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The Fight for Non-Proliferation Begins at Home

The development and potential use of nuclear weapons defined the Cold War era and kept the world under the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction. A major step towards dispelling that threat came with the 1970 ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is predicated on the three pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Even though the treaty was originally conceived with a limited duration of 25 years, the signing parties decided, by consensus, to extend the treaty indefinitely and without conditions during the Review Conference (REVCON) in New York City on May 11, 1995, culminating successful lobbying efforts led by Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr., who often was outnumbered in the discussions within the U.S. government on the issue.

Ambassador Graham had worked in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) for over 20 years when he simultaneously held the positions of Acting Director and Acting Deputy Director from 1993-94. He was interviewed beginning in May 2001 by Charles Stuart Kennedy. Dean Rust served as the Deputy Director of the Non-Proliferation Policy Bureau  at ACDA from 1976-97. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in December 2006.

Read also about how the U.S. was able to convince Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to give up its nuclear arsenal. Go here for other Moments on the UN.


The NPT deal in 1970 was that non-nuclear states would give up the right to acquire weapons if the nuclear weapons states promised to get rid of theirs” 

Dean Rust, Deputy Director, Non-Proliferation Policy Bureau, ACDA 

RUST: [19]95 was a key year because the NPT, which had entered into force in 1970, was, per Article X, subject to a decision by the parties on extension of the Treaty.

It provided two or three options:  indefinite extension or extension for set periods. The parties could decide in ’95 to extend it indefinitely, or to extend it for 10 years or maybe for rolling 10-year periods.

The point is when the treaty was negotiated in 1970, it was not made a permanent treaty. (Map: Pressenza)

The NPT was an experiment. The parties decided they had to take another look after 25 years and determine how long to extend it. If the Treaty had been a bust, they could have extended it one day. So, this was a big deal. A conference was called for the Spring of 1995 to review the Treaty and make a decision on extension.

They could have extended it ten years, so that in 2005 the Treaty would end. You can imagine what the world would be like today if that had been the decision. The legal constraints against much of proliferation would come off and countries like Iran could do whatever it pleased and there would be no NPT or IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards agreement to serve as the legal basis on which to challenge these actions in the Security Council.

The U.S. and its allies and Russia supported an indefinite extension. The primary pressure for a less than indefinite extension came from some countries in the Non-aligned Movement [NAM] who were not happy that the existing nuclear powers still had too many nuclear weapons.

The NPT deal in 1970 as interpreted by many countries was that non-nuclear states would give up the right to acquire weapons if the nuclear weapons states guys promised to get rid of theirs. It is 25 years later, and I am sorry say these countries — you have not done a good enough job of getting rid of yours and we suspect you have no intention of doing so.

These governments, probably never more than 15-20, pushed for something less than indefinite extension, e.g. extension for 10 years with another vote for another 10-year extension.

This was a way of keeping the pressure on the nuclear weapon states vice [instead of] an indefinite extension, which these governments believed would leave the nuclear weapon states off the hook. The reasoning goes that any threat to the viability of the NPT causes alarm in the existing nuclear weapon states as the dissolution of the Treaty could lead to rampant proliferation and threaten the current dominance of the U.S., UK, France, Russia and China. Obviously, there is something to this argument; although the analysis is not as clear cut as some in the NAM would believe. 

“’Some guys came to see me in striped pants, who wanted to convince me that ACDA should be eliminated’” 

Thomas Graham, Jr,  Acting Director and Acting Deputy Director, ACDA,  1993-94 

GRAHAM: By way of background, in the fall of 1992 the Congress had passed a law which called for a nine-month moratorium on nuclear weapon tests.

After that nine months had passed, the President was authorized either to continue the moratorium indefinitely until there was a comprehensive test ban treaty or the President could authorize five tests a year for three years and, after that, there would be a moratorium on testing until there was a comprehensive test ban treaty in place….

