Nuclear weapons: Is full disarmament possible?
As world leaders convene in Washington for a summit on halting the spread of nuclear weapons, a global debate is rising on the merits – and feasibility – of total nuclear disarmament.
Paris, Berlin, Washington, and San Francisco
The dew had barely dissipated from Barack Obama's inaugural as the four senior men slipped into the Oval Office. The executive precincts were intimately familiar to all four – former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Sen. Sam Nunn, and former Defense Secretary William Perry.Skip to next paragraph
Mr. Obama's national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, were in the room. But they didn't say a word. The president engaged the four men on his own. The topic was a project to eliminate nuclear weapons, which the elder statesmen feel ardently about.
But they didn't have to do much convincing. Obama was already there, ready to carry the nuclear-free torch as Presidents Kennedy and Reagan had before him.
"He told us this was one of the top four objectives of his presidency," Mr. Shultz recalls of the meeting. "He said, 'Let's see if we can do something about this....' He conducted the conversation entirely on his side."
A month earlier, Obama had journeyed to Hradcany Square in Prague, Czech Republic, and boldly declared plans for a nuclear-free world. "I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said. Gasps ricocheted through some world capitals. The announcement, coming after several days of Obamamania in Europe, including back pats between the first lady and the Queen of England, was unexpected, even jarring. Realists immediately argued that banishing nukes seemed naive or flaky, premature, an overdose of American-style idealism.
Yet since the halcyon words in Prague, in a world of protracted wars and tragic trivial pursuits, some of the most arch realists in the US foreign-policy establishment are buttressing the concept of a nuclear-free world.
A senior generation of "wise persons," who are not surfing peaceniks living in vans but who spent their lives as high-ranking cold warriors, have quietly advocated a world of zero nukes since 2007. They include figures like Colin Powell, John McCain, and Madeleine Albright, and 17 of the past 22 secretaries of Defense, as well as former national security advisers. Most prominent is the "gang of four" – Messrs. Schultz, Kissinger, Nunn, and Perry – who met that day with the president in the Oval Office.