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Whither nuclear arms control?

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LOS ANGELES – Is nuclear arms control unraveling? The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has collapsed, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is teetering, and North Korea has continued to expand its nuclear and ballistic-missile arsenal. Worse, it is unclear whether the United States will stick with the New START Treaty when it expires in 2021. That agreement limits (at 3,000) the number of strategic weapons Russia and the U.S. have pointed at each other.

Fortunately, history offers some solace. During and after the Cold War, periods of arms control breakdown were typically followed by phases of reconstruction. But reversing course is never easy. When it comes to bringing Russia, Iran and North Korea into compliance, past experience shows that there are limits to what can be accomplished by leveraging alliances or pursuing military action. The remaining options are economic sanctions — which are effective only up to a point — and a further arms buildup, to induce renewed negotiations.

To be sure, alliances historically have played an important role in nuclear nonproliferation. In Europe, the U.S.-NATO nuclear umbrella prevented the bomb from spreading beyond Britain and France. When U.S. intelligence agencies learned in the 1970s and 1980s that South Korea and Taiwan had secret nuclear weapons programs, America threatened to withdraw its military and economic support and the programs eventually were shut down.

But intra-alliance pressure has no role to play with respect to loners like North Korea, Russia and Iran. Despite China’s military alliance and occasional summitry with........

© The Japan Times