No Nukes

Tom Barnett pushes back against the Global Zero goal evoked by President Barack Obama with what is certainly today’s quote of the day, and might even be the quote of the year:

The system is nowhere near prepared or integrated enough to abolishnuclear weapons, and even if it was, I’d keep them on the sheerassumption that not everybody and everything I might meet in spacesomeday is going to like me.

Anne Applebaum pushes back, too, with a point that is often obscured by the bilateral U.S.-Russian lens through which we see nuclear arms control:

Plus I’m not sure the French, however much they loved Michelle’sflowery dress, have much interest in giving up their force de frappe.Ditto the British. And since they don’t pose a threat [She means the French and the British here, not the nukes.], to us or anyoneelse, it’s not clear why we should waste diplomatic capital trying tomake them do so.

One of the things we often ignore about our own nuclear deterrent is that the only thing it really deters is a massive Russian nuclear strike. No other non-ally has the offensive nuclear capacity to eliminate our conventional weapons capacity, which is all we’d actually need to reduce any country on Earth to rubble. So we could eliminate nuclear weapons and still feel pretty secure.

France and England, on the other hand, don’t have the same conventional deterrent as we do. In addition to their permanent UNSC seats, their nuclear arsenals are a big part of what makes them global powers, and untouchable. So it’s very unlikely, as Applebaum says, that they would forego them, especially if the American nuclear umbrella were to be retired at the same time.

Richard Weitz, in his WPR column today,gives a good overview of the Obama administration’s focus on nucleararms control for Russia policy. And as he makes clear, there are somepretty formidable obstacles to even modest advances in what amounts to the world’s most stable nuclear standoff. As for a nuclear triangle like the one formed by China, India and Pakistan, it’s unrealistic, andas Barnett points out, potentially destabilizing to expect them toeliminate their deterrents.

I’m all for rhetorical flourishes, and I sincerely hope that one day we do live in a nuclear-free world. But it seems like we’ve still got a ways to go before we’ve dug ourselves out from all the unintended consequences of the last wave of revolutionary ideology that swept American foreign policy. I’d suggest further that such a volatile and uncertain historical moment isn’t the best time to tear down the scaffolding that’s held the global security order together for the past fifty-odd years.