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Arms Control and Disarmament

Arms Control In The Post-cold War Era

In June 1992, President George H. W. Bush met with Russian president Boris Yeltsin. In a "joint understanding," the two sides agreed to reductions of nuclear weapons beyond the levels provided for in the 1991 START agreement, with the ultimate goal of decreasing the total number

On December 13, 2001, President George W. Bush, shown with General Richard Myers, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice, announces that the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty of 1972.

of warheads on each side to between 3,000 and 3,500 by the year 2003. The two presidents also agreed to eliminate MIRVs by 2003. This agreement was signed, as START II, in early 1993.

The administration of President BILL CLINTON, who became president of the United States in 1993, revived the debate surrounding missile defense systems—and created fears that a new arms race might begin—when it developed proposals for the Theater High-Altitude Area-Defense System (THAAD). THAAD would be an elaborate missile defense system aimed at protecting allied nations from short-range missile attacks launched by countries such as North Korea. Critics maintained that THAAD would violate the ABM provisions of SALT I, widely believed to be the most successful arms control provisions ever; upset the nuclear balance; and possibly lead to an arms race. Proponents of THAAD maintained that the ABM Treaty was a relic of the Cold War and that missile defenses could protect against accidental nuclear launches.

As for Europe, the new structure of power there would also create new challenges for arms control. Agreements such as the CFE were made when the Soviet Union still existed, and did not necessarily conform to current realities. As the war in the former Yugoslavia demonstrated during the early 1990s, a new political situation posed new risks. Would certain states become regional powers and upset the balance of power? Would agreements that were stabilizing for the Soviet Union turn out to be destabilizing for Russia and other states of the former USSR? Would nationalism rise as a destructive force, as it had before and during previous wars?

Some experts were proposing that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) develop conventional arms control agreements to replace the CFE Treaty. The CSCE was formed in 1973 in an attempt to promote détente between the United States and the USSR. It includes 52 countries—50 European nations plus the United States and Canada. European leaders hoped the CSCE would play a greater role in determining a peaceful, stable future for Europe, with efforts in arms control being one of its major goals. Formally declaring this goal, European leaders signed the Pact of Paris in November 1990. Some leaders were proposing that the CSCE replace NATO as the chief military and political organization in Europe.

During the early 2000s, U.S. defense policy changed dramatically. The election of President GEORGE W. BUSH signaled the rise of neo-conservative policy thinking about post-Cold War security, a framework that no longer prioritized defense against nuclear attack from Russia or the states of the former Soviet Union. Instead, TERRORISM and so-called rogue states were said to pose the greatest danger.

In a profound departure from the super-power analysis that had formed the basis of Cold War planning, the threat was now said to come from smaller, weaker nations. Defense planners identified potential threats from North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, which were said to be developing—or as in the case of Pakistan, had already developed—nuclear weapons. They pointed to the failure of international non-proliferation agreements as reasons for the United States to reconfigure its defenses and rethink its previous agreements.

Accordingly, the Bush administration moved swiftly on both fronts. In 1999, Bush had campaigned on the promise of reviving the Reagan-era SDI project to provide an anti-missile defense system. In 2001, the president unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty of 1972 in order to remove any legal hindrance from testing and development of missile defense.

The end of the ABM Treaty proved controversial. Advocates of preserving the treaty praised it for preserving strategic stability, allowing for easy verification of each side's nuclear capacity, and maintaining the concept of deterrence. Sharply critical of U.S. unilateral withdrawal, both the Russians and Chinese announced they would respond by increasing their nuclear arsenals. Downplaying this threat, critics of the ABM Treaty doubted that either nation could afford to do so.

Great uncertainties began to cloud the future of arms control. Following the SEPTEMBER 11TH TERRORIST ATTACKS on the United States, the White House announced its radical new doctrine of preemptive attack: departing from historical tradition, the Bush administration declared its intention of attacking enemy nations first. Accordingly, despite global objection to the doctrine, the Bush administration ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, the risks of nuclear proliferation were starkly demonstrated in 2002 when Pakistan and India came to the brink of nuclear war, and again that year when North Korea, abrogating its non-proliferation agreement, defied the United States to stop it from developing nuclear weapons. With Washington laying out its largest defense spending in a quarter century, arms control and disarmament were clearly perceived to not be a priority of the Bush administration.

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