Stewart Taylor did a fantastic column making the case for a renewed commitment to a nuclear-free world, but you can’t read it unless you’re a National Journal subscriber and nobody can afford National Journal subscriptions, so I’ll quote some key bits. First he goes on for a while about how nuclear proliferation is the biggest threat to our security, and the best way to stop it involves reducing our own arsenal and setting universal disarmament as a goal. Then he says:
This has not always been my view. I once hoped that we might stop nuclear proliferation cold by invading Iraq, deposing Saddam Hussein, and thus putting the fear of a similar fate into other dictators who might seek to threaten us with nuclear weapons. Indeed, to my regret, I argued in late 2002 that the only effective way to deter rogue regimes from going nuclear was to make a credible threat of pre-emptive military attack, and that the “threat will not be credible unless we can show now that we will attack if necessary to disarm or dethrone Saddam.”
I, too, used to think this. And, obviously, Taylor and I were wrong. Crucially, though, we’ve actually learned something from the experience:
The nonproliferation treaty worked surprisingly well from the 1960s until recent years. This was no accident, explained Graham, who served Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush as an arms control expert, in a speech earlier this year [PDF]. “It was rooted in a carefully crafted central bargain. In exchange for a commitment from the non-nuclear weapon states … not to acquire nuclear weapons and to submit to international safeguards to verify compliance with this commitment, the NPT nuclear weapon states … undertook to engage in nuclear disarmament negotiations aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals. [But] the nuclear weapon states have never really delivered on the disarmament part of this bargain, and in recent years it appears to have been largely abandoned.”
In essence, to do the diplomatic work of rebuilding an international coalition against proliferation, the nuclear states are going to need to do our part. And as the biggest nuclear state, that means us. Noting that even Ronald Reagan used to adhere to the dream of global nuclear abolition:
But most in the administration and in Congress seem to have written off Reagan’s vision as an impossible dream. This reflects a failure of imagination: The steps that we should take toward eventual abolition of nuclear weapons would also greatly reduce the risk of nuclear catastrophe even if the world never gets close to zero. Among those steps, the op-ed asserts, are steep, mutual cuts in the arsenals of all nuclear weapons states; elimination of forward-deployed, short-range nuclear weapons; the highest possible security for all stocks of nuclear weapons, plutonium, and highly enriched uranium around the world; a discontinuation of the use of fissile materials in civil commerce and research facilities; and a U.S.-Russian agreement to reduce the danger of accidental launch by increasing warning time.
All true. Alternatively, we could just listen to Norm Podhoretz and start a war with Iran.