DefenceTalK: David Krieger on Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Arms Control-Interview

Ahmed Ali Shah



DT: Which nuclear states are more dangerous; the nuclear romantics (those seeking nukes for prestige) or nuclear realists (those seeking nukes for defence against other nuke states)? Nuclear Realists claim they possess nuclear weapons only because nuclear romantics create fear in them.


David Krieger: I don’t find the distinctions between nuclear romantics and nuclear realists to be helpful. All states possessing nuclear weapons have some mix of both qualities. In my mind, there is nothing romantic about nuclear weapons and it is detached from reality to believe that nuclear weapons can be held indefinitely in nuclear arsenals and their use threatened without being used again.

DT: Realists belief is that nuclear weapon free world is a Utopian idea. Even if nations completely disarm themselves their nuclear raw materials, nuclear scientists, engineers and nuclear facilities will continue to exist. Therefore; when they deem it necessary they can redevelop their nuclear weapons. And in such a case the possibility of usage of nuclear weapons is higher than it is now. How do you respond to this belief?

David Krieger: I think it is far more utopian to believe that some states can maintain nuclear arsenals without engendering nuclear proliferation and eventual use of nuclear weapons, by accident or design. If states would find it in their interest to seek to abolish nuclear weapons in a phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent manner, it is likely that they would assure in the process that it is extremely difficult for any state to develop or redevelop nuclear weapons.

DT: NPT was signed during the Cold War. The 5 Nuclear States promised to disarm themselves on a future date. Today there is no Cold War and more states possess nuclear weapons then before. What is the future of NPT in your view? And do you believe a complete disarmament is possible on NPTs terms?

David Krieger: For the foreseeable future the NPT is necessary, but of course it has serious contradictions, such as the promise of nuclear disarmament on the one hand and the seemingly inconsistent position on the other hand that peaceful nuclear technology is an “inalienable right.” As states become more serious about abolishing nuclear weapons, the NPT should give way to a Nuclear Weapons Convention, which sets forth the roadmap for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.

DT: The US congress passed a controversial Presslers Amendment which barred US government from selling F-16s and other military hardware to Pakistan because it was pursuing nuclear weapons. On the other hand US sold over 250 F-16s to Israel, who was already known to possess nuclear weapons at that time. Similar examples can be found on other accounts related to other countries. Do you think that the double standards on behalf of United States, on who should and who should not possess nuclear weapons, are pushing 3rd World Countries to acquire nuclear weapons?

David Krieger: I strongly oppose such double standards. I believe they are a provocation to nuclear proliferation. We need a unitary and universal standard leading to the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

DT: What are your views on Bush Nuclear Doctrine? Is the policy to pursue nonproliferation by force the right one? Or has it brought the world to a dangerous point? Has it in anyway made US a more secure country, even by a small percentage?

David Krieger: I think the orientation of trying to control proliferation by the use of force, including preemptive nuclear strikes, is extremely dangerous. It is an expression of imperial policy and an incentive to proliferation. I also believe that it is neither practical nor effective. It has not made the US more secure.

DT: In your paper Why Nations Go Nuclear you have pointed out 4 principle reasons to the question, while you say that North Korea seems to be pioneering the 5th one, that is: to use the weapons as a bargaining chip to gain security guarantees and financial concessions. How real is danger of such nuclear blackmail? Will more states be encouraged to follow this rout? If so, how can they be stopped?

David Krieger: I don’t see North Korea’s position as nuclear blackmail in the sense of threatening to use nuclear weapons. Rather, it is using the prospect of developing or maintaining a nuclear arsenal as a bargaining chip to gain security and development assistance. I think that North Korea fears the US use of force against it and certainly has great need of development assistance. I think it is well worth the bargain for the US to provide such security guarantees and development aid in exchange for North Korea giving up its nuclear arsenal. I think this situation is unique, and is unlikely to be a model for other states.

