Presidential aspirant Illinois Sen. Barack Obama thinks so:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 — Senator Barack Obama will propose on Tuesday setting a goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons in the world, saying the United States should greatly reduce its stockpiles to lower the threat of nuclear terrorism, aides say.
In a speech at DePaul University in Chicago, Mr. Obama will add his voice to a plan endorsed earlier this year by a bipartisan group of former government officials from the cold war era who say the United States must begin building a global consensus to reverse a reliance on nuclear weapons that have become “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”
Mr. Obama, according to details provided by his campaign Monday, also will call for pursuing vigorous diplomatic efforts aimed at a global ban on the development, production and deployment of intermediate-range missiles.
The former government officials being cited are, no doubt as pointed out by James Joyner, George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn. It’s a mainstream position.
Contra some, I don’t think that Obama’s position is politically foolhardy. It’s hardly visionary but it’s mainstream, will cultivate favor within his own party, and won’t lose him votes he wouldn’t lose anyway. Sounds win-win to me.
I’ve written quite a bit about deterrence here. Unfortunately, I believe that the current crop of politicians have labored mightily to undermine its effectiveness as a tool to prevent the use of nuclear weapons probably through ignorance, possibly though cowardice, certainly with the best of intentions. To be effective a prospective nuclear enemy must know that we will respond to an attack with overwhelming force, not minimal force or politically acceptable force. The conduct of the war in Iraq, for example, IMO has undermined the principle of deterrence.
I’d like to see a world without nuclear weapons but I don’t think that wishing will make it so nor do I think that consensus is sufficient to achieve that goal. As we’ve seen a single veto, particularly China’s, is enough to allow an outlaw state to do pretty much anything it cares to. Deterrence is a lousy tool but, unfortunately, it’s the only game in town.
All of that having been said our present nuclear arsenal far exceeds the needs of deterrence and, prudently, we’re trimming it back. We can trim it farther but, unfortunately, not eliminate it. That must be left for a better future time. I don’t find the thought of the only countries that possess nuclear weapons being those most likely to use them particularly appealing.
There remains an urgent necessity to bolster the psychological component of deterrence. If the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstance is unthinkable, then deterrence is dead and we’re placing ourselves at the mercy of those who aren’t similarly hampered.