At the Nuclear Tipping Point
By David Krieger
The latest Wall Street Journal article by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” published on January 15, 2008, has a greater sense of urgency than their first joint article a year earlier. They express grave concerns that we are at a nuclear “tipping point” with “a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.” As if these weapons are not already in dangerous enough hands. The former policy makers and Cold Warriors are warning us that, without change, nuclear dangers will worsen. They leave to our imaginations what will happen in a world in which “deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous.”
As the former Cold Warriors soberly suggest, we can no longer count on the threat of retaliation with overwhelming nuclear force to prevent those unnamed “dangerous hands” from detonating nuclear weapons in our cities or the cities of our friends and allies. In other words, our nuclear weapons cannot be relied upon to prevent nuclear attacks against us. It is not like the tense days of the Cold War, when at least we knew who the enemy was and where he was located. Now we have shadowy and slippery enemies and our thermonuclear weapons provide no defense against such enemies.
Actually, thermonuclear weapons never did provide a defense, even during the Cold War. Deterrence is not defense – it is only a psychological pseudo-barrier, a wish and a prayer. Against nuclear weapons, there is no defense, not even so-called missile defenses, which are easily overcome.
Even Henry Kissinger gets it now and is speaking out, or at least lending his name, to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Zero nuclear weapons. None for anyone, including us. The US must lead the way, must convene the other nuclear powers. There are steps that must be taken, which the former policy makers outline. Their suggestions are sensible, although they do not go far enough, nor is there any real hope that Washington under the Bush administration will respond to them rapidly enough. The situation may be even more urgent than the former Cold Warriors grasp.
Nuclear weapons do not make us safer. They leave us more exposed. They are military equalizers. Minor foes, terrorist groups and small countries, can inflict horrendous damage on even the most powerful states. What is to be done? The former Cold Warriors offer the following: Work with Russia to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons by saving the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty of 1991; pursue further reductions in nuclear arms than agreed upon in the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty; increase warning and decision times for the launch of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles; discard Cold War plans for massive attacks; develop cooperative multilateral ballistic missile defense and early warning systems; secure nuclear weapons, including those designed for forward deployment, and weapons-grade nuclear materials; strengthen monitoring of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force.
The former Cold Warriors also call for broadening the dialogue on an international scale. Here they will find that many countries without nuclear weapons have been trying to send a message to the nuclear weapons states for a long time, urging them to do all that Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn seek and more. Progress has been blocked since the end of the Cold War by the lack of political will of US leaders. That is where it continues to be blocked. The Bush administration’s approach to a world free of nuclear weapons is to place as many obstacles in its way as possible.
As the former Cold Warriors point out, “Progress must be facilitated by a clear statement of our ultimate goal.” They have made that statement. It is doubtful, though, if it will have any effect on the current US administration, perhaps the darkest, most criminal administration in US history. Mr. Kissinger and his colleagues must look beyond George W. Bush, and hope for a new president of the United States who will be prepared to climb the mountain with them, rather than trying to blow it up. But they are absolutely right to speak up now, and to continue to strongly promote the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. As Albert Camus said immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima, “Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only battle worth waging.” Wage on, Henry Kissinger!
To read the 2008 Wall Street Journal article by the aforementioned authors, click here.
To read their 2007 Wall Street Journal article, click here.
To read David Krieger's "A Bipartisan Plea for Nuclear Weapons Abolition," click here.
David Krieger is the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
He is a leader in the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons.
More articles by David Krieger