Nuclear Deterrence: Impeding Nuclear Disarmament




David Kreigger

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, published on March 7, 2011, four former high-level US policy makers – George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn – focused their attention on nuclear deterrence. They concurred that deterrence based on nuclear weapons is precarious, could destroy civilized life and raises enormous inhibitions against employing nuclear weapons. They concluded that the US and Russia were “lucky” that nuclear weapons were not used during the Cold War, and asked: “Does the world want to continue to bet its survival on continued good fortune with a growing number of nuclear nations and adversaries globally?”

The four former policy makers argued that “nations should move forward together with a series of conceptual and practical steps toward deterrence that do not rely primarily on nuclear weapons or nuclear threats to maintain international peace and security.” Their first step is to recognize that “there is a daunting new spectrum of global security threats” and that an “effective strategy to deal with these dangers must be developed.” Their second step is to realize that reliance on nuclear weapons encourages or excuses nuclear proliferation. Their third step is to cease the deployment of US and Russian nuclear arsenals in ways that “increase the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon, or even a deliberate exchange based on a false warning.”

So far, so good. Their fourth step, however, seems to be a non sequitur: “[A]s long as nuclear weapons exist, America must retain a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile primarily to deter a nuclear attack and to reassure our allies through extended deterrence.” The former policy makers had just reviewed the great dangers of relying upon nuclear deterrence, and then followed this by indicating the need for America to rely upon nuclear weapons for deterrence, including nuclear deterrence “extended” to US allies. They also left unstated what uses the US nuclear stockpile might have other than deterring a nuclear attack. It appears the former policy makers have chosen a “safe, secure and reliable” nuclear arsenal over a safe and secure citizenry. Nuclear weapons undermine the possibility of a safe and secure citizenry. As conceived, the modernization of US nuclear forces would also be expensive and provocative and would limit the possibilities for nuclear disarmament. I’ve often wondered what is meant by a reliable nuclear arsenal: One with sufficient capacity to annihilate a potential enemy down to the last child?

The four former policy makers do say that the US and Russia “must continue to lead the “build-down” and “must begin moving away from threatening force postures and deployments.” But such leadership is needed not only for the “build-down,” but also to envision a world with zero nuclear weapons and to commit to doing what is necessary to achieve that vision.

In their fifth step, the group of four recognizes that “nuclear weapons may continue to appear relevant” to some nations. They thus see the need to “redouble efforts” to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts. Insightfully, they find, “A world without nuclear weapons will not simply be today’s world minus nuclear weapons.” They demonstrate a lack of urgency, though, in suggesting that “over time” the US and its allies can work together to make changes to extended deterrence.

The group of four concludes, “Moving from mutual assured destruction toward a new and more stable form of deterrence with decreasing nuclear risks and an increasing measure of assured security for all nations could prevent our worst nightmare from becoming a reality, and it could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations.”

Just a few weeks before the publication of this Wall Street Journal article on nuclear deterrence by George Shultz and his colleagues, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation convened a conference in Santa Barbara on “The Dangers of Nuclear Deterrence.” The conference concluded with a Santa Barbara Declaration: “Reject Nuclear Deterrence: An Urgent Call to Action.” The Declaration states, “Nuclear deterrence is discriminatory, anti-democratic and unsustainable. This doctrine must be discredited and replaced with an urgent commitment to achieve global nuclear disarmament. We must change the discourse by speaking truth to power and speaking truth to each other.” In other words, we cannot find nuclear deterrence “precarious” on the one hand, and seek to modernize America’s nuclear forces under the guise of keeping them “safe, secure and reliable” on the other hand.

The Santa Barbara Declaration concluded, “Before another nuclear weapon is used, nuclear deterrence must be replaced by humane, legal and moral security strategies. We call upon people everywhere to join us in demanding that the nuclear weapon states and their allies reject nuclear deterrence and negotiate without delay a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of all nuclear weapons.” The goal must be a world without nuclear weapons, and reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence remains a major impediment to achieving that goal.


David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.





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