The Defense Department was not interested in their allowed three tests because bomber nuclear weapons were not deployed on bombers anymore, and such safety measures were very expensive. The fourth test was for the British, and why should the U.S. government protect the British nuclear weapon program? The fifth test was for purposes of reliability and the U.S. had almost never done tests for the reliability of its nuclear weapons.

The law was known as the Hatfield-Mitchell-Exon law after the three senators who co-sponsored it. President George H. W. Bush reluctantly signed it because, attached to it was money for the Super Collider in Texas, which he thought would be helpful for his reelection. So it was law in 1993.

In the spring, May or June, the Clinton administration had to decide about the tests [when] the nine-month mandated test moratorium would be up… That law required that a decision be made.

I was the acting Director now so I had a vote on the National Security Council. Several well-meaning colleagues came and talked to me about that and said, “Look, you can probably avoid the vote or say you are only acting and therefore you are going to be neutral or something like that.”

I thought to myself, “I don’t think that’s what I am going to do.” I notified Bob Bell on the National Security Council staff that I intended to support the continuation of the moratorium indefinitely and not doing the tests. I did that on a telephone call, as I recall.

He was rather unhappy with my position. I said the same thing in a note to Lynn Davis at the State Department, who was the Under Secretary for International Security but also was leading the effort to eliminate the Arms Control [and Disarmament] Agency [ACDA]. I received an ambiguous reply to my note. I couldn’t tell precisely where she stood.

Then I went to see Barry McCaffrey, Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey, who was the Assistant Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (J-5)….

He said, “Of course, that’s what you should do. You are the acting director of ACDA. Your responsibility is the Non-Proliferation Treaty, its strengthening and continuance. The test ban is part of that. Of course, you should support the continuation of a moratorium. You would be derelict in your duty if you did anything else. It’s for us to argue the other side. That’s the way government is supposed to work.

“And, by the way, there are some guys that came to see me in striped pants the other day, who wanted to convince me that ACDA should be eliminated and that the Joint Chiefs should support that. I threw them out of my office, telling them that what you are suggesting is not consistent with the national interests of the United States.”…

“To resume these tests would undermine two fundamental objectives of the United States”

I was the acting Director, but there wasn’t anybody acting as deputy so I went to both the National Security Council deputy meetings and the NSC Principals meetings. At the deputy meetings I made the argument that we had a situation where France has declared a moratorium on nuclear weapon tests some years previous as had Russia. Great Britain tests at our test sites [which means] whatever we do, they have to do. The Chinese haven’t done a test in three years….

In less than two years there is going to be a vote of the Non-Proliferation Treaty parties in New York on NPT extension. If the U.S. is in the midst of a test program while the other nuclear weapon states are not, then the international community is going to conclude that we just love nuclear weapons so much that we can’t give them up.

Why should they make the NPT permanent as we want so much? Our voice will be very limited in its effect and probably it would mean that the NPT would not be permanently extended as we so much want. Testing would undercut our ability to achieve indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. In fact, it would probably make it impossible I argued.

Second, pursuant to the [President Boris] Yeltsin effort to get nuclear weapons back into Russia, we know we are going to have a difficult time with Ukraine. We have known that now, for a year or more — ever since the visit there in early 1992. How could we effectively argue with Ukraine that they should give up their nuclear weapons, which are on their territory, which we are asking them to return them to Russia, when we are engaged in an active test program?

To resume these tests would undermine two fundamental objectives of the United States: one, indefinite extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1995 and two, persuading Ukraine to return the strategic nuclear weapons left on its territory by the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, with respect to the three tests, the Department of Defense doesn’t want the technology these tests are designed to prove out, that is, the safety measures on the strategic bomber weapons. They just want to do tests. They don’t want the tests for the reasons in the law. We are not going to test just for the sake of the British and we rarely do reliability tests. The tests are certainly not high priority for the United States. Those were the arguments I made.

Everyone else was in favor of doing the tests, all other agencies. I was alone at the deputy level.

Then the discussion was moved to the National Security Council — Principals-level or Cabinet-level — since my vote resulted in a disagreement at the deputy level. I had a meeting before the first NSC Principals meeting with the Deputy Energy Secretary and he said that no program should last forever. Government programs should end when their usefulness has ended and this may be one of those cases.

