A nuclear-free world? Not yet.
Obama is right to seek reductions. But nukes are still fundamental to deterrence.
When Ronald Regan was president, he scheduled a weekly one-on-one meeting in the White House with Secretary of State George Shultz. Nobody else was present, so when Secretary Shultz returned to the State Department, four or five of us senior advisers were always eager for a debriefing on what had been discussed and decided.Skip to next paragraph
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On one of these occasions, Shultz returned to announce that Reagan had become committed to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. A startled Richard Burt, then assistant secretary for European affairs, blurted out: "He can't do that!" following up with the conviction that replacing the US nuclear deterrent with conventional weaponry and troops would be of astronomical cost.
Shultz stared at us with those pale, impassive blue eyes that had served him so well as a negotiator in private life and government. You guys "had better get on the ball," he said. The president meant it, he said, and we were to work toward it.
On his first trip to Europe as president, Barack Obama affirmed the US commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. Shultz, along with other formidable foreign-policy luminaries such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn, have previously expressed the same hope.
Wisely, President Obama warned that such a goal "will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime."
That may be an understatement.
A recent Council on Foreign Relations blue ribbon task force on US weapons policy finds that "the geopolitical conditions that would permit the global elimination of nuclear weapons do not currently exist." And a recent Department of Defense task force, chaired by former Secretary James Schlesinger, found that nuclear weapons remain "fundamental to deterrence." As one participant in the task force's review of US nuclear readiness put it: "Global disarmament of nuclear weapons is fine as long as we are sure we have the last one to be destroyed."