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What Works in Arms Control?

Obama’s Arms-Control Delusion

by R. James Woolsey & Peter Vincent Pry – originally published at NRO

August 26, 2015 4:00 AM


Advocates of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran argue that, despite the duplicity of the Iranian regime, the deal will work because arms control worked to contain the nuclear threat from the “evil empire” that was the Soviet Union. In fact, the USSR massively violated most of the arms-control agreements it concluded with the United States. Russia today is violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons and was therefore widely regarded as the most successful arms-control agreement in history — until recent cheating by Russian president Vladimir Putin.


To help set straight the dismal record of arms control, journalists should submit a Freedom of Information Act request to declassify “A Quarter Century of Soviet Compliance Practices under Arms Control Commitments: 1958–1983,” the report of President Reagan’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament.


Historically, no nuclear-arms-control agreement, such as the Obama administration’s deal with Iran, has ever succeeded in persuading or compelling any state to abandon nuclear weapons or a nuclear-weapons program. Sanctions and military force have worked to stop nuclear proliferation, while arms control has spectacularly failed to stop nuclear proliferation. For example:


During World War II, the Allied strategic-bombing campaign stopped Nazi Germany from developing the atomic bomb.


In 1981, Israel’s strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor stopped Saddam Hussein’s development of a nuclear bomb. Iraq had been developing nuclear weapons despite being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and subject to inspections by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the same organization that the Obama administration is trusting to enforce its nuclear deal with Iran.


In 1989, under the pressure of international sanctions, South Africa dismantled its small stockpile of nuclear weapons. It joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991.


In 1991, the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the first Persian Gulf war stopped Saddam Hussein from developing a nuclear bomb. It was his second attempt and only six months from completion. Iraq had nearly succeeded in developing nuclear weapons despite still being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and subject to IAEA inspections.


In 2003, Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi abandoned Libya’s nuclear-weapons program. He was intimidated by the U.S.-led second Persian Gulf war, which was waged in part to stop what was suspected to be Saddam Hussein’s third attempt to build nuclear weapons. Qaddafi had been developing nuclear weapons despite being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and subject to IAEA inspections.


In 2007, Israel’s air strike against Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear reactor, being built by North Korea, prevented Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from developing nuclear weapons. In retrospect, Israel’s action might have prevented ISIS terrorists from capturing nuclear weapons in Syria in 2014–15. Syria had been developing nuclear weapons despite being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and subject to IAEA inspections.


North Korea developed nuclear weapons in 1994 and now has intercontinental missiles armed with nuclear warheads that can reach the United States — this despite North Korea’s being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and subject to IAEA inspections. It withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, after already having built an operational nuclear arsenal of bombs and missile warheads, clandestinely deployed for nearly a decade.


The most successful nuclear non-proliferation regime in history has been robust U.S. military and nuclear capabilities, credibly brandished by U.S. presidents to ensure the security of allies in Europe and Asia. Numerous U.S. allies have the capability to become nuclear-weapons states. Because of their confidence in America’s military and nuclear prowess, and the political will of U.S. presidents to uphold security guarantees, most U.S. allies and friends have not resorted to developing their own nuclear weapons — yet.


America’s superpower status, the most successful and important bulwark against nuclear proliferation, is fading, and may be on the verge of failing catastrophically, in the face of aggression and nuclear threats from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. Increasingly, adversaries and allies see a power vacuum where the American superpower’s guarantee of “peace through strength” used to be.

If terrorist-sponsor Iran follows failed-state North Korea in getting nuclear missiles, that could be the straw that breaks American credibility and transforms the present U.S.-led world order, once so promising for the global advancement of political and economic freedom, into a future of nuclear terror and chaos.

— R. James Woolsey was Director of Central Intelligence and is chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served on the Congressional EMP Commission and the House Armed Services Committee and in the CIA.

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