The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) entered into force Feb. 5, 2011, and with it a new era of arms control and cooperation between Russia and the United States.
However, due to the numerous challenges associated with its implementation and verification, and the even greater challenges that lie ahead as the nation looks forward to other nuclear arms control treaties, many questions still arise on the topic of nuclear nonproliferation.
These questions were focused on in a panel setting on Tuesday evening in the Crest Room of the University Center.
Considered to be experts on global security, arms control and threat reduction, the five panel members discussed numerous questions on the security of the United States arsenal, the verification process to make sure Russia and other nations are following international agreements, and how the world's nuclear powers can work together to end nuclear weapons all together.
Panel participants included Ambassadors Bonnie Jenkins and Thomas Graham, Jr., Dr. Howard Hall, Dr. Brandon Prins, Joseph Stainback and Jason Roback.
Discussion of a deal between President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to get rid of close to 17,000 nuclear warheads, a remarkable achievement without treaty deadlocks, led to deeper discussion of how verification can be achieved while still being trusting.
"Let's start with the tactical nuclear weapons that Gorbachev supposedly eliminated," said Graham. "We don't really know that he did, and we don't really know where a lot of them are. We are not even sure the Russians know where a lot of them are."
Graham suggested that "trust but verify" should be the standard procedure of the United States. Verification can come in many forms including the use of the extremely capable intelligence community, satellites and political relationships.
Jenkins suggested that as treaties get more complicated as more nations join, the more difficult enforcement begins. The verification process is vital to the entire operation as it provides trust between the parties.
Audience discussion brought up the question of how safe the United States' arsenal is. The panel brought up the fact that after a while the military faces a human problem in complacency as current officers and personnel have never had to run nuclear missions and in most cases neither have their bosses.
This leads to lax security such as the case in 2007 when a B-52 flew from North Dakota to Louisiana without realizing two nuclear warheads on board were activated.
Lets start with the tactical nuclear weapons that Gorbachev supposedly eliminated. We don't really know that he did, and we don't really know where a lot of them are. Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr. In regards to nuclear materials hosted by the national labs and security complexes, the panel suggested that the facilities are among the securest in the world.
"It's very secure, especially with the recent upgrades of the highly enriched materials facility," said Stainback in regards to the material being hosted at Y-12. "That facility is very robust and the protection of that material is what I would say the ultimate protection."
Among other topics discussed was the current administration's plan to, with Russia, lower stockpiles to 1,000 warheads apiece. From there both governments would like for the United Kingdom, France and China to commit to lowering their stockpiles as all five begin to pressure India, Pakistan and other nations to do the same.
"Tonight's panel was very interesting. It was great to hear these experts and their opinions on nonproliferation and how the process is working," said senior Andrew Whitener.
Hall currently serves as the Governor's Chair Professor of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee. Prins is an associate political science professor at UT focusing on international relations.
Roback serves as the program manager for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency portfolio at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, while Joseph Stainback is currently the director of security and consequence management initiatives at Y-12 National Security Complex.
Jenkins currently serves as the U.S. State Department's Coordinator for the Threat Reduction Program in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. She is the State Department lead on the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.
Graham is a former senior-level diplomat and an authority on nuclear nonproliferation. Ambassador Graham served as general counsel for the Department of State's Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for fifteen years and was involved in the negotiation of every major arms control and nonproliferation agreement from 1970-1997.
Tuesday's event was sponsored by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, the UT Student Chapter of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, and the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.