April 2, 2008
by Thomas Graham, Jr. and Max Kampelman
After a long dry spell, the seeds planted by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva in 1985 and Reykjavik in 1986, appear to be bearing fruit. Their declaration in Geneva that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” set the stage for the historic Reykjavik meeting at which the two leaders came tantalizingly close to finally abolishing their nations’ nuclear arsenals.
Ultimately, they set in motion a series of negotiations in which both of us participated and which led within three years to treaties that abolished intermediate range nuclear weapons and reduced strategic offensive weapons by 50 percent.
Yet, despite this promising beginning, the threat of nuclear war has metastized. Today, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have entered the ranks of nuclear powers, and Iran may yet join them. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), predicts that unless present trends are reversed, there will be more than 25 nuclear weapons states in a few years, many of them unstable and prone to takeover by extremists. The likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons would then be greater than at any time during the Cold War.
Recognition that the nuclear problem is still with us and in new and unsettling forms, has led a number of the most senior statesmen of the nuclear age to take a fresh look at the current situation — and openly embrace the “zero option,” the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. This reappraisal has been going on for some time.
In 1995, The Stimson Center here in Washington convened a panel of experts under the chairmanship of former NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, President Eisenhower’s White House aide, to reassess the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security. Some leading postwar era defense strategists and practitioners, including Paul Nitze and Robert McNamara, participated.
They concluded that “U.S. national security would be best served by a policy of phased reductions in all states’ nuclear forces and gradual movement toward the objective of eliminating all weapons of mass destruction from all countries.”
A year later, in December 1996, Gen. Goodpaster and Gen. George Lee Butler, former commander-in-chief of the Strategic Air Command, issued a joint statement in which they noted that “As senior military officers, we have given close attention over many years to the role of nuclear weapons as well as the risks they involve.”
They urged “exploring the feasibility of their ultimate complete elimination.” Yet, despite growing support among experts and the public, the movement lost steam after Congress refused in 1999 to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
But in recent months, the movement has regained its vigor. This came to public notice in January 2007 and again last January, in a remarkable statement signed by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, William Perry and an impressive number of other public figures and experts in which they noted that “it is far from certain that we can successfully replicate the old Soviet-American mutually assured destruction with an increasing number of potential nuclear enemies worldwide without dramatically increasing the risk that nuclear weapons will be used.” They called for specific measures to move towards the zero option. Since then, others have endorsed their viewpoint, including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Lawrence Eagleburger and Colin Powell, among 17 former Cabinet members, retired generals, scholars and politicians. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote, “Let me know how I can use my power and influence as governor to further your vision.”
U.S. leadership is essential to achieving this goal. We cannot control what others may do with their own weapons, current or potential, but our urging can have a tremendous impact on their policies. We know that the nonproliferation regime is growing and sincerely trying to meet our moral as well as treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” This language is drawn from Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which we, along with 188 other states, have ratified.
The road from the world of today, with thousands of nuclear weapons in national arsenals to a world free of this threat, will not be an easy one to take, but it is clear U.S. leadership is essential to the journey and there is growing worldwide support for that civilized call for zero. The British foreign minister has publicly declared the government’s commitment to that goal and the Norweigian government recently sponsored an international conference at which George Shultz opened the session by using the theme of nuclear weapons as the goal of the event.
The president of the United States, together, if possible, with the Russian president, should personally appear before the United Nations General Assembly and propose a resolution calling for the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction. We should plainly state our willingness to destroy all of our own nuclear weapons once we are absolutely assured the other current and potential nuclear powers share this vision and will implement the practical and concurrent steps necessary to achieving it.
The resolution should direct the U.N. Security Council to develop effective political and technical procedures to achieve this goal, including stringent intrusive inspections and severe, mandatory penalties of political, economic and cultural isolation to prevent cheating.
Ronald Reagan, consistent with early commitment by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, understood that progress on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons is linked by treaty and politics to the belief by non-nuclear states that those possessing such weapons would renounce and destroy them. He also understood that possession of nuclear weapons presents only the illusion of security. In the dangerous and unpredictable worlds in which we live, this is an illusion we cannot afford.
Those in our country who seek the most powerful office in the world, president of the United States, should also reflect and lead a national consensus of conscience and reason and proclaim that nuclear weapons have no place in a civilized world.
Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador, is chairman of the Bipartisan Security Group and chairman of Thorium Power Ltd. and was a senior U.S. diplomat involved in the negotiation of every major international arms control and nonproliferation agreement for the last 30 years. Retired Ambassador Max M. Kampelman is former head of the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1980-1983, head of the U.S. Delegation to the negotiations with the Soviet Union on nuclear and space arms from 1985-1989 and counselor to the State Department in 1987-1989.
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