Tag Archives: disarmament

Is Nuclear Disarmament a Good Idea?

The atomic explosion over Nagasaki, August 9, 1945.

The Obama administration is reportedly considering nuclear disarmament options that would include reducing the U.S. arsenal to as few as 300 strategic nuclear weapons, an 80% reduction from current levels.  A policy of deep cuts would be consistent with President Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world.  It would also be consistent with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls not only for non-nuclear states to refrain from obtaining nuclear weapons (a well known provision) but for existing nuclear states to eventually eliminate these weapons (a lesser known provision).  Article VI of the NPT states:

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Some analysts believe that a 300-weapon nuclear force would be sufficient for deterring adversaries and would help to convince countries such as Iran and North Korea to forgo nuclear weapons development.  But critics, including Republican members of Congress, have denounced such ideas as “reckless lunacy” that would undermine American security and do nothing to dissuade rogue states from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The Associated Press story that broke the news of these plans notes the revolutionary nature of the changes:

“New U.S. cuts could open the prospect for a historic reshaping of the American nuclear arsenal, which for decades has stood on three legs: submarine-launched ballistic missiles, ground-based ballistic missiles and weapons launched from big bombers like the B-52 and the stealthy B-2. The traditional rationale for this “triad” of weaponry is that it is essential to surviving any nuclear exchange.”

Indeed, during the Cold War the impetus for building thousands of nuclear weapons and dispersing them across multiple types of delivery vehicles and geographical locales was that if all of a country’s nuclear weapons could be destroyed in a first strike, retaliation could not be assured and there would be nothing to deter the enemy from striking first.  (The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, was built from these premises).

What do you think?  Are dramatic cuts in America’s nuclear arsenal a good idea or a dangerous one?  Take the poll and let us know your views.

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A Realistic Policy in Iranian Nukes?

Stephen Walt offers an interesting critique of John Bolton’s “unrealistic realism” this week. Bolton was on the Daily Show  last week,  offering his usual policy advice on Iran, namely, that the United States should do whatever is necessary to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But what is interesting about Walt’s analysis is his discussion of how unrealistic such a policy is. According to Walt, any U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will likely either involve the use of coercive diplomacy, which runs the risk of helping Iran to overcome internal political differences which might produce a more open government or runs the risk of involving the United States in another protracted ground war with no clear end in sight. Neither case seems particularly promising.

Yet Bolton’s dream of a world in which the United States is the sole nuclear power, able to cajole others into ceding to its demands, is—as Walt discusses—also highly unrealistic. Such a world would only create greater impetus for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons for themselves. And contemplating such a world only creates greater incentives for countries to acquire the deterrent capabilities (glossary) nuclear weapons afford. So, in essence, the greater the force the United States brings to bear on a country to end its nuclear program, the greater the pressure for that country to actually develop and deploy its own nuclear weapons.

It is worthwhile to recall that South Africa is the only country to ever give up its nuclear weapons after developing a nuclear weapons capability. And it’s even more important to remember that it did so not because it was under immense external pressure (or indeed threat) to abandon its nuclear weapons program.  South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons because of (1) domestic political pressure to do so, and (2) because its external security situation no longer warranted the need for such weapons. Bolton’s proposed stance ensures that neither of those two criteria would be met in the case of Iran. Hardly a hopeful situation.