An amazing and important commentary appeared in the January 4, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal, co-authored by four high-level architects of the Cold War: George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn. The article, entitled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” was amazing not so much for what it proposed, but for who was making the proposal. The four prominent former US officials reviewed current nuclear dangers and called for US leadership to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons. Their argument was as follows:
- Reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.
- Terrorist groups are outside the bounds of deterrence strategy.
- We are entering a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, disorienting and costly than was Cold War deterrence.
- New nuclear weapons states lack the safeguarding and control experiences learned by the US and USSR during the Cold War.
- The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty envisioned the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
- Non-nuclear weapons states have grown increasingly skeptical of the sincerity of the nuclear weapons states to fulfill their Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
- There exists an historic opportunity to eliminate nuclear weapons in the world.
- To realize this opportunity, bold vision and action are needed.
- The US must take the lead and must convince the leaders of the other nuclear weapons states to turn the goal of nuclear weapons abolition into a joint effort.
- A number of steps need to be taken to lay the groundwork for a world free of nuclear threat, including de-alerting nuclear arsenals; reducing the size of nuclear arsenals; eliminating tactical nuclear weapons; achieving Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and encouraging other key states to also do so; securing nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials everywhere in the world; and halting production of fissile materials for weapons, ceasing to use enriched uranium in civil commerce and removing weapons-usable uranium from research reactors.
For many of us committed to the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons, there is nothing new in their arguments. They are arguments that many civil society groups have been making since the end of the Cold War. Other former officials, such as Robert McNamara and General George Lee Butler, former head of the US Strategic Command, have also made such arguments. What is new is that these former Cold Warriors have joined together in a bipartisan spirit to publicly make these arguments to the American people. This means that the perspectives of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the Global Security Institute, the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and other dedicated civil society groups are finally being embraced by key former officials who once presided over Cold War nuclear strategy.
The bipartisan advice of Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn to abolish nuclear weapons will require a full reversal of the current Bush administration nuclear policies. The Bush administration has thumbed its nose at the other parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, behaving as though the US had no obligations to fulfill its commitments for nuclear disarmament under the treaty. The administration has largely opposed the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament agreed to by consensus at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
If the administration wants to demonstrate leadership toward nuclear weapons abolition, it could immediately submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification; call for negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty; reach an agreement with Russia to begin implementing deeper cuts in the nuclear arsenals of the two countries, which Russia supports; and call for a summit of leaders of all nuclear weapons states to negotiate a new treaty for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
If the United States becomes serious about leading the way to a world free of nuclear weapons, as called for by the former US officials, it can assume a high moral and legal ground, while improving its own security and global security. Each day that goes by without US leadership for achieving a nuclear weapons-free world undermines the prospects for the future of humanity. There is no issue on which US leadership is more needed, and there is no issue on which the US has more to gain by asserting such leadership.
The 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” The truth that if we are to have a human future the US must lead the way in abolishing nuclear weapons has been frequently ridiculed and violently opposed. The commentary by Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn suggests that this truth may now be entering the stage of being self-evident.