By John Erath
Recently, I did a TV interview in which I was introduced as the “Senior Policy Director of the Center for Arms Control.” I did not think about it at the time, focused as I was on the subject of the discussion, but the anchor left out an important part of our organization’s name: And Non-Proliferation. When the Center was founded, the name was chosen deliberately to emphasize the complementarity and inseparability of the two concepts. Even though “The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation” can be a bit long and awkward to say when asked where I work, it remains important not to lose sight of the centrality of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to everything we do.
I am on an arms control mailing list that sometimes makes it seem easy: nuclear weapons can threaten everyone on the planet in some way, so therefore we will all be safer if we simply get rid of them.
Disarmament can be the first step to solving the world’s problems; unfortunately, international security hasn’t worked like that.
Nuclear weapons are tremendously difficult, and expensive, to build and even more so to maintain safely. No government decides to develop a nuclear weapons capability without the perception of significant, existential danger, often from others’ weapons of mass destruction. Disarmament cannot occur in a vacuum. Would Israel forego its nuclear capability when many of its neighbors deny its right to exist? Improving security perceptions is necessary to reducing nuclear weapons.
This is why getting arms control right is so difficult and uncommon. For a government to sign on to an arms control agreement, it has to decide that giving up weapons — those acquired at great expense to guarantee its security — will make it more secure. Obviously, this is a heavy rock to push up a steep hill, and a reason why transformational arms control agreements, such as the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, are so rare. That is where non-proliferation comes in. Confidence that potential adversaries are not enhancing their capability to destroy one’s country is an essential element in the greater security equation, not to mention that the world in general is safer when there are limits on the spread of dangerous technologies.
If nuclear weapons and other dangerous technologies are proliferating, effective arms control becomes almost an impossibility. Non-proliferation can, and should, create the conditions under which real progress toward reducing nuclear dangers and improving security in volatile regions is possible. Will the Middle East be more or less secure if Iran builds nuclear weapons? Non-proliferation is vital, and all the news anchors out there should take the time to use our full name.