Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.
Let’s begin this discussion with a premise and some facts. First, the premise. Nations work actively and rationally to extend their power and influence and to avoid losing power or influence. That’s consistent with Napoleon’s dictum cited above: the two great levers are fear of loss and hope of gain. Now the facts.
Worldwide there are approximately 32,000 nuclear weapons (source: Nuclear Threat Initiative). Of these more than 30,000, roughly 95%, are in the possession of either the United States (roughly 10,000) or Russia (roughly 20,000). For the United States if all nuclear weapons everywhere were to magically vanish from the face of the earth very little would change. The U. S. would continue to be the wealthiest country in the world. It would continue to have the biggest GDP in the world. It would continue to have the strongest military in the world. It would continue to wield great social influence. It would continue to be the world’s sole superpower.
The situation is different for Russia. Without nuclear weapons Russia would continue to be an enormous, sprawling country with a populous heartland and a remote sparsely populated hinterland, not unlike Canada in that respect. It would have a GDP roughly that of Canada’s, too, although with a significantly larger population it would be a good deal poorer than Canada. It would have no warm water ports which substantially limits its ability to project ports.
Although its role as a regional power is inescapeable it would not be a world power.
Russia will never relinquish its nuclear arsenal. To do so would relegate it to third class status.
More facts. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has never prevented a country from developing nuclear weapons that was determined to do so. The International Atomic Energy Agency has no influence whatever on covert nuclear weapons development programs.
What conclusions should we draw from these facts? First, the abolition of nuclear weapons should not be an objective of our policy with respect to nuclear weapons. In this I agree more with Messrs. Brown and Deutch
A nation that wishes to acquire nuclear weapons believes these weapons will improve its security. The declaration by the U.S. that it will move to eliminate nuclear weapons in a distant future will have no direct effect on changing this calculus. Indeed, nothing that the U.S. does to its nuclear posture will directly influence such a nation’s (let alone a terrorist group’s) calculus.
Whatever their other merits (and they are significant), it is difficult to argue that a comprehensive test ban treaty, a “no first use” declaration by the U.S., a dramatic reduction in the number of deployed or total nuclear weapons in our stockpile, an end to the production of fissionable material will convince North Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan or Israel to give up their nuclear weapons programs.
than I do with George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn (however much I admire Sam Nunn)
Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage. The effort could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations. Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.
We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal, beginning with the measures outlined above.
The only goals we should set for our policies are achievable ones. Russia, for reasons stated above, will never forego its nuclear weapons and consequently, a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons should not beguile us from the world we will actually live in for the foreseeable future. And as long as Russia continues to maintain its nuclear arsenal, our nuclear weapons will continue to have a deterrent value and we should, sadly, recognize that we need to continue to improve upon our arsenal.
However, I do think there are some reasonable achieveable goals for our nuclear weapons policy. Here are my proposals:
- Negotiate nuclear arms reductions with Russia.
- Maintain and secure nuclear arsenals.
- Reinvigorate deterrence.
- Extend deterrence to address new threats.
- Increase the costs of developing nuclear weapons.
- Increase the hazards of possessing nuclear weapons.
- Reduce the benefits of nuclear weapons as a means of achieving foreign policy goals.
Simple proportion requires that we devote serious attention to the reduction, security, and prudent maintenance of the existing stocks of nuclear weapons, almost all of which are in the hands of the United States and Russia and we should have ongoing negotiations with the Russians to this end. The sheer numbers of devices involved increases both the cost of maintenance and the potential vulnerability of the arsenals and I believe that substantial reductions in those numbers can be negotiated with the Russians without jeopardizing Russia’s prestige or our security.
Although we have the material of deterrence in hand the psychological component of deterrence has languished through lack of attention. We need to restate our policy forthrightly and frequently. If we give the impression that our nuclear arsenal will never be used under any circumstances, we undermine whatever deterrent we have.
It won’t always be the case but right now developing nuclear weapons really requires a state. We are badly in need of an update to our deterrence doctrine to discourage states from colluding with non-state actors or other third parties in developing and proliferating nuclear weapons. Reliance in the good offices of autocracies, theocracies, and oligarchies isn’t enough. We need to promulgate something along the lines of the Kennedy Doctrine to discourage present or future possessors of nuclear weapons from conveying those weapons to non-state actors. Ideally, this would be announced and promulgated with the concurrence and even the participation of Russia which is at substantially greater hazard from radical Islamist terrorists than we are.
We need to discourage the pursuit of nuclear weapons using a three-pronged approach of increasing the costs of their development, the hazards of their development, and the value of developing them. The primary stumbling block in developing nuclear weapons is obtaining the fissible material and I think it’s reasonable to suspect that our most efficient path to increasing the cost of developing nuclear weapons is by further tightening access to those materials. Means for making these harder to come by should be pursued.
The risk of having or using nuclear weapons either on the part of states or non-state actors should be increased along the lines that I’ve already suggested.
We also need to continue to pursue technologies aimed at reducing the utility of of nuclear weapons. Effective missile defense systems are one piece of the puzzle. These systems need to be improved and deployed widely. The recent testing of such a system by a Japanese naval vessel is a positive step in that direction.
Other components of such defenses are improved monitoring of incoming aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons and improved detection of weapons that might be smuggled into the country.
As long as nuclear weapons are seen as a rational means of pursuing a nation’s interests, nations will continue to pursue their development and acquisition. A 21st century nuclear weapons policy for the U. S. needs to recognize that and make the case carefully and explicitly that nuclear weapons are too costly, risky, and ineffective to be worth pursuing.