Courtesy Reuters

Nonproliferation: A Long-Term Strategy

During his election campaign, Jimmy Carter dramatized a broad but inchoate popular concern when he promised that curbing the spread of nuclear weapons would be among his highest foreign policy priorities. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that public attention during 1977 tended to focus on his initial highly visible actions and especially on their confrontational aspects. Both critics and sympathizers tended to score what they saw as the Administration's policy as if it were a football game with clear-cut winners and losers, and in the process the wider outlines of policy were sometimes obscured.

In fact, nonproliferation policy is much more like a large construction project than an adversary contest. It may, to be sure, never follow the precise blueprints of its architects, which will always need a degree of improvisation and adjustment. But it is to be judged by whether it is in fact advancing toward the kind of result laid out as its long-term goal. In the recent words of a perceptive critic, it is such long-term strategy that provides the "wider canvas" against which the merits of individual actions can be judged.1

So I shall try in this article to fill in and to put into focus the key elements of nonproliferation policy as they have emerged during the past year-sometimes in complex and little-publicized actions and negotiations-and to assess these elements in a long-term context. What are we (as a nation) really trying to do for the long pull, and how are we making out?


The goal of our nonproliferation policy is to slow the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities-preferably to zero-and to minimize, and keep under control, any destabilizing impact of the diffusion of nuclear technology (i.e., any impact tending in the direction of conflict between nations or other forms of violence). Obviously, these are not tasks for the United States alone; they require for their achievement the highest possible degree of consensus among nations that now have or might in the future wish to

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