John Mueller's article rebutting nuclear hysteria ("Think Again: Nuclear Weapons," January/February 2010) itself becomes hysterical when deeming North Korea's "couple of nuclear tests" as "mere fizzles" and the nonproliferation regime as "lash[ing] out mindlessly at phantom threats."
It's an easy piece to deride, or even mock, but it does make a few key points.
One is the futility, if not silliness, of U.S. President Barack Obama's dream of a world with zero nukes. Many otherwise serious, sensible, and realistic practitioners of national security -- Sam Nunn, William Perry, George Shultz, even Henry Kissinger -- have bought into this utopian vision.
As a fashionable end-of-career display of virtue and abiding concern for humankind, it's understandable. As a real pursuit by a presidential administration or even an NGO with money and talent, it's a big waste of time and money. Both are better spent on the serious security problems civilization now faces.
Second, Mueller makes the critical point that nuclear disarmament is proceeding much faster and more extensively than most anti-nuke advocates -- including, ironically, U.S. President Ronald Reagan -- imagined in the 1970s and 1980s. For the Russian and U.S. arsenals to drop from 70,000 to 10,000 is mind-bending.
So the Boris Karloffian gloom-and-doom background music on any drama about nuclear weapons is contradicted by the facts. The number of nukes is plummeting: good news. And the security surrounding them is improving: even better news. On the other hand, they are spreading: really bad news.
Mueller is wrong to be dismissive of North Korea and Iran getting their hands on the bomb. Sure, they might use it primarily for deterrence. But it's us who would be deterred, which I sure don't like. Saddam Hussein having the most primitive, poorly targetable nuke in 1990 would have deterred us from liberating Kuwait. That mad tyrant would thus have controlled Middle East oil (once the Saudi regime succumbed to his wishes, as it would have). A fearful prospect, made possible by nukes.
Mueller is spot-on when explaining how reducing nuclear weapons happens faster, easier, and smarter outside formal arms talks. I championed the notion more than 25 years ago, but the arms control crowd dismissed it fervently then, as it will Mueller's provocative article now.
Former Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency