No Nukes: Possibility or Pipe Dream?

Posted in Peace and Conflict , Other | 09-Jun-09 | Source: New York Times

The first test of a hydrogen bomb, “Ivy Mike,” photographed on Enewetak, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, in 1952, by a member of the United States Air Force’s Lookout Mountain 1352nd Photographic Squadron.

The Obama administration warned that it is seeking ways to stop North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.

In his speech in Cairo last week, President Obama spoke of the "shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons." His words were pointed at Iran, and in remarks later in the week he singled out North Korea, too. But his objectives are broader. In Prague on April 5, he proposed a new arms-control regime aimed at banishing nuclear weapons, a view shared by Senator John McCain, who laid out his own anti-proliferation position in a speech on the Senate floor last week.

Is this shift in American emphasis - toward global disarmament efforts as well as the containment of the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, Iran and others - a crucial step in eradicating the weapons, or might it detract from more realistic national and global security goals?

Nina Tannenwald is associate research professor of international relations at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Her book, "The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945," won the 2009 Lepgold Prize.

There's no reason to dismiss nuclear disarmament a priori as impossible. We have already gotten rid of a whole class of weapons - chemical weapons - through the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, ratified by 188 countries.

If we are to achieve nuclear disarmament, nuclear restraint has to become an international norm. Over the long haul, sheer force, coercion or physical denial are not enough. In the years since World War II, norms, not just laws and treaties, have worked to limit nuclear proliferation and avoid nuclear war. Norms will also be essential to a disarmament process.

Bolstering disarmament norms requires that government officials talk about nuclear weapons in a way that makes clear that such armaments are truly abhorrent weapons of last resort. President Obama should state publicly - and repeatedly - that the U.S. does not anticipate using nuclear weapons first and that he can barely imagine a scenario in which they would be used at all. Our NATO allies and leaders of other nuclear-armed nations should do the same.

With no agency devoted primarily to promoting nuclear self-restraint, the U.S. has, until President Obama, focused mainly on the restraint of others.
In addition to words, formal structures within governments are needed - bureaucracies with a mandate to promote arms restraint. Unfortunately, in recent years, the U.S. government has actually moved in the opposite direction. In 1997 it dismantled the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, a forceful advocate of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that often argued against the Pentagon and the former Atomic Energy Commission. Today, no U.S. agency is devoted primarily to promoting nuclear self-restraint, and the unsurprising consequence is that American policy has, until President Obama, focused mainly on the restraint of others.

Why not recreate a Disarmament Agency? Much like the Environmental Protection Agency, it would serve as an independent watchdog. Its job would be to identify and publicly advocate policies (such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) that promote the disarmament process. and to oppose measures that undermine disarmament norms. And, like the E.P.A., which comments on the environmental impact of various government initiatives, this agency would file impact reports evaluating the "disarmament impact" of proposed nuclear weapons policies and doctrines.

Norms of nuclear restraint need to be embedded in the thinking of leaders and backed up by institutions of government.

A Dangerous Fantasy
Ken Adelman was director of the Arms Control Agency in the 1980s, accompanying President Reagan during summit meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev. He worked on the only arms treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons, a pact signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987.

"A world without nuclear weapons" sure sounds good, especially when endorsed by Senator John McCain on the Senate floor on June 3, and by such other tough-minded Republican national security experts as former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. This is the same Henry Kissinger who I remember, after the October 1986 Reykjavik summit, criticizing Shultz (and Ronald Reagan) for delegitimizing the role of nuclear weapons in keeping the peace over the previous 40-plus years.

While it's hard to disparage such a fine goal, you gotta get real.

Allocating time and effort to ‘no nukes' slogans takes time and effort away from real work on containing these weapons.
To think that we'll ever be able to verify nuclear matters everywhere around the world is to lose all grip on reality. This is not, as McCain said, "a distant and difficult goal" which must be handled "prudently and pragmatically." Rather, it's sheer fantasy.

If they're dreaming of a world with no nukes, why not one of no war? Peace on earth, everywhere, forevermore.

Don't laugh. That's what serious diplomats did in the 1920s, with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed by nearly all nations in the world, which totally renounced war. The most distinguished diplomats, the Kissingers and Shultzes and McCains of their day spent enormous time and effort negotiating the no-war treaty.

