“Science and technology (S&T) will play a critical role in advancing the US plan to balance deterrence with downsizing the US nuclear arsenal.” - APS Panel on Public Affairs
Movement toward the global reduction and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons will involve a complex interplay of diplomatic measures, protocols, and science and technology. An important report by the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs outlines a strategy for how science and technology can inform governments working toward nuclear disarmament.
The release of the APS report came two weeks before the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In a March 5 statement regarding this treaty, President Obama commented on disarmament:
"Forty years ago today, in the midst of a Cold War, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) entered into force, becoming the cornerstone“ of the world’s efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Today, the threat of global nuclear war has passed, but the danger of nuclear proliferation endures, making the basic bargain of the NPT more important than ever: nations with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, nations without nuclear weapons will forsake them, and all nations have an ‘inalienable right’ to peaceful nuclear energy.”
The APS Panel on Public Affairs released its report, “Technical Steps to Support Nuclear Arsenal Downsizing” on February 18. The panel was chaired by Jay Davis, a nuclear physicist who was the first director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the Department of Defense.
Stressing the critical importance of “building transparency and confidence” between nuclear states, the report describes the essential role that science and technology will play in attaining three key goals:
- “verifying the process of downsizing and dismantling stockpiles;”
- “sustaining the capability and expertise to ensure that the remaining arsenal is safe, secure, reliable and effective for as long as is necessary”
- “ensuring the peaceful use of fissile materials.”
The APS Panel recommends a series of eight major steps that the federal government, and in one instance, nuclear-related industries, should take in support of these goals. They include the declassification of the number of all US nuclear weapons, the establishment of international centers for verification research and validation, the refurbishment of elements of the US nuclear weapons infrastructure, the support of federal investments in key programs, and the establishment of information sharing among nuclear-related industries. The report outlines how each of the goals and the related steps can be accomplished. It concludes:
“We are confident that the development of the technology needed for a safe and secure downsizing program for global nuclear arsenals is within our reach if it is adequately supported. The associated operational and doctrinal measures will require major investments as well. The technology steps are clear; the structure of the overall program requires careful assessment and ongoing support.”
The report has been distributed to the White House, State and Defense Departments, and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. It may be viewed here.