Saturday, November 17, 2007

U.S. and Russian Publics Strongly Support Steps to Reduce and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

The University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) and its Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) recently released a new poll of American and Russian attitudes toward recent cooperative nuclear risk reduction proposals.

The key findings of the study are:

1. De-alerting Nuclear Weapons

Large majorities of Americans and Russians favor reducing the number of nuclear weapons on high alert. Robust majorities on both sides would even favor a mutual agreement to take all of their weapons off high alert, if the two countries established a verification system. Few Russians or Americans think their country should have a policy of launching nuclear weapons on warning of a potential attack.

2. Deep Cuts in Nuclear Arsenals

Very large majorities endorse the U.S.-Russian SORT agreement to reduce the number of active nuclear weapons in each arsenal to about 2,000 weapons by the end of 2012. Most think such cuts should be made even sooner. Majorities in both countries also favor cutting the arsenals below the 2,000 levels. Americans and Russians would favor lowering U.S. and Russian arsenals to the level of 400 nuclear weapons if all other nuclear powers also promised not to increase the number of weapons in their arsenals.

Both Russians and Americans believe nuclear weapons are of very limited military utility: A majority of both Americans and Russians say that nuclear weapons should be used only in response to a nuclear attack and a large majority of Americans say that the United States should have a policy of never using nuclear weapons first. When Americans are asked how many nuclear weapons are necessary for deterrence, the median response is just 500. When asked how many nuclear weapons do you think the U.S. has, the median response is 1000 – much lower than the actual size of the U.S. arsenal (approximately 10,000 total warheads).

3. Eliminating Short-Range Weapons

A large majority of Americans believe the U.S. should agree to eliminate its short-range weapons based in Europe if Russia agrees to eliminate its short-range nuclear weapons based in western Russia. (Russians were not asked this question.)

4. Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Overwhelming majorities of Americans as well as Russians think their country should participate in the treaty banning all nuclear weapons testing. Indeed, a clear majority of Americans assume that the United States already does.

5. Controlling Nuclear Weapons-grade Material

Very large majorities of Russians and Americans say that their countries should put a top priority on cooperating with each other to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons. Majorities, especially in the United States, favor an agreement among all nuclear powers to share information about the number of nuclear weapons and the amount of weapons-grade nuclear material they have. Americans, however, lean against highly intrusive bilateral monitoring systems, while Russians lean in favor of them. Americans also lean slightly against providing money and technical assistance to aid Russia in securing its nuclear weapons and materials, while Russians are lukewarm about the idea.

6. Getting Control of the Production of Nuclear Fuel

Americans support various proposals for gaining greater international control over the production of nuclear fuel. A majority favors the idea of discouraging countries from building their own facilities through an agreement that would provide them with fuel in return for a promise not to produce it themselves. A modest majority also favors having a UN affiliate control all facilities that process nuclear material, while guaranteeing countries a supply of fuel for nuclear power plants. (Russians were not asked these questions). Both Russians and Americans who are aware of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tend to view it positively.

7. Ban on Producing Fissile Material

A majority of Americans and Russians favor having a ban on any further production of fissile material suitable for nuclear weapons.

8. Intrusive and Multilateral Verification

Americans and Russians believe that achieving deep cuts in nuclear arsenals would require verification by an international body. A majority of Americans believe that international inspectors charged with verifying compliance with arms control agreements have too many limits on what they can do. Russians lean toward this belief but are largely unsure.

As explained above, majorities, especially in the United States, favor an agreement among all nuclear powers to share information about the number of nuclear weapons and the amount of weapons-grade nuclear material they each have. Both publics prefer this to a bilateral information exchange and monitoring arrangement.

Americans overwhelmingly believe that when the U.S. and Russia agree to a nuclear arms reduction it should be done through a legally binding and verifiable agreement rather than a general understanding that both sides decide how to implement.

9. Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

Large majorities of Russians and Americans favor an agreement among all countries to eliminate all nuclear weapons, assuming that there is a well-established system for verifying compliance. Most approve of this objective, even though they are unaware that their country has already agreed to pursue it under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Indeed, large majorities on both sides feel that the nuclear powers have not been doing a good job of fulfilling this obligation and very large majorities would like their country to do more. Support for eliminating nuclear weapons softens, however, without an international system for verification and an orderly sequence of reductions. Also, trend line data suggest that support for elimination may have declined in light of the current suspicions about Iran’s nuclear program.

No comments: