Arms control workshop honoring George Bunn explores obstacles to nonproliferation

Those advocating nuclear arms control and nonproliferation have few reasons for optimism and many reasons for concern, with obstacles including a lack of public interest in the issue; inadequate security controls at facilities storing nuclear-weapons materials; the threat posed by rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea; and the Bush administration's opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning nuclear weapons testing.

These and other challenges were explored at a special CISAC workshop on "Arms Control and Nonproliferation: Past Triumphs, Future Prospects," held June 1 at SIIS. The event honored George Bunn -- a nuclear nonproliferation pioneer and consulting professor at CISAC -- on the occasion of his 79th birthday. The workshop, which drew more than 120 attendees, was moderated by CISAC co-director Christopher F. Chyba and featured presentations by four expert panelists who have worked closely with Bunn. They included his son Matthew, a senior research associate for Harvard University's Project on Managing the Atom.

As the first presenter, Matthew Bunn discussed the problem of inadequate security systems to prevent the theft of weapons-grade nuclear materials. Because there are no worldwide standards for protecting such materials, many nations devote inadequate resources to the task. Bunn showed slides of nuclear materials storage facilities with primitive locks, flimsy seals and broken-down fences. He cited Russia as the largest threat, because it has the world's biggest stock of unguarded nuclear-weapons materials. He urged international standards for safeguarding nuclear materials; renewed discussion with Russia on the issue; and the removal of nuclear material from sites where adequate security is not feasible.

In the second presentation, Thomas Graham -- a senior U.S. diplomat who has negotiated numerous major arms-control agreements -- said the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was not meant to forever discriminate between nuclear "haves" and "have-nots." Instead, it was designed so that those without nuclear weapons would benefit by receiving peaceful nuclear technology from weapons-producing nations, and guarantees that they would not be attacked. But when the United States shirks its nonproliferation obligations -- as it has done by rejecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and taking steps to develop new nuclear weapons -- the entire regime is threatened, Graham said. He cited Pakistan and North Korea as the biggest nuclear threats, and said the United States must engage in direct negotiations with the latter.

The next presentation, by Daryl Kimball -- executive director of the Arms Control Association -- addressed prospects for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Though the treaty has been signed by 171 nations including the United States, it has been ratified by only 113 of those nations -- not including the United States -- and must be ratified by 12 more of the 44 designated "nuclear-capable" nations before the treaty can take effect. Kimball discussed the Bush administration's opposition to the treaty, noting that Bush has sought to remove it from the Senate's agenda. Still, Kimball said he's optimistic that the treaty will ultimately be ratified by the United States and will take effect. He cited increasing international pressure on CTBT "holdout states," and a recent U.S. poll showing that public support for the treaty is at its highest level ever, 87 percent.

John Rhinelander, an attorney who helped negotiate the ABM Treaty and SALT I agreements, discussed the prospects for nuclear weapons in space. The weaponization of space is supported by the Bush administration, he noted, and is a real possibility if the United States follows through on its missile defense program. He predicted that President Bush, if re-elected, would continue to pursue weapons development in space, but said Kerry seemed unlikely to do so if elected.

During a question-and-answer session following the presentations, the panelists offered perspectives on why it is so difficult to get the public's and lawmakers' attention on nuclear non-proliferation issues. The panelists agreed that since the breakup of the Soviet Union, most Americans -- including lawmakers -- no longer perceive nuclear weapons as a serious threat, and they have little knowledge about the existing quantity of nuclear weapons. Matthew Bunn said the problem is, "there is no one whose reelection depends on reducing or securing nuclear weapons." He said nuclear non-proliferation could best be promoted by tying it to the issues of terrorism and homeland security. Rhinelander and Grahm advocated holding Congressional hearings on the issue for the first time in 20 years.

Regarding Israel, India and Pakistan, Graham said those nations -- which produce nuclear weapons but have refused to join the NPT regime -- cannot continue to remain outside the regime. He proposed that the three nations be allowed to join in limited form, in exchange for accepting basic limitations such as no first use and no nuclear testing.

Throughout the event, Bunn was praised by the panelists and moderator; Chyba described him as "the personification of the best that CISAC strives to be." Bunn was the first general counsel for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, helped negotiate the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and later served as U.S. ambassador to the Geneva Disarmament Conference.