On November 19, 2007, Harold Brown, a former Secretary of Defense in the Carter administration, and John Deutch, a former CIA Director in the Clinton administration, published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The title of their piece was “The Nuclear Disarmament Fantasy.” Their article began by pointing out that the end of the Cold War has led “several former senior foreign policy officials who wrote on this page [that is, the Wall Street Journal opinion page]…to make the complete elimination of nuclear weapons a principal U.S. foreign policy goal….”

Brown and Deutch were referring to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on January 4, 2007, co-authored by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn. The article was entitled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” and the authors made the case for US leadership for a nuclear weapons-free world. They argued, “Nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity. US leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage – to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.”

Disturbingly, Brown and Deutch were dismissive of even the aspirational goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. They quoted Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates parties to good faith negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons, but dismissed it, stating “hope is not a policy.”

According to Brown and Deutch, “Nuclear weapons are not empty symbols; they play an important deterrent role, and cannot be eliminated.” But if these weapons are not “empty symbols,” what is it that they symbolize? A power beyond our ability to control? Human folly? A pinnacle of destructive achievement? They based their arguments on “the important deterrent role” of nuclear weapons, but never bother to mention who exactly is being deterred by the current US arsenal of 10,000 nuclear weapons.

Rather than looking for a new direction for US nuclear policy more than 15 years after the Cold War, Brown and Deutch seem convinced that nuclear weapons are here to stay, and with their approach they will make this outcome inevitable. Without US leadership, there will be no possibility of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. With US leadership, it is a possibility.

No country would benefit more from a world free of nuclear weapons than the United States. These are the only weapons that could destroy this country, and perhaps will if we continue to rely upon them for phantom deterrence. Nuclear weapons are really weapons of the weak, giving great asymmetrical advantage to smaller, less powerful nations or to extremists. If the US continues to rely upon these weapons, they will eventually proliferate to extremists who cannot be deterred, and they will be used against us.

Brown and Deutch’s vision looks directly into a rearview mirror toward the 20th century. Their vision will sustain a future of nuclear threat and make nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear war more likely. We desperately need a new vision in our country – a vision that we can lead the world in a more positive direction based upon human security and encompasses ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity.

To view the Brown/Deutch article and see other responses to it, click here.

David Krieger is the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org).