That was an encouraging conversation at the Department of Energy before the first National Security Council meeting. Mary Lib Hoinkes the acting General Counsel, my deputy for many years, spoke with the White House Science Adviser, Dr. John Gibbons and he indicated that perhaps he was for the moratorium and against the tests.

“That’s the political deal and we should carry it out”

We came to this first meeting. I remember sitting outside the White House Cabinet Room where the first meeting was to be held, pretty nervous about what I was going to do. We went in there and on one side of the table were Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Colin Powell.

Tony Lake (pictured), the National Security Advisor, was the Chairman of the meeting. His Deputy Sandy Berger, and senior assistant to the President on the NSC were also present. On my side of the table, were Jim Woolsey, the CIA director. Jim Woolsey was on my left and on my right the White House Science Adviser, and finally Hazel O’Leary, the new Secretary of Energy. At my end of the table was the Deputy National Security Adviser and at the other end of the table was Tony Lake, the National Security Adviser….

Tony asked for everyone to state his/her position. Warren Christopher and Les Aspen both said, “This was the deal, you know, that we would have a nine-month moratorium and then would do these five tests a year for three years and a moratorium until there is a test ban. That’s the political deal and we should carry it out.”

Chairman Powell said that nuclear weapons are the crown jewels of the Department of Defense and we want to make sure they are reliable and so associated himself with the first two….

Next it was my turn. I made the same argument there that I had made at the deputies meeting, which I have previously described. Jack Gibbons, the Science Advisor, indicated that he generally favored my position.

Finally, Secretary O’Leary said that she was the new kid on the block. She had just been in office two weeks and she wasn’t ready to make a decision like this. She wanted first to be briefed by her staff and she asked if the meeting could be postponed for two weeks. Tony Lake was very unhappy with that request. Nevertheless, he said, “Okay, we’ll have another meeting in roughly two weeks’ time, whereupon the first meeting ended.

In between the two meetings I had a meeting with Hazel O’Leary and with her Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Weapons, Vic Reis, a very distinguished expert. I recall her deputy was there as well….

In that meeting Hazel O’Leary made it very clear that she was going to support the moratorium and argue against doing the tests. She was going to bring senior National Laboratory experts with her to explain that the stockpile is safe, secure and reliable, and would remain so for at least 10 years — even if no tests were done. Her Assistant [Secretary for Nuclear Weapons] Vic Reis…who was present was very supportive of this position as well.

“The discussion began this time with General Powell. His position had shifted slightly.”

The second NSC Principals meeting took place. Same characters, same seating and again in the Cabinet Room of the White house. Almost the entire focus of this meeting was on the moratorium, other test ban issues were not extensively discussed.

The discussion went around the table again after a presentation by the two National Laboratory scientists that Hazel had brought with her. They explained how, for at least ten years, even if we were to do nothing — no tests — there would be no problem with the safety, security and reliability of the stockpile.

The round robin discussion began this time with General Powell. His position had shifted slightly. He said, “My responsibility is to the military. If the Secretary of Energy tells me that I need to test, then I want to test. If the Secretary of Energy tells [me] I don’t need to test, then I don’t want to test.”

Secretaries Christopher and Aspin, who spoke next, reiterated their position at the first meeting — that there was a potential deal for the fifteen tests and that we should do the tests.

Tony again said, “Who will speak for the other side?” I raised my hand and gave my (by now) standard speech, concluding that the moratorium should be extended until we have a comprehensive test ban assuring that no other nation tests, a concession we had to make early on to the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] because it was in the law.

The White House Science Adviser, Jack Gibbons said, “I agree” and Hazel O’Leary said, “I agree.” That meant there was a split and we would have to go to the President.

As I indicated, we addressed another issue in the first meeting — that the law provided that the moratorium did not have to be continued if another nation tests. Originally, the law said “if Russia tests.” The White House in 1992 was able to change “Russia” to “any other nation,” thus providing a bigger out. This was carried forward in the discussions within the Executive branch all the way to the National Security Council level, but we had not addressed that point because we were arguing for continuance of the moratorium.

