Ethics & International Affairs Volume 15.1 (Spring 2001): Articles: U.S. Arms Control Policy in a Time Warp [Full Text]

May 4, 2001

This essay reviews the current stagnated state of arms control and makes three arguments. First, despite the dramatic changes in the security climate with the end of the Cold War, there has been no comparable change in U.S. government thinking about the role of nuclear weapons and arms control in security policy. U.S. nuclear weapons policy remains mired in Cold War paradigms of threat and deterrence. But continued reliance on a nuclear threat and large nuclear arsenals undermines U.S. efforts to stem weapons proliferation, which ultimately represents the greatest long-term threat to the United States. The United States should abandon deterrence as the organizing principle for arms control in favor of "sustainable disarmament." This means pursuing verifiable international agreements to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons dramatically, with elimination as the goal; reducing the serious inequities of the current global arms control scheme; and pursuing policies that reduce the legitimacy and utility of nuclear weapons for all states.

Second, the global arms control process is becoming more multilateral, transnational and pluralistic, and the major powers no longer entirely control the agenda.

Third, and finally, successful arms control over the long haul, both conventional and nuclear, will depend on highlighting the environmental, medical and humanitarian consequences of weapons, not just their role in national security policies.

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