Before too long, Japan turned militaristic, Italy turned Fascist, and Germany turned Nazi. The nations of the world, having signed a solemn pact to eliminate war, engaged in the biggest war ever, one which brought some 50 million deaths.

One suspects that these distinguished diplomats could have focused their energies on more practical actions than dickering over the language of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, now mocked by anyone more advanced than having taken International Relations 101 in college.

There's a lot of serious work to be done on nuclear weapons: stabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan as a cohesive state; stopping the Iranian effort; assuring the security of Russian nuclear weapons (once dubbed "loose nukes"); precluding trade in enriched uranium and plutonium; making sure existing nuclear states have PALs (permissive action links) and other devices to render the weapons useless for non-authorized personnel (like terrorists), etc.

Such real steps could make our nuclear world really safer. Allocating time and effort to "no nukes" slogans takes time and effort away from such real work.

Cut U.S. and Russian Arsenals
Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that backs initiatives to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons. He is the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons."

With his April 5 Prague speech, President Obama established the elimination of nuclear weapons as the goal of U.S. nuclear policy. He married the vision - endorsed by every president since Truman - with comprehensive and practical steps for reducing dangers now.

To realize his goal, Obama must carefully sequence the steps, engage world leaders, mobilize the public and gather bipartisan support, such as Senator McCain's endorsement last week.

He should implement his strategy to eliminate the danger of nuclear terrorism, the gravest threat to U.S. security. North Korea and Iran are a few years away from deliverable nuclear weapons; Al Qaeda is kilometers away. President Obama needs a plan to secure not just Pakistan's nukes, but all vulnerable stockpiles.

Obama, with McCain's support, is making nuclear disarmament a goal.
He should move smartly to reduce the U.S. and Russian arsenals (96 percent of global totals). His goal should be a new treaty to cut to 1,000 or fewer weapons for each, and take these weapons off 15-minute launch status.

His new nuclear posture review should establish that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to prevent their use by others. This doctrinal shift will clarify that nuclear weapons are a liability, not an asset.

He should organize a bipartisan push to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by early next year, thus blocking the development or perfection of new weapons by others.

These steps will increase support to contain and begin to roll back the North Korean and Iranian programs. Disarmament and nonproliferation are two sides of the same coin. Disarmament builds the support to block new nuclear programs; stopping proliferation builds the security required to reduce current stockpiles.

The president must work to reduce and resolve conflicts in South Asia and the Middle East. Without ending the underlying conflicts that give rise to the desire for nuclear weapons, we cannot break the proliferation cycle.

Finally, he must critique the failures of efforts to stop proliferation by forced regime change. Obama's opponents are pushing this policy again, dodging responsibility for the fierce momentum that nuclear threats gathered in the past eight years. We cannot afford to repeat their mistakes.

Abolition? Why?
John Mueller is professor of political science at Ohio State University. His book, "Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al Qaeda," will be published in October.

The notion that the world should rid itself of nuclear weapons has been around for over six decades - during which time they have been just about the only instrument of destruction that hasn't killed anybody. The abolition idea has been dismissed by most analysts because, since inspection of any arms reduction cannot be perfect, the measure could potentially put wily cheaters in a commanding position.

There may be another approach to the same end, one that, while also imperfect, would require far less effort while greatly reducing the amount of sanctimonious huffing and puffing we would have to endure.

Just let it happen.

While it may not be entirely fair to characterize disarmament as an effort to cure a fever by destroying the thermometer, the analogy is instructive when it is reversed: when fever subsides, the instrument designed to measure it loses its usefulness and is often soon misplaced.

Indeed, a fair amount of nuclear arms reduction, requiring little in the way of formal agreement, has already taken place between the former cold war contestants.

The weapons are useless and so are active efforts to eradicate them.
Moreover, whatever their impact on activist rhetoric, strategic theorizing, defense budgets and political posturing, the weapons have proved to be useless and a very substantial waste of money and of scientific and technical talent. They were not necessary to prevent World War III because, even without them, the leading countries would still have had ample reason to avoid a war with each other, and there never seem to have been militarily compelling reasons to use them in lesser conflicts as well.

And the proliferation of nuclear weapons has been far slower than routinely predicted because, insofar as most leaders of most countries (even rogue ones) have considered acquiring the weapons, they have come to appreciate several defects: the weapons are dangerous, distasteful, costly and likely to rile the neighbors.

To the degree that these observations come to be accepted, nuclear weapons will naturally fade - though probably never disappear - from the scene.