Jan M. Lodal is Chairman of Lodal and Company and a member of the Atlantic Council’s Board.  He is a former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and was President of the Atlantic Council from October 2005 until the end of 2006. I had the opportunity to discuss his thoughts on some key issues of interest to the Atlantic Council community.

With the current instability in the world and the difficulties in renewing even previous arms control agreements such as START, what is the rationale for Nuclear Zero?  Why now?

The first answer is proliferation.  The world is on the verge of entering an age of more nuclear weapons states, more nuclear materials, and more nuclear facilities that are poorly secured—making the job of the terrorists seeking the bomb easier and the odds that a nuclear weapon will be used greater.

In addition, creating a successful arms control regime takes a long time.  It takes a considerable investment of time and diplomacy to convince governments that nuclear weapons serve no military purpose.  This is a major part of the problem.  You can not make progress as long as states believe nuclear weapons deter conventional attack or so long as states believe nuclear weapons can take out hard, high value targets.

The acquisition of nuclear weapons by states has been much slower than was expected after WWII.  What has changed in the threat from proliferation?

The pace of scientific advancements in this field has accelerated.  As a result, nuclear technology is now cheap and easy relative to what was available during the Cold War.  For example, during World War II, it took 14% of all the electricity produced in the U.S. to run Oak Ridge.  Furthermore, global demand for energy has produced more nuclear power plants and this has required a growing number of nuclear technicians.

Moving toward zero nuclear weapons would require dramatically improved verification.  How would you describe an inspection regime that would support Nuclear Zero?

It can be based on the regime in place today and used effectively by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to uncover covert nuclear weapons programs in Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.  But it must cover all states – the five “acknowledged” nuclear powers are not subject to the IAEA – and it must be more rigorous.  It will cost much more, but still a very small amount compared to what the worlds nuclear powers spend on their weapons today.

Only Russia retains a large inventory of operational non-strategic nuclear weapons – some estimates are as high as 10,000.  These weapons are not covered by the New START treaty.  How should they be dealt with?

It is imperative that future arms control negotiations start with the principle that “a nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon,” regardless of its size, delivery system, or deployment status.  The main risk mankind faces today from nuclear weapons is that one could find its way into the hands of a terrorist organization or terrorist-controlled state that could not be deterred from using it.  The non-strategic weapons retained by Russia are among the most dangerous in this regard.  Furthermore, they represent a very real threat to our NATO allies who are in range of these weapons even if we are not.  Future arms control cannot be effective at reducing these threats and moving the world toward the only stable outcome – zero weapons worldwide – unless all weapons are on the table.

Is there a decisive next step the U.S. could take to put the world on a track to making Nuclear Zero a reality?

Yes.  The U.S. could propose a new multilateral convention.  This convention would require all states to declare that the only valid purpose of nuclear weapons is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by others.  It would also specify the development of a comprehensive control regime to account for all nuclear weapons and all nuclear material capable of being used to make nuclear weapons.  The U.S. should unilaterally commit to living by the terms of the proposed convention.  This would mean renouncing all use of nuclear weapons except for deterrence (which the current Nuclear Posture Review came close to doing) and opening all U.S. nuclear weapons and production facilities to international inspection.

Jorge Benitez is the Director of NATOSource and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.