10; Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Dec. 16).

One expert said the report "buys into many of the arguments of the Bush administration, but also appears to accept some points made by the arms control community."

"The report comes across as a cautious and somewhat lukewarm report that doesn’t rock the boat; that appears to reinstate Russia at the center of U.S. nuclear thinking; that strongly reaffirms extended nuclear deterrence (but ignores whether that requires U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe); that accepts many of the administration’s key arguments for modernizing the nuclear weapons production complex and building modified nuclear weapons; that accepts a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (if the Stockpile Stewardship Program is revitalized); that recommends additional reductions in deployed and (if the production complex is modernized) reserve warheads; that sees nuclear disarmament as a distant future dream; and accepts that a strong and credible nuclear posture likely will be needed for the 'indefinite future,'" Hans Kristensen, Nuclear Information Project chief at the Federation of American Scientists, said in a statement on the organization's Web site.

The Obama administration is expected to perform a Nuclear Posture Review following the submission of the commission's final report, Kristensen said (Federation of American Scientists release, Dec. 15).

December 16, 2008
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A U.S. panel of experts said yesterday that the world faces a "cascade of proliferation" that could be spurred by nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, the Washington Post reported (see GSN, Oct. 21).