Is the goal of non-proliferation preventing the spread of weapons or destoying thsoe already in existence?
The ultimate goal of nuclear nonproliferation is to prevent additional states from acquiring nuclear weapons. The key number that must be avoided here is one. Nuclear nonproliferation efforts must prevent even a single nuclear weapon from being acquired by a nonweapons state. To achieve this, nuclear nonproliferation efforts try to prevent states from acquiring any nuclear materials, technology or equipment that could help them acquire nuclear arms without setting off alarm bells well before any bomb is actually built. Nuclear arms control, on the other hand, is about freezing or reducing the number of existing nuclear weapons that states possess. The key number here is some number above zero. Finally, nuclear disarmament is about eliminating all nuclear weapons holdings. The key number here is zero.
What steps are taken to achieve this aim?
The key steps include exports controls and interdiction of any nuclear materials, equipment or technology that is designed specifically to make nuclear weapons, such as nuclear weapons design information and nuclear weapons grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium. They also include international nuclear inspections designed to prevent diversion of civilian nuclear equipment and materials to make bombs. The latter are only effective if they can detect a diversion early enough to allow outside authorities sufficient time to intervene to prevent nuclear bombs from being built.
What incentive is there for countries to disarm while the US retains its weapons?
Despite the US and other countries possessing nuclear weapons, there are still reasons to avoid them. A key incentive for non-weapon states not to acquire nuclear weapons is to reassure their neighbors that they don’t have to acquire nuclear weapons either, avoiding a frightening, expensive nuclear arms competition.
Would adding Israel, India and Pakistan to the list of declared nuclear states further non-proliferation?
Adding Israel to the list definitely would complicate matters since it would probably goad its neighbors Egypt and Syria into openly acquiring nuclear weapons as well. It would be far better for Israel to stop producing nuclear fissile material for bombs and eventually to disarm quietly on the basis of nuclear restraints being placed on its neighbors as well. As for Pakistan and India, they are already declared nuclear weapons states, but not considered nuclear weapon states under the NPT. Doing so, however, would reward them for acquiring nuclear weapons by giving them access to controlled civilian nuclear goods, thus acting as an incentive for nother non-weapon states to follow. This is why the US-Indian nuclear cooperative agreement was so controversial. Strictly speaking, this deal is not supposed to help India acquire any more nuclear weapons per year than it was making prior to the deal. If it does (and it might since the deal allows India to import more nuclear fuel for its power reactors that could free up more domestic Indian ore for making nuclear bombs), it would be a violation of Article I of the NPT, which prohibits nuclear weapons states (e.g., Russia, the U.S. and France) from doing anything to help any nation that did not have nuclear weapons prior to 1967 to acquire or make more nuclear weapons).
Are the recent proposals by President Obama regarding a fuel bank and talks with Russia likely to have much of an impact on non-proliferation?
No. The proposed nuclear fuel bank would only provide a diplomatic talking point for those who fear that their supply of fuel for nuclear power reactors may be cut off. This, however, has only been done in the rare instance, e.g. Iran and India, when the country in question violated clear nuclear rules and was toying with acquiring nuclear weapons.
As for Mr. Obama’s other proposals to ratify a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), these too are mostly symbolic since the US, France, the UK, Russia and China are not generally suspected of still producing fissile for bombs or of nuclear testing. Neither of these treatoies are ever likely to be brought into force since countries like Pakistan, India, and Egypt will refuse to ratify them until there is general nuclear disarmament