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Global Heroes

How the Cold War's wise men went anti-nuclear.

In the early 1970s, Bruce Blair spent two years as a Minuteman launch officer, on duty as the missiles stood ready to fire on the Soviet Union at a moment's notice. Later, he worked on a top-secret study of U.S. command and control of nuclear weapons. As a think-tank scholar, he wrote books about nuclear strategy. Yet Blair felt frustrated that he was having "zero impact" on national policy. "I came to the realization, this doesn't work," he recalled. "You have to be a change agent."

So Blair reached beyond the traditional Washington methods of white papers, news conferences, and earnest panel discussions and turned to film, inspired by Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Blair devoted three years to help create a movie about nuclear danger, Countdown to Zero, a rallying cry to abolish all nuclear weapons that this year has become a cornerstone of a re-energized movement for "global zero."

Blair's path suggests a surprising twist: The new global zero movement came not from the grassroots, like the "nuclear freeze" drive of the 1980s, but from policy wonks and pillars of the establishment, from President Barack Obama to former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. With some 22,500 nuclear weapons remaining in the world -- most in Russia and the United States two decades after the Cold War -- the spectacle of the wise men calling for the elimination of the nukes whose deterrent capability they once touted has done the improbable: fuel the rise of a new popular movement to get rid of them.

The new push dates back to October 2006. Shultz and physicist Sidney Drell convened a conference at Stanford University's Hoover Institution to reflect on the lessons of the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in which the two leaders came tantalizingly close to scrapping nuclear weapons altogether. Max M. Kampelman, a top arms negotiator in Reagan's second term, suggested a renewed drive for zero nukes. "We must learn from the events of September 11 that we are vulnerable -- and will become increasingly vulnerable," he said.

After the conference, four prominent wise men of the late Cold War, led by Shultz, teamed up to fulfill the promise of Reykjavik. They wrote an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 4, 2007: "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons." It was signed by Shultz, Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn. The four embraced a phased plan for disarmament, including reductions in nuclear arsenals, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and securing loose nuclear materials. What was new was not the ideas, but the men proposing them. The four didn't acknowledge any error or misgivings about their past roles in the nuclear arms race -- they just pointed out that times had changed. Their idea of elimination was a goal, they said, without setting a deadline.

Around the same time, Obama was launching his presidential campaign, and from the first days in Iowa, he carried the torch for global zero. He pledged not to develop any new nukes, to take missiles off launch-ready alert status, to cut existing arsenals, to ratify a test-ban treaty, and to secure nuclear-weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years. Early in his presidency, in a speech in Prague, he called for a nuclear-free world, while also cautioning, "This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime."

In December 2008, Blair founded an organization, Global Zero, along with Matt Brown, a former Rhode Island state official and grassroots organizer. When they began to recruit around the world, many prominent figures in Britain, China, Russia, India, and elsewhere were surprisingly eager to join up, from a former British defense minister to Jordan's Queen Noor to several leading Chinese military strategists. Altogether, Global Zero now has more than 400,000 signatures supporting its four-phase plan to wipe out all nukes worldwide by 2030.

A parallel push came from the four wise men, who took star turns in another film this year, Nuclear Tipping Point, by the Nuclear Security Project. At the film's end, Nunn makes a strong case for taking nuclear-armed missiles off launch-ready alert, calling the Cold War holdover "absolutely ridiculous, bordering on insanity." It was just the kind of message to resonate with a new generation. Nuclear missiles are still on alert. Really?

Yet the road to global zero is going to be a long one. Obama has already abandoned his pledge to take missiles off launch-ready alert. To coax wavering senators to support his modest arms treaty, he pledged billions of dollars to refurbish the U.S. nuclear-weapons complex. Even the White House, it appears, thinks the weapons will be around for a long while.

-/AFP/Getty Images

Feature

5 Lessons From Haiti's Disaster

What the earthquake taught us about foreign aid.

1. Jobs are everything.

All humans need money -- they need it to buy food and water every day. And no matter how hard the government or the aid industry tries, people will want for all three things until they are employed.

The world pledged some $10.2 billion in recovery aid to Haiti after Jan. 12's devastating earthquake. Imagine how many people that money could employ, putting them to work on tasks like removing rubble (only 2 percent of which has been cleared to date), rebuilding key government buildings, and planting trees in a country that is almost entirely deforested. And yet so far, just 116,000 people have been employed in this way. Haiti has 9.8 million people, and at least half were unemployed even before the earthquake. If we focused our efforts on the singular task of getting them jobs -- even if we did nothing else -- Haiti's reconstruction could be a success.

2. Don't starve the government.

The international community doesn't know best. Local people do. NGOs like the one that I am lucky to work with cannot replace the state -- nor can the United Nations or anyone else. We don't have the expertise, and we won't stay forever. We don't have the same stake in building a community that the locals themselves have. And if aid is to work, it can't fall apart when the expats leave.

On this, almost everyone agrees. But the opposite approach has characterized Haiti relief. The dollar figures tell the real story: A mere 0.3 percent of the more than $2 billion in humanitarian aid pledged by major donors has ended up with local authorities. That money will hardly compensate for the 20 percent of civil servants who died in the quake.

Some donors argue that the Haitian government is rife with corruption and mismanagement -- and that infusing it with money will only make matters worse. But we need to strengthen the public sector, not weaken it. And that will take a working budget. It's impossible to be transparent and track your budgets when you lack computers, electricity, and even the personnel to do so. Until the government has the resources it needs, Haiti will remain the republic of NGOs.

3. Give them something to go home to.

Today, some 1.3 million Haitians live in tent camps amid often squalid conditions -- yet no one has been able to convince them to resettle. Why don't they want to leave? Because there is nothing to draw them back. Many of these displaced men and women didn't own the houses that collapsed around then; they rented them -- often under very unfavorable conditions. They were in debt to bad landlords. They had no schools or clinics.

Enticing them to return home will mean providing exactly what they lacked before: housing, education, and health care. Ironically, Haitians are getting some of those things now in the camps. They have shelter in the 69,700 tents distributed by donors; they have the food and hygiene kits that NGOs offer. The tent camps may well become semipermanent homes if those services don't also exist in the cities, villages, and towns.

4. Waste not, want not.

At least half of aid money probably never reaches its recipients, eaten up by overhead; often it's even more. I know of no other business or enterprise in which this would be an acceptable operational strategy. Equally frustrating, sometimes the money doesn't show up at all. Of the donor dollars promised for 2010, Haiti has so far received a mere 38 percent, or $732.5 million, excluding debt relief. Nine months after the disaster, not a cent of the U.S. donation for Haiti's reconstruction has been disbursed; it's tied up in appropriations. Imagine trying to re-engineer a devastated country when your budget is at the mercy of political whims in foreign lands.

5. Relief is the easy part.

Disaster relief is not reconstruction. We haven't rebuilt Haiti despite giving 1.1 million people access to drinking water; we didn't remake the country with the 11,000 latrines that have been installed. "Building Haiti back better" means sustaining those temporary gains and adding education, health care, services, and good governance.

What's most important in getting started? Economic growth. Yet it is a challenge hardly mentioned in aid documents or strategies -- coming up only twice in the United Nations' most recent 44-page report. Poverty of the kind that was so acutely revealed this January can't be defeated until there is a brighter economic future for the millions of Haitians who are ready to seize it.

PRNEWSFOTO/Austin College