General Colin Powell in an introduction to a new film called the Nuclear Tipping Point didn’t mince words. In a forceful and direct presentation, the former Cold Warrior talked about his experience in dealing with nuclear weapons throughout his military career. Powell discussed the nuclear planning that he conducted against the Soviets in Europe and the responsibility of having oversight of 28,000 nuclear weapons as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Through these experiences, Powell concluded that nuclear weapons are “useless” and ought to be eliminated.
POWELL: The more I got into nuclear weapons. The more I realized that these weapons must never be used. And then I became Chairman of the Joint chiefs of staff in 1989 and I had 28,000 nuclear weapons under my supervision. And every morning I looked to see where the Russian submarines were off the coast of Virginia and how far away those missions were from Washington. I kept track where the Russian missiles were in Europe and in the Soviet Union. The one thing that I convinced myself after all these years of exposure to the use of nuclear weapons is that they were useless. They could not be used. If you can have deterence with an even lower number of weapons, well then why stop there, why not continue on, why not get rid of them altogether…This is the moment when we have to move forward and all of us come together to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and eliminate them from the face of the earth.
Powell’s call for the elimination of nuclear weapons comes at a critical time. With President Obama in need of 67 votes in the Senate to ratify two treaties critical to the nuclear non-proliferation agenda, he must convince 8 GOP Senators to abandon the politics of obstruction and support these efforts that serve to enhance America’s security and reduce the likelihood for nuclear attack. Powell could certainly be a powerful force in that effort.
Furthermore, Powell’s statements just further expose a growing divide among the right. Nuclear Tipping Point was put together by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and is part of the robust efforts of former Secretaries George Schultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger and Senator Sam Nunn to warn of the dangers of nuclear terrorism and to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons. While former senior Republican national security officials like Powell, Kissinger, Schultz, and Brent Scowcroft call for reductions in nuclear weapons, neoconservatives like Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) actually favor building new nuclear weapons.