Nations Must Use All Tools To Stop Nuclear Proliferation

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - A successful nonproliferation policy hinges on the steps that nations take individually and collectively with like-minded allies, a senior nonproliferation official says.

Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons also depends on whether the international community "can successfully shape the calculations of present-day and future would-be proliferators in useful ways," Christopher Ford, the U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, said April 18 at a NATO-sponsored seminar in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Current proliferators have studied how the international community has coped with proliferation problems in the past, he said, “so we can be sure that tomorrow’s would-be proliferators will learn lessons from how we approach and respond” to today’s challenges.

Ford warned that if new possessors of nuclear weapons continue to emerge, “new regional or global nuclear arms races are likely to develop and/or become entrenched,” creating an environment in which it would be increasingly difficult to realize the broader long-term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

New proliferation threats are opening the door to regional arms races with “greater risks of miscalculation, mistake or reckless over-reaching” than those of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race of the Cold War, he said.


According to Ford, the United States has adopted a layered approach to preventing nuclear proliferation.  Ford described it as “a mix of formal and informal, multilateral, bilateral and individual measures” designed to reinforce and complement the existing nonproliferation regime.

U.S. multilateral efforts are central to approaching what Ford called the seminal challenges of weapons of mass destruction.  He cited U.S. participation in the Six-Party Talks to resolve the nuclear crisis with North Korea and the U.S. role in efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear pursuits – efforts that involve the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, known informally as the P-5 plus one. (See related article.)

Additionally, the United States supported the International Atomic Energy Agency when Iran and North Korea sought to impede the work of IAEA inspectors and undermine the effectiveness of the agency’s nuclear safeguard system.

The United States also has worked multilaterally through the United Nations to develop U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, which prohibits member states from supporting by any means non-state actors that attempt to acquire, use or transfer nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.  Ford says the resolution highlights the requirement that preventing proliferation is a task for every U.N. member - not just nuclear weapon states, nuclear suppliers or even the most developed industrialized nations.

The United States also is working with other nations on a new model for cooperation to raise the costs and risks to potential proliferators through a variety of interdiction efforts under the auspices of the Proliferation Security Initiative. Ford says PSI “has enhanced nonproliferation, counterproliferation, compliance enforcement and deterrence by improving coordination in the employment of existing national and international authorities.”  (See related article.)

He also noted that the United States worked with the United Kingdom to help Libya successfully reverse its active WMD-related weapons program in a way that did not require a change of regime.

Developing missile defenses also can reinforce the nonproliferation regime.  “Working together with our allies, cooperation ... can not only defeat missile threats from proliferator states should attacks occur,” Ford said, “but also solidify security relationships, reinforce alliance credibility and lessen incentives for both missile and nuclear weapons proliferation by making it harder to be sure that weapons, once acquired - can be delivered.”


It is imperative that parties to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) understand “the enormous stakes that ride upon the international community’s success or failure in fighting proliferation,” he said.

It is important that they demonstrate their fidelity to their NPT obligations, Ford said, and that the treaty’s rules and obligations are used effectively to constrain noncompliant treaty behavior.

Nations are beginning a new cycle that will review the health of NPT formally in 2010.  Ford said it is essential that the review – starting with a preparatory committee meeting in Vienna at the end of April – “develop and implement vigorous and sustained efforts to detect violations of the treaty’s nonproliferation obligations, return violators to compliance and deter other future would-be violators from following such a path.”

For more information, see Limiting Nuclear Weapons.