THE world today is facing unprecedented challenges to the effort to control nuclear weapons, and the danger that some desperate state, ethnic group, or terrorist may find both the will and the means to launch a nuclear attack has increased alarmingly.
The situation faced today no longer fits the paradigms of the past. Nuclear threats have arisen in unexpected quarters, as we have learned in Iraq. The breakup of the Soviet Union relieved superpower confrontation but has made nuclear materials, information, and possibly weapons from the Soviet arsenal much more difficult to control.
A second major cause of alarm is revelations from Iraq, where a large, sophisticated, yet clandestine effort to build nuclear weapons was found to have made remarkable progress. The discovery has brought the realization of how easy it can be for a determined nation to evade export controls on nuclear technology and conceal its nuclear industrial complex from ordinary intelligence efforts.
At nearly the same time, we are presented with a historic opportunity to keep the nuclear genie bottled. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will undergo a mandatory review in 1995, and those of us who have been directly involved in the safeguards and arms-control process and the inspection of Iraqi facilities see an urgent need to reexamine what we have accepted as nuclear truisms in the past if the danger of increased numbers of nuclear-armed states is to be avoided in the future. The experience
in Iraq was especially sobering in this regard.
Our national intelligence services and the International Atomic Energy Association, which maintains a large inspection program, failed to detect an effort on the scale of the United States Manhattan Project.
We do know that at least part of the reason we failed to detect Iraq's program was that we were suffering from tunnel vision - we were looking for the wrong technology. We assumed that others would develop nuclear weapons by the same methods that US and Soviet defense programs employed, leading us to overlook the electromagnetic uranium separation technology that Iraq invested in. This may not be an economical or even rational approach, but we also misjudged the motivation that could drive a nation to at tempt a nuclear program despite its costs.
Happily, the US and former Soviet Union have abandoned the nuclear weapons that are most likely to actually be used in war - that is, tactical weapons such as short range missiles and artillery shells - at a rate unprecedented in the history of disarmament.
The Gulf war illustrated clearly that tactical nuclear weapons are not required for effective war fighting. Small nuclear weapons are not needed, for example, to attack hardened bunkers or to take out power grids. Both tasks were accomplished effectively by conventional methods. As the Gulf war amply showed, the key problem yet to be fully solved is identifying the target, not destroying it.
SOON only a strategic deterrent capability to destroy major urban areas or industrial complexes will remain in active arsenals of the declared nuclear-armed states. This change carries with it significant, but largely unnoticed, political and technical consequences. A democratic nation would be extremely reluctant to use such weapons to accomplish limited goals against an ill-defined threat, which makes their use highly improbable. Technically, our most modern weapons are not required to maintain this de terrent. Single stage fission weapons of late 1950-1960 design vintages will suffice, and, incidentally, the safety and reliability of these weapons can be readily verified without continuous nuclear testing.
However, the deterrent will not necessarily be effective against small states driven by extreme religious ideals or ethnic hatred. We are reminded that self-destructive behavior in the service of ideology is a fact of life by events in the Balkans and Middle East. Our experience in Iraq will make it more difficult for a state to gather technology and build its own weapons, forcing them to turn to the cheaper and safer alternative of acquiring a weapon or weapon materials from one of the former Soviet sta tes or another nuclear club member with whom they may have a special relationship.
To combat this very real threat, we must define a new approach to nonproliferation. In doing so, we should resist the tendency of Americans to use our technology advantage to transform every policy problem into a technology problem with a simple hardware answer. Low tech, but hard to implement new policies that put to use wisdom gained in Iraq will do the job.
First, we must develop the ability to carry out an intrusive inspection program in a hostile environment. The success of the UN's inspection effort in uncovering Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological programs has been the result of assembling multinational teams able to operate in the field with the unprecedented powers of freedom of movement and access granted by Security Council Resolution 687.
This capability, plus the capacity to take control of the weapons of a declared nuclear state that is collapsing, must be created on a permanent basis and implemented in a way that is viewed as technically credible and politically even-handed by the world community. Inspection activities must be based on improved intelligence to which the United Nations is granted free access. We must not again be surprised to find sensitive nuclear information, development facilities, or an actual weapon.
Also, we must acknowledge that there is some probability that nonproliferation efforts will fail, and that we will need to disarm a terrorist's nuclear weapon or deal with the aftermath of a detonation. In the latter case, it may be necessary to determine the origin of the weapon to learn who attacked whom. Fission debris and other signatures left by the blast may be the only clues, and identification based on this information is currently a formidable technical problem.
FINALLY, to prevent more desperate attempts to acquire or build nuclear weapons, we urgently need to address political situations that lead some states to perceive a need for them. The 1995 review of the NPT must provide a positive means of dealing with nonsignatories and incentives for undeclared weapons states to back away from the nuclear status that they have already attained. If the US must agree to a comprehensive test ban to accomplish these goals, the tests needed to guarantee that the safety and
reliability of the remaining strategic stockpile can be done before 1995.
Changes over the last two years in the nuclear-weapons establishments of both East and West have been profound. Nuclear paradigms that have prevailed for more than 40 years are no longer valid, and our attention must now focus on threats that are not addressed by evolving US-Russian strategic deterrence doctrine.
The possibility that terrorists or regional ethnic groups may acquire and use nuclear weapons is real, and the US must assume leadership of an international effort to create the policies and multinational structures that will be needed when they do.