Should the United States aim to achieve a world free of all nuclear weapons? In one sense, the question is trivial – nuclear disarmament has been a stated aim of the United States since the dawn of the nuclear age. And the United States also committed to working toward this end when it signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968.
But in another sense, the question is fundamental. Although successive administrations (at least until the current one) have mouthed the words affirming this objective, few have actually made this commitment an organizing principle of their nuclear weapons policies. That may be about to change. Earlier this week, Senator Barack Obama pledged that as president he would say: “
And it isn’t just presidential candidates who are talking about a nuclear-free world. So are former statesmen like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn. Writing in The Wall Street Journal last January, they urged that the
Nearly 20 years after the Cold War ended, the time has come to make a concerted effort to verifiably rid the world of all nuclear weapons. The
Tomorrow’s nuclear threats are different. They are that unstable regimes or, worse, nihilistic terrorists get their hands on a bomb and use it. This threat is becoming more real as nuclear technology and materials spread around the world. The first order of business must be to ensure that all the nuclear weapons and materials in
The second order of business, though, is to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in order to ease the road to their elimination. The only reason the United States should maintain nuclear weapons is because others have them. There cannot be another purpose. We don’t need them to deter a non-nuclear attack on ourselves or our allies; our conventional forces can deal with those contingencies. We certainly don’t need them to attack some far-away or deeply buried targets, because there isn’t a target whose destruction is worth breaking the 62-year-old taboo against using a single nuclear weapon.
Given this limited role for nuclear weapons, there is much that the