Original 1994 NPEC Mission Statement
Combating the spread of strategic weapons has been at the very top of President Clinton’s and President Bush’s list of foreign policy objectives. Iraq’s and North Korea’s development of long-range missiles, and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons has reinforced the gravity of this issue. Yet, for so important a topic, America’s fight against strategic weapons proliferation has generally been ineffective. Neither its policies nor the actions taken to implement them have been very successful.
Powerful public officials may intone gravely about curbing the spread of particularly dangerous technology, but when confronted with cases that require tough action or some sacrifice, concessions are the norm. Part of the problem is that the reasons for acting against proliferators stemming the flow of “destabilizing technology” or promoting international “norms” of nonproliferation are too nebulous and abstract for busy policy makers. In contrast, confronting a nation engaged in proliferation runs risks that are real and negative. Thus, policy officials are normally unenthusiastic about taking firm stands until the problem is so advanced it is largely unmanageable.
Moreover, when action is finally taken it is frequently ineffective or counterproductive. For example, America’s initial response in the 1980s to Iraq’s and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons capabilities was to allow “civilian” nuclear activities in exchange for inspections. This did little to stop either program. Yet, in the absence of sounder alternatives, we can expect that simply doing more of this sort of bargaining is only likely to make matters worse.
Dangerous technology is dangerous, after all, because it can be converted into strategic weapons so quickly that no inspection regime can effectively safeguard it against being diverted. By failing to recognize this and making such technology available over the last 40 years (under the U.S. Atoms and Space for Peace nonproliferation programs), the United States and its allies have actually made it possible for nations like Iraq to “safeguard” their way to strategic weapons capabilities. To the extent that exchanging dangerous technology for peaceful pledges and “safeguarding” are also now being heralded as the way to address chemical, biological and missile proliferation problems, serious trouble is also likely arise in these nonnuclear fields.
Unfortunately, neither the United States nor the developed nations that depend on US guidance have come to terms with these problems. The long-term implications of maintaining our current nonproliferation policies may prove perilous. At a minimum, new nuclear problems in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India and North Korea will worsen. Even more daunting, however, is the prospect that instability in Russia and assertiveness and strategic modernization on the part of China may pose proliferation challenges to US and global security that are more intractable.
Unless we reevaluate what we have been doing and fundamentally change our nonproliferation approach, proliferation developments in the 1990s will not be merely an academic worry or a troublesome facet of military engagements like Desert Storm, but precursors to the type of wars the world experienced in the 1910s and 1930s. However, getting policy makers to recognize the problems in our current nonproliferation policies and the dangers of failing to develop sounder alternatives will not be easy. First, there is tremendous bureaucratic inertia behind the current approach. Second, both the press and academia are relatively new to this topic and have tended to focus on the most urgent or narrow aspects of proliferation. There is a large literature on a variety of specific proliferation issues but little understanding, inside or outside of government, of the policy relevance of this material. What’s lacking among policy makers, academics and the media, however, is the broader perspective necessary to give meaning to this analysis and to suggest sensible ways out of our proliferation predicament.
In order to develop a truly effective nonproliferation policy that busy policy makers can embrace, it is necessary to shift the focus of the current debate away from academic stability arguments and traditional concerns about maintaining international norms to the more pressing proliferation problems now emerging and the solutions they will require.
- Why might a “little” strategic weapons proliferation be so intolerable?
- Where has U.S. nonproliferation policy been effective; where has it failed; and how does this history relate to our current problems?
- Does it matter for US nonproliferation policy what new security alliance structures are established to replace Cold War arrangements?
- Should we employ Cold War arms and export control concepts for nonproliferation purposes?
- Is it more realistic to monitor dangerous strategic technology that we want to prevent from being militarized than to try to discourage these activities or does monitoring these activities, in effect, make them legitimate?
- How sound are the economic or developmental justification for the world’s advanced nations to continue to offer the world’s lesser powers sensitive nuclear and space technology for “peaceful” purposes?
- Can progress in promoting liberal democracy and market economies among developing nations significantly reduce these nations’ demand for strategic military systems or is this a false hope?
- What long-term strategies must the U.S. and its friends employ against the most implacable proliferators (e.g., North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya)? Is regime change required in each case? If so, how is this to be accomplished without all-out wars?
- How should these strategies differ from those we might employ against proliferators we have diplomatic and commercial relations with (e.g., China, Russia, Pakistan, India, and Israel)?
- What long-term strategies might key proliferators be implementing against the U.S., its allies or interests?
The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center’s (NPEC) aim is to address these questions and explain why US nonproliferation policy will need to change to answer them correctly. NPEC will convey its message not only to policy makers, but to the next generation of officials men and women who are currently being educated in our universities and think tanks. University courses on proliferation are just now beginning to be created and there is a special need for teaching materials to guide professors through the existing literature.
Filling critical gaps in the literature concerning key perspectives on nonproliferation policy. NPEC commissions papers that are mailed to policy makers, academics and reporters. The monographs are serving as the basis for a book for the academic, national security think tank and policy making communities.
Promoting a deeper understanding of the relevance of various perspectives on proliferation. NPEC will bring together Congressional staff, administration officials, and the press to discuss pressing proliferation policy issues with NPEC’s monograph authors and other academic specialists at a series of nonproliferation policy forums.
Institutionalizing teaching about proliferation issues. NPEC makes teaching and research materials available to college and graduate school professors and conducts week-long seminars for key national security professors around the country.
Given the breadth of support any significant change in US nonproliferation policy will require, NPEC takes care to avoid partisanship. All of NPEC’s activities involve key administration officials, members of Congress, national security experts, government contractors, legislative staff and academics known for their work in the proliferation field.