by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
The American Reporter
April 23, 2010
GETTING TO ZERO: IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT NUCLEAR WEAPONS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- This month has been, arguably, the most eventful month ever regarding reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons.
The month began with the START II treaty President Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague on April 8 - which calls for both nations to reduce their stockpiles of long-range nuclear weapons by about 30 percent over the next seven years.
There was also the release of the new Nuclear Posture Review by the Obama administration, which narrowed the circumstances in which the United States might launch a nuclear strike.
Then there was last week's nuclear summit of 47 world leaders in Washington, which aimed at reaching an international consensus on the need to keep weapons-grade nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. This conference, which ended with several nations agreeing to dispose of weapons-grade uranium and end plutonium production, has helped to re-establishing U.S. leadership on nonproliferation.
And coming up fast is the five-year review at the United Nations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which marks its 40th anniversary this year. Given the events leading up to this review, there is hope that the discussion might be positive and productive.
All these events gave "Safeguarding our Future: A Conference on Nuclear Disarmament," a conference in Putney, Vt., on April 17 that was presented by the Windham World Affairs Council and The Putney School, a level of importance that its organizers never expected. The presenters at the conference brought an immense amount of experience in arms control issues, and they had plenty to talk about.
John Rhinelander, former counsel to the SALT I treaty negotiations in the 1970s, said the good news was that the number of nuclear weapons has been reduced by two-thirds since the height of the Cold War. The bad news is that there are still 27,000 nuclear weapons, and many countries want to obtain them.
Rhinelander said that as the number of nuclear weapons in the world decrease, the need for rigorous inspections and verification will increase. "Without constant leadership from the United States, disarmament will not move forward," he said.
John Mendelsohn, former deputy director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and a Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, pointed out that we are now seeing a shift in philosophy regarding nuclear weapons.
"It used to be that we had nuclear weapons so we could destroy our enemies," he said. "But in the last 20 years, we discovered we've run out of enemies and it's now unclear who we might use them on. Nuclear weapons are not our protection anymore, but a danger, and that danger is not from other countries, but from small groups who you can't use nuclear weapons against. That's why it's now in our best interest to get rid of nuclear weapons so they can't be used against us."
Mendelsohn also pointed out that many have forgotten the destructiveness of nuclear weapons. He pointed out that in during five years of bombing attacks by Germany during World War II, Britain saw 55,000 civilian deaths. In one day, with one bomb, at Hiroshima, 140,000 people died.
"And we don't have any weapon that small in our arsenal anymore," he said. "Just one bomb would have devastating consequences."
One reason the United States can make a commitment to nuclear arms reduction, Mendelsohn said, is because of our overwhelming superiority in conventional weaponry, which has had the unintended effect - especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq - of making other nations want nuclear weapons to keep U.S. forces from invading them.
"The Russians' conventional forces are in a deplorable state," said Rhinelander. "Nuclear weapons are much cheaper than maintaining large conventional forces."
Phillip Fleming, president and chairman of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security, spoke about the "Global Zero" movement, which was launched late last year. It calls for the phased, verified elimination of nuclear weapons - starting with deep reductions in the U.S. and Russian arsenals - to be followed by multilateral negotiations among all nuclear powers for an agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2030.
Fleming said Global Zero supporters include former heads of state, former foreign ministers, former defense ministers, former national security advisors and more than 20 former top military commanders. "The main obstacles aren't technical, but political," he said, "but even the hardliners are starting to see nuclear weapons as a liability, and not a strategic strength."
But not every nation is on the same page. Peter Galbraith, former Ambassador to Croatia and most recently deputy envoy from the U.N. to Afghanistan, said that nuclear proliferation in the Near East and Central Asia "was the central impediment to getting to zero. If we're going to get to zero, we're going to have to deal with India and Pakistan."
The nuclear programs of India and Pakistan have long been seen as a danger, given the long-standing animosity between the two countries. As for the other two big threats, North Korea and Iran, Galbraith sees Iran as the greater one.
"Iran is now the most dominant power in the Persian Gulf, and if Iran gets the bomb, other countries in the region will follow and the whole idea of non-proliferation in the Middle East will unravel," said Galbraith.
James F. Leonard, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said that most agree that the concept of zero doesn't necessarily mean eliminating all nuclear weapons, but rather having no nuclear weapons in a deployable state and no means of delivering them against another nation.
"What we lived through in the Cold War, 'mutually assured destruction,' was a lunatic doctrine," he said. "Now we have 'mutually assured deterrence.' which is not as bad, but it prevents us from getting to zero. We aren't threatened by nuclear powers anymore, but by the leakage of nuclear weapons and materials and by terrorists getting hold of these weapons."
Alexandra Toma, director of nuclear non-proliferation operations for the Connect US Fund, worked with the Obama Administration on the effort to control "loose nukes" that culminated in last week's nuclear summit.
"There's a world of difference with this Administration," she said. "There's no infighting and everyone is on the same page. Plus, there is a broader, more bipartisan effort driving policy. It's not just the usual suspects supporting it."
Mark Schlefer, the former chairman of Lawyers Alliance for World Security, who now lives in Putney and who helped organize Saturday's conference, is hopeful that next month's review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be a productive one. "The arms race has been stopped, but we are still working toward disarmament," he said.
Schlefer singled out the words of Article 6 of the treaty: "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and to bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."
"It's a goal mankind should be looking for," he said.
It's also a goal that has eluded mankind since the first atomic bomb was detonated 65 years ago. To insure the survival of our planet, it is a goal we must achieve.
"It is the most dangerous issue you students will face in your lifetimes," Rhinelander told the many students from The Putney School who were in the audience. "This issue is not going to go away."
This piece opens Randolph T. Holhut's fourth decade in journalism, and this is his 14th year as an American Reporter Correspondent. He edits a Vermont daily newspaper, and was named the state's best editorial writer in 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.