TNI Interview with Fred Iklé

With the Russia-U.S. nuclear treaty signed, Fred Iklé, former director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, tells us what's new (and what’s dangerous) in Obama’s revised nuclear strategy.

TNI: First off, Obama has released his nuclear posture review. Do you think this is an important step?

IKLE: Yes, it is certainly a change from the old approach. President Obama wants to constrain the use of nuclear weapons. He announced that we will never use them against a nonnuclear state that has signed on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

His stance in essence tries to emphasize nonproliferation. This is a new approach and a significant step. The old strategy was more about the number of weapons and the size of arsenals. The focus was on how to reduce quantity. And discussions often revolved around missile defense.

This is a good thing to pursue. It is good to try to emphasize diminishing proliferation. And this may give us a chance to press North Korea and Iran.


TNI: As part of this in Obama's vision, we should be signing on to a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), something we haven't done before.

IKLE: We should not ratify the CTBT because violation of the test ban cannot be verified. We should continue the current moratorium on testing. In the end Obama has to pass this through Congress, and I don't think that's going to happen. The Republicans will object to the ratification of the test-ban agreement but also possibly to the limits on the number of nuclear weapons. They will not object to emphasizing proliferation, but clearly ratification is going to be a problem.

One of the biggest changes is that Obama proposes that we pledge that the United States would not use nuclear weapons against a country that is part of the nonproliferation treaty. And that's good. We should say we would not attack a nonnuclear country with nuclear weapons, particularly if is in the proliferation treaty.

It's very important not to start using nuclear weapons. In the article that I wrote for The National Interest on zero nuclear weapons, I stressed the importance of their nonuse. We have to preserve this as long as we can. Nuclear weapons haven't been used since 1945. And if they are used again, it will be a calamity for the whole world.

The tradition of nonuse is vital to the international community. Let us do all we can to maintain this dispensation. It is the most important tacit consensus among all nuclear powers, essential for the survival of a civilized world. It has lasted more than six decades and has taken us safely through all the crises of the Cold War and the dramatic changes that followed.


Fred C. Iklé is a distinguished scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was undersecretary of defense for policy in the Reagan administration and director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Nixon administration. He is also a member of The National Interest's Advisory Council.