Why are Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William
Perry, and Sam Nunn writing opinion
pieces in the Wall Street Journal calling for the abolition of nuclear
weapons? Keep in mind, these four people are not just major defense hawks.
People like Kissinger and Nunn helped push through the single most dangerous
and destabilizing innovation in nuclear weaponry, the arming of missiles with
multiple warheads. All four have supported every conflict the United States
has engaged in since World War II, all have enthusiastically supported nuclear
weapons, and none has suddenly gone kumbaya on us.
But all four have concluded that nuclear weapons no longer serve the interests
of the great powers. Why the change of mind? The answer has some disquieting
The sudden concern with nuclear weapons is, in
large part, due to the steady erosion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) and the real danger that the Big Five – China, Russia, the United States,
France, and Britain – may one day confront a host of nations similarly armed.
Countries like Brazil, Argentina, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Japan,
South Korea, Egypt, Taiwan, and South Africa could all produce nuclear weapons
in less than a decade if they wanted to. Several of these countries had begun
the process before mothballing their programs several decades ago. Israel,
Pakistan, and India, of course, already have nuclear weapons.
In the past, wars with countries like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq involved
the loss of life and wealth – far greater for them than for us – but these
countries never presented a serious obstacle to our use of military power.
We might not "win" these wars in the conventional sense of the word, but none
of these nations could prevent the United States from attacking them.
The acquisition of nuclear weapons has changed all that.
The Bush administration has invaded one member of its "axis of evil" and is
threatening to attack a second, Iran. However, it is treading lightly in Northeast
Asia. The Bush administration demonizes North Korea, but it has been careful
not to let things get out of hand. Of course there are numerous reasons why
White House rhetoric has not led to a war on the Korean peninsula, some of
which have nothing to do with the fact that the North Koreans have nuclear
weapons. But it is hard to argue with the conclusion that North Korea's nuclear
weapons program has played a role in holding the U.S. military at bay. It is
a powerful lesson for small countries threatened by bigger ones and an uncomfortable
intervention in the non-proliferation debate.
More Than Your Average Weapon
It is a misnomer to talk about nuclear weapons
as "weapons" in any meaningful sense. As John Hersey noted more than 60 years
ago, the bomb that flattened Hiroshima was not just a bigger bomb. What it
inflicted on that city and its residents is almost beyond human comprehension.
Throughout his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, Hersey struggled to make his readers
understand what happened in Hiroshima, occasionally resorting to the devices
of fiction to get his point across.
And that bomb was the equivalent of a firecracker compared to today's nuclear
weapons. "Fat Boy," the weapon that flattened an entire city in a millisecond,
was 15 kilotons. The average warhead today is between 150 and 250 kilotons,
and there are monsters out there whose power is measured in megatons.
A nuclear war between India and Pakistan – something both countries came perilously
close to at Kargil in 1999 – would do more than kill tens of millions of people.
If both sides exchanged 50 warheads the size of the Hiroshima bomb, it would
destroy 70 percent of the ozone in northern latitudes, and 45 percent of
the ozone in the mid-latitudes where most of the world's population resides.
The loss of the earth's protective ozone would mean a sharp rise in skin cancers
and cataracts from massive increases in ultraviolet radiation.
In short, a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan – two minor nuclear
powers – could derail the economies of nations across the globe, in particular
those in the United States and Europe, whose northern latitude position make
them particularly vulnerable to ozone depletion.
The Gang of Four
Enter Kissinger, Nunn, Perry, and Shultz. Nuclear
weapons were fine with them when the Big Five and Israel held a monopoly on
the devices. But India and Pakistan have joined the club, and several others
are waiting in the wings. However, if the "Big Five plus three" proliferation
dam has cracks in it, they are wholly self-inflicted.
When 181 nations signed the 1968 NPT, they thought they were taking the first
step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. In short, they took the treaty
seriously. Article VI of the NPT, for instance, states:
"Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good
faith on effective measure 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 controls."
This is the heart of the NPT. The smaller countries agreed to forgo nuclear
weapons only because the nuclear powers agreed to scrap theirs and, further,
disarm their conventional forces. Instead, the Big Five increased the number
of warheads in their arsenals and raised their military budgets. Finally, when
they threatened non-nuclear countries with nuclear weapons, they were violating
a 1978 addendum to the NPT (which was reaffirmed in 1995).
President George W. Bush used such threats against Iraq, Syria, and the Sudan,
and in 2006, former French President Jacques Chirac warned
"states who would use terrorist means against us" risk a "conventional" response,
but "it could also be of a different kind."
As for the section of Article VI that requires disarmament: the official
U.S. military budget for fiscal 2009 will be $522 billion, but that figure
nuclear weapons, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and a host of military
programs in the State Department, Justice Department, and the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration. Excluding the interest we pay on past military debts
($207 billion), the real figure is $728 billion.
Even using the faux $522 billion figure, however, U.S. military spending makes
up 47 percent of the world's total. Add the military expenditures of our NATO
allies and that figure jumps to 70 percent.
In comparison, our "enemies" – Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Sudan –
make up 1 percent of the world's arms spending. Iran, which President Bush
calls the most dangerous country in the world, spends $5 billion on armaments,
what one might find rummaging through the couch pillows at the Pentagon. Teheran's
entire budget would max out at 2.5 B-2 bombers.
The Gang of Four is worried that these "enemies" will try to close the enormous
gap in military spending and capabilities by developing nuclear weapons. That,
and their general fear of nukes falling into the "wrong hands," explains their
interest in taking the NPT seriously.
Beyond the Gang of Four
There is certainly a growing sentiment to get
rid of the world's nuclear weapons. In Germany, the increasingly popular Left
Party is pressing for the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons. "If the federal
government had some spine, it would immediately call on the U.S. to remove
all nuclear weapons," Gregor Gysi, co-leader of the Left Party, told
Der Spiegel, "and preferably by destroying them." Pressured by the Left
Party, the Social Democratic Party, a minority member of Germany's ruling coalition,
is moving in the same direction. Niels Annen, the party's foreign policy expert,
told the Berliner Zeitung that removing nuclear weapons from Europe
"would be a huge step forward in terms of nuclear disarmament."
The United States is
estimated to have between 150 and 240 B-61 warheads in Germany, Holland,
Italy, Belgium, and Turkey.
Australia's Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called
for establishing an "international commission on nuclear nonproliferation
and disarmament" to lay the groundwork for reviewing the NPT in 2010 and begin
the process of abolishing nuclear weapons.
In the United States, 79 religious organizations, representing Catholics,
Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, have
demanded that the Bush administration end its plans to reactivate U.S.
nuclear weapons plants. "We call on our political leaders to show the moral
and political courage necessary to bring about a shift in our nation's nuclear
weapons posture," the organizations wrote in a letter to the Energy Department.
"Today we have an historic opportunity to begin the journey out from under
the shadow of nuclear weapons."
Presidential candidate Barack Obama said
in October that "America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons."
But any successful movement to abolish nuclear weapons will not only have
to see that Article VI of the NPT is carried out, it will also have to address
the treaty's preamble: "[I]n accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,
States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use
of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any
As long as the great powers maintain the ability to invade countries, overthrow
regimes, and bomb nations into subservience, weaker countries will inevitably
try to offset those advantages. The quickest and cheapest way to do that is
to develop nuclear weapons.
The threat of nuclear proliferation will not end until all nations have given
them up. And the danger of nuclear weapons will not disappear until the weak
need no longer fear the strong.
Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in