Envisioning a Post-Nuclear World

Life’s been a bit busy, so I accidentally wound up neglecting the fact that in a big speech in Prague, Barack Obama wound up endorsing one of my pet causes — recommitting the United States to the eventual total elimination of nuclear weapons. This was a policy the United States committed ourselves to when we signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, and it was a policy that Ronald Reagan consistently embraced during his presidency, but it’s fallen by the wayside in recent years.

I’ve seen some wiseasses on the right observing that just making this pledge hardly eliminates any nukes. This, however, misses the significance of the pledge to shorter-term non-proliferation goals. Simply put, if the world’s major powers really intend to keep large nuclear arsenals forever then that implies continues proliferation over the long run. The whole bargain of the multilateral non-proliferation regime was that the majority of countries would agree to eschew nuclear weapons in part because the existing nuclear powers were committing themselves to working toward disarmament. Non-proliferation facilitates disarmament, and disarmament facilities non-proliferation.

The hard part, of course, is how to get from here to there. And it really is hard. But it’s actually pretty easy to see what the first steps are. We need to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which Obama supports), we need to follow through on the Obama-Medvedev commitment to steep bilateral nuclear arms reduction (very good progress has already been made), and we need to get China, France, and the U.K. to avoid building-up their stockpiles as the US and Russian arsenals move down toward their level. Getting all the way to global zero would presumably take decades, but making progress toward that goal is one of the very most important things we can do.