"But So Many Important People Want to Go to Lower -- Even to Zero!"
Get real. In a 2007 op-ed, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, George Shultz, and Sam Nunn -- a bipartisan group of éminences grises -- endorsed "setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal." Their article reinvigorated the nuclear disarmament movement and helped spark an international "Global Zero" campaign that has drawn the support of former generals, ambassadors, and political officials from the United States and around the world. It is on the wave of this support that Obama announced his intention to reduce nuclear arsenals radically and move toward a world without nuclear weapons.
But it is not clear that a world without nuclear weapons would be desirable, and it certainly isn't feasible. Only if we could fundamentally transform international politics such that states no longer faced security threats might there be reason to think that the world could be made safe for global zero. And even proponents admit this day may never come. In his famous Prague speech, Obama confessed, "I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime."
After all, the United States can't rid the world of nuclear weapons on its own; other states, including its enemies, get a vote. Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea possess nuclear weapons not because they blindly imitate the United States, but because they fear their neighbors and, in the case of Washington's enemies, America's awesome conventional military power. Even if the United States gave up its entire nuclear arsenal, other countries would not be compelled to follow its lead.
Instead of striving for the smallest possible arsenal in the erroneous belief that less is better, the United States should strive to maintain clear nuclear superiority over its adversaries. Ideally, this means the ability to wipe out an enemy's nuclear forces before they can be used and to annihilate its homeland -- because the more devastating that adversaries find the prospect of nuclear war, the less likely they will be to start trouble. Where this is not possible, the United States must aim for a posture that limits damage to the U.S. homeland to the greatest extent possible and that at least ensures destruction of an adversary.
That means the United States should refrain from additional nuclear reductions and should maintain the "hedge" force of weapons it keeps in reserve. The Obama administration must also follow through on its promise to fully modernize U.S. nuclear infrastructure. Finally, the country must prepare for the possibility that if China or other strategic competitors continue to expand their nuclear arsenals, the United States might once again have to build up its strategic forces. You don't bring a knife to a gunfight, and America shouldn't bring a crippled nuclear arsenal to the second nuclear age.
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