Democracy Arsenal

« Turkish Leadership | Main | Re: The False Hope of Democracy Promotion »

November 16, 2008

What To Do About Nukes
Posted by David Shorr

Prompted by Matt Eckel over at Foreign Policy Watch, I thought I'd offer thoughts on what looms on the nuclear weapons policy agenda. Matt uses a recent speech by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Foreign Affairs article by Ivo Daalder and Jan Lodal as touchstones and makes a number of important points. The central question is what, if any, purpose nuclear weapons serve in a nation's military forces, starting with our own. How do nukes fit into our military -- and political -- strategy?

To break it down further: in what contingencies would we launch a nuclear attack, how do these weapons function as a deterrent, and what is their effect on potential new nuclear powers? These are the first-principles questions for our policy; a lot of decisions flow from the answers. As pragmatic as Gates is on many issues, his speech shows a substantial blindspot in this area. He is so concerned with the need for us preserve a credible ability to mount an attack, at a technological and operational level, that he loses sight of the credibility of our moral authority.

In fact, our nuclear deterrent capability is plenty robust, and our political credibility is in tatters. After the experience with North Korea, I don't know how anybody can seriously argue that one country's nuclear forces deter another country from building their own. The taboo against acquiring nuclear weapons is a matter of the international rules of the game, and do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do is a counterproductive approach, to put it mildly. (For a fuller presentation of my own views, see Suzanne Nossel and my essay for the Stanley Foundation's Powers and Principles project, which is all about the global rules-based order.)

In rapid-fire fashion, then, here's what I think would be the best policy approach for the Obama administration and beyond, taking the need to work with Iran and North Korea and abandon plans for new warheads as givens. The first major step toward the disarmament required of us under the NPT -- and the most convincing way to earn back our international credibility -- is an agreement with Russia for deeper bilateral reductions to 1,000 warheads. The only way to make such an agreement truly impressive is to have such a numerical ceiling for total warheads, not just deployed warheads. It would make nuclear disarmament easier if we clarify that the United States would only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack on us or our allies. The next agreement, with a ceiling in the low hundreds, would also include China, France, and the UK. And the subsequent treaty, going down to the dozens (a truly minimal deterrent) would apply to all nuclear powers. There are indeed many complexities associated with reducing to zero (Daalder and Lodal delve more deeply into them), but I'm confident at least that those issues would look differently and clearer once we have reached minimum deterrent levels.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451c04d69e2010535f8586f970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What To Do About Nukes:

Comments

The United States in order to have effectively abolish nuclear weapons must make a deal with Russia. In order to get Russia on board the United States must get get rid of any missile defense system especially those that are planned to be deployed in Eastern Europe.

Not sure that's an exact quid pro quo for negotiating purposes, but I don't need much convincing that the missile defense sites are symbolic rather than serving a useful strategic purpose. As such, they're not worth the grief and antagonism they provoke.

I'd love for there to be no nukes on Earth.

I'd also love for the US to colonize the universe, J.K. Rowling to write an 8th Harry Potter book, and to be president.

It's not going to happen. We're going to need to keep some of our nukes. I don't know enough about where our current warheads are deployed, but I'd think we'd need at least ~300 to ensure our interests are protected.

Not sure that's an exact quid pro quo for negotiating purposes, but I don't need much convincing that the missile defense sites are symbolic rather than serving a useful strategic purpose.

Maybe. But if that is so then it is hard to understand the intensity of the Russian reaction to these sites. Either the Russians have very, very bad intelligence, or these missile defenses are at least somewhat effective.

Russia's hyperventilating is pretty melodramatic relative to the technical lameness of these sites, which is what gives me pause regarding exactly how to walk them back as a matter of negotiation. Then again, they do have a legitimate gripe and there's no good reason for the US to dig our heels in.

I don't agree that because North Korea created its own anemic nuclear force that the U.S. nuclear deterrence is somehow obsolete. It falls to the carrot and stick of diplomacy to help prevent (e.g. Brazil) or remove (e.g. Libya) nuclear weapons programs. The role of the warheads is to deter our enemies from ever USING them against us or our interests.

We should also remember that part of nonproliferation and counterproliferation is to put our allies at ease. In short, we make them a promise that they don't need their own nuclear deterrent because we will protect them with our nuclear umbrella. In other words, the real fear of a nuclear North Korea is what Japan will do in response and the real fear of a nuclear Iran is what Saudi Arabia and Egypt will do in response.

I agree that a substantially smaller warhead inventory -- 1,000 - 1,500 warheads, provided that they could still be deployed in the triad (SLBM, ICBM, and bombers) to ensure redundancy -- is possible to reduce our nuclear stockpile and still maintain an effective deterrent.

Finally, I'd submit that the proposed ABM sites in Eastern Europe has less to do with the Russians operating with "bad intelligence" or actually perceiving them to be a threat (a Russian nuclear attack on North America would follow a ballistic trajectory across the North Pole, not across the continent of Europe) and more of a reassertive Russia trying to redraw the Cold War-era spheres of influence in Europe and Central Asia.

I would also point out that there's no discussion here about India and Pakistan. Combined, they possess the smallest nuclear arsenal outside of North Korea. However, most experts agree that if there is a flashpoint for a potential nuclear miscalculation, those two nations are it.

would also point out that there's no discussion here about India and Pakistan. Combined, they possess the smallest nuclear arsenal outside of North Korea. However, most experts agree that if there is a flashpoint for a potential nuclear miscalculation, those two nations are it.

This is a very good site..

sonra bedava chat
burasıda var bedava sohbet

The comments to this entry are closed.

Emeritus Contributors
Subscribe
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Email: 
Powered by TypePad

Disclaimer

The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use