DT: In your paper US Leadership for Global Zero you say Barack Obama recognizes the importance for US and global security of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. D.W. Eisenhower & Ronald Reagan spoke of General and Complete (C&G) Disarmament on different occasions but neither achieved it. In fact both pursued better nuclear delivery systems and counter nuclear missile technologies. G.W. Bush on the other hand pursued all this without even showing slightest interest in either disarmament or arms control. What makes you believe that Obama is or will be serious on complete nuclear disarmament or as you put Nuclear Zero?

David Krieger: President-elect Obama has made many statements that show he is deeply concerned about nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. I think he recognizes that the US and the world would be far safer without nuclear arms. I am certain that he will take steps in this direction, but I imagine that they will be cautious steps and will emerge initially from negotiations with the Russians. I believe he will set the goal of global zero, but will not be able to achieve this goal within his possible two terms in office. I have high hopes that he will follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan in seeking global abolition, hopefully more successfully than Reagan. Much will depend upon Obama’s willingness to halt missile defenses in Europe, which the Russians have consistently opposed and continue to find provocative.

DT: Do you think that miniaturized low yield tactical nuclear weapons, with lower (very limited) contamination and destructive power, can (or should) be possible alternative to nuclear weapons with the capability of mass destruction?

David Krieger: I don’t see mini-nukes as an alternative to massive-nukes. Leaders could well be more willing to use low yield tactical nuclear weapons, thus breaking the taboo that has existed on nuclear weapons use since Nagasaki was destroyed. This could open a Pandora’s Box of proliferation and nuclear use.

DT: States like Pakistan and North Korea find themselves conventionally weaker against their rivals. They claim that only thing deterring their rivals is their nuclear arsenal. Iran seems to follow the same logic. Such states would be reluctant to disarm themselves. How can these states be encouraged to join the disarmament club, or as your say: Nuclear Weapons Convention, if Nuclear Zero takes place?

David Krieger: To convince these states to engage in nuclear disarmament will require a new global security environment. For these states, nuclear weapons now seem to be a military equalizer. The stronger states are going to have make commitments in the form of security agreements to convince these states to give up their nuclear arms. Such commitments will actually make the more powerful states more secure as well. Changing the global security environment will not be easy, but it will be greatly helped by the most powerful states giving clear signs that they are prepared themselves to go to zero.

DT: In case Iran produces a deliverable nuclear weapon, there is a risk that Saudi Arabia and Egypt will also seek to acquire nuclear weapons, while Israel will also go overt. How much will this affect proliferation control? What measures should be taken to prevent Iran or Middle East as whole from going nuclear?

David Krieger: Iran developing nuclear weapons would encourage more nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Israel’s nuclear weapons already encourage such proliferation, by Iran and others. The UN has long called for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. This remains an important objective and pressure should be put on Israel by its allies to achieve this goal. In my view, no states, including the current nuclear weapons states, should be allowed to enrich uranium. Uranium enrichment should be universally banned. The reprocessing of plutonium should only be done under strict and effective international control.

DT: In your Briefing for the New President you wrote Deterrence is not defense against a nuclear attack. If it were, missile defenses would not be needed. If true then what deterred the two super powers of the Cold War from a nuclear exchange, especially during times of high tension like the Cuban Missile Crisis?

David Krieger: Deterrence is not physical protection from nuclear attack. It is a psychological concept, which provides no assurance of effectiveness. There is no proof that deterrence prevented a nuclear war during the period of the Cold War. We know a nuclear war did not occur, but we do not know that it was fear of retaliation that was the cause of this. But even if the threat of mutual assured destruction (MAD) did protect psychologically against the use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, it cannot be assumed that the same conditions would prevail in the case of other nuclear weapons states. Deterrence requires rational actors, and we surely know that not all leaders are rational at all times. I would not bet the future of one’s country or of the human race on reliance upon rationality. To do so would be irrational.


David Krieger is a founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and has served as President of the Foundation since 1982.

Dr. Krieger has lectured throughout the United States, Europe and Asia on issues of peace, security, international law, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. He has received many awards for his work for a more peaceful and nuclear weapons-free world. He has been interviewed on CNN Hotline, MSNBC, NPR and many other television and radio shows nationally and internationally.



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