Zero Nuclear Weapons -- Maybe / Maybe Not in My Lifetime
Posted by David Shorr
Like many foreign policy mavens of a certain age (i.e. from That 70s Generation), I got into this business to oppose the nuclear arms race. Thirty years later, we find ourselves living in proverbial "interesting times." Ever since President Obama's famed Prague speech, the aim of US policy is the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons, as the above video from Global Zero so poignantly reminds us. The arsenals of the two Cold War-era superpowers have been reduced significantly. Yet we've also seen so-called horizontal proliferation -- to new nuclear-armed states -- headed in the wrong direction, with the addition of the world's 9th and potentially 10th nuclear powers.
So it isn't easy to envision how we get to zero, but nonetheless important to try. In Prague the president said the goal might not be reached in his lifetime. Assuming we make it to our early-80s, though, that gives us 30 more years -- a timeframe that does seem plausible. A lot can change in three decades, as we've seen. And that's really the point: that nuclear abolition will be achieved through a sequence of changes.
These issues came to mind recently when writing a piece for the G8 Research Group and Newsdesk Media's issues guide for the upcoming G8 summit and also in side conversations with colleagues at the ASAN Plenum conference in Seoul. In my summit piece, I framed US-Russian reductions and the challenges of North Korean / Iran as representing alternative nuclear futures. They presage the futures that were on the minds of negotiators in the late-1960s as they drafted the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Depending on how things go, we'll either move toward the disarmed world stipulated by the NPT or the ever-growing nuclear club the treaty was intended to prevent.
As I say, the path toward zero will be marked by changes along the way. Clearly the final steps will be especially tricky; nations surrendering their last nukes will want to be quite confident that everyone else is doing likewise. On the other hand, those last disarmament steps will only come after the ground has already been laid. By the time we're dealing with the practicalities of a nuclear weapons-free world, the world will already have travelled a great distance. Consider the following as a rough sequence of steps / contingencies.