A Proposal for Achieving
Zero Nuclear Weapons
by Admiral Noel Gayler, US Navy (Ret.)*,
It is conceded
by all hands that we stand at some continuing risk of nuclear
war. The risk is possibly not imminent, but it is basically important
above all else — for survival. The Defense and Energy Departments
together have made promising starts to reduce possession of nuclear
weapons, but far more and much faster action is needed.
Credible report has it that weapons are adrift,
potentially available to irresponsible regimes and to terrorists.
Independent development by them is not needed to establish threat.
The peculiar characteristic of nuclear weaponry is that relative
numbers between adversaries mean little. When a target country
can be destroyed by a dozen weapons, its own possession of thousands
of weapons gains no security. Defense against ballistic missiles
is infeasible. What is more, it is irrelevant. Half a dozen non-technical
means of delivery are available, in addition to cruise missiles
The recognized and awful dangers of other
weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological,
do not compare to nuclear, despite their vileness. On the tremendous
and incredible scale of killing, the others are retail as compared
to the nuclear’s wholesale; but there need not be competition
since all can be — must be — addressed concurrently.
Drafting a successor to the nuclear arms
treaty is purportedly underway. If START III repeats the mistakes
of the past, it may well bog down into haggling over relative
numbers. More productive can be a process continuing toward total
nuclear disarmament, the only way in which both we and the world
may be truly secure from nuclear destruction.
An irony is that in developing and using
nuclear weapons, we, the United States, have done the only thing
capable of threatening our own national security. We have comparatively
weak and friendly neighbors to the north and south, control of
the seas, and a powerful air and combat-tested armed forces. We
are proof that this in no way diminishes the need, as the world’s
single greatest power, for Army, Navy, Air, and Marines capable
not only of our own defense, but of intervention abroad in the
interest of peace and human rights. These forces do not come into
being overnight, but need to be continually developed and supported.
The argument for a nuclear component is no longer valid. The time
is now for a concrete proposal that meets the problem. Process,
as opposed to negotiating numbers, is the basic principle of the
proposal that I suggest. It is nothing less than drastic: the
continuing reduction to zero of weapons in the hands of avowed
nuclear powers, plus an end to the nuclear ambitions of others.
The proposal: Let weapons be delivered to
a single point, there to be dismantled, the nuclear material returned
to the donors for use or disposal, and the weapons destroyed.
This process, once underway, will be nearly impossible to stop,
since its obvious merits, political and substantive, will compel
support. The “single point” may well be a floating
platform, at sea, in international waters. A handy platform can
be an aircraft carrier that has been removed from “mothballs”
and disarmed, yet capable of steaming to the desired location
and operating support aircraft and ships to handle heavier loads.
Living quarters for personnel, ships company, and disarmament
processors, would be integral, as would be major protected spaces.
The US, of course, is the obvious source
of a carrier, but there could be international manning, following
the precedent of NATO. This would make the American ship politically
palatable to the participants and Russia would be handled sensitively.
Obvious and major advantages of security, inspection, availability,
timing, and cost would ensue. Those regimes and groups not initially
participating can be put under enormous pressure to join. Any
remaining recalcitrant can be disarmed militarily, this time with
a concert of powers. The need for persuasion and understanding
of the participating powers is, of course, fundamental, and probably
the most difficult requirement to meet. To meet this need of public
understanding and consequent action, domestic and foreign, will
require that we dispel some common illusions, such as:
- Is physical defense against nuclear weapons
possible? No. What’s more, it’s irrelevant. A half
dozen non-technical means of delivery avail.
- Can nuclear weapons be used in any sensible
manner? No. This includes “tactical.”
- Does nuclear disarmament imperil our security?
No. It enhances it.
- Is deterrence of nuclear
or other attack by threat of retaliation still possible? No.
The many potential aggressors are scattered — even location
unknown. No targets!
With these illusions dispelled, it becomes
evident that nuclear disarmament works to the advantage of every
power. Only in this way can the world be made safe from unprecedented
murder and destruction. It remains to take the necessary actions.
They are feasible and imperative.
*Admiral Noel Gayler (US Navy, Ret.) is a four-star
admiral and served as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC).
He was responsible for nuclear attack tactical development and
demonstration of nuclear attack tactics to the Chairman and Joint