I just didn’t think that the traffic would bear fighting over this issue so I didn’t resist that issue when raised by the JCS and it was agreed by all that if a moratorium was going on and another nation tested, then that would be the end of the moratorium.…”Any other nation” — it wasn’t specific.

Next the decision went to the President. Tony Lake checked with the three senators who sponsored the legislation and also with other important senators like Senator Nunn and all were comfortable with the idea of the indefinite moratorium. So the President decided it our way….

“Why should our policy be controlled by what some guys in Beijing are going to do?”

In August of 1993, two months later, unmistakable evidence appeared that the Chinese, after three and a half years of not testing, were preparing to do a test. The tower was built. The hole in the ground where the device would be placed was prepared. As our satellite pictures revealed, it was more and more clear that another nation was going to test.


At the end of August we had a third meeting of the National Security Council and those of us that had supported the continuance of the moratorium were very, very concerned that another nation was clearly going to test… All would be off and we would be back to doing the 15 tests over three years with the expected negative effect it would have on our nonproliferation interests.

The meeting took place — this time in the Situation Room at the White House, not in the Cabinet Room…. There were a few seats for staffers on either side. All were on the edge of their seats, realizing that a really important decision was going to be made. Some of us were very worried.

Tony opened the meeting, “Well, we are here because it looks like the Chinese are going to do a test. There was a caveat to our agreement in June that the moratorium would be indefinitely extended — namely, that this decision would be reconsidered if another nation tests. So what do we do? First, I’d like to call on Jim Woolsey to present the intelligence.”

Jim spent the next ten minutes outlining the information we had which made it absolutely clear that China was going to test in two or three weeks, for sure. Virtually for sure, anyway. After that was over, Tony decided to go round the room once more to ask people what their position was.

Les Aspin raised his hand; the Secretary of Defense asked to speak first. Tony nodded to him, so he said — and this is a rough quote but it is close to what he said — “Well, we are Americans. Why should our policy be controlled by what some guys over there in Beijing are going to do?”

Everybody else said, “That’s right” and that was the end of the meeting.

“It was a no-brainer to make the NPT a permanent fixture of the global security framework”

RUST:  By late ’94, the Clinton administration under prodding from ACDA finally realized the importance of this decision and gave the NPT extension a high priority for 1995. Secretary of State Warren Christopher made clear this was one of the President’s top foreign policy priorities and that a concerted diplomatic plan had to be undertaken.

Weekly, then twice a week, then as we got closer, almost every day, representatives from all the State regional bureaus and the Arms Control [and Disarmament] Agency got together to coordinate their diplomatic efforts to persuade all countries that this treaty should be extended indefinitely.

The United States worked with nuclear weapons states, our allies, Eastern European states, in an effort to go into the conference with as much support as we possibly could. We weren’t alone in this by any means.

Most NPT parties continued to share the view that the chance of nuclear war would increase if we have more nuclear powers. So even if some were dissatisfied with the efforts of the nuclear weapon states, it was a no-brainer for many to make the NPT a permanent fixture of the global security framework….

I was responsible for one of the major U.S. initiatives for the Conference which had to do with negative security assurances, which are commitments by nuclear weapons states not to use nuclear weapons against NPT non-nuclear parties.

We believe we could gain more support for an indefinite extension if the nuclear weapons states undertook a new initiative on non-use of nuclear weapons.

So I single-handedly pretty much coordinated an effort that led to each of the five nuclear weapons states issuing their own national declarations in April of 1995. There was a [UN] Security Council resolution about a week later that welcomed these statements.

Of course, the Clinton Administration was also engaged in serious negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; a fact that also helped to generate more support for an indefinite NPT extension.

The outcome was a success. By about the third week of the four-week Conference, about 110 NPT parties had publicly committed to indefinite extension. Since only a majority of 175 was needed to make this decision, we were over the top and the opponents conceded defeat.