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.
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Some analysts argue that if nukes are outlawed then only outlaws will have nukes – the nations that don't conform to international treaties. "The American nuclear arsenal doesn't encourage local arms races; it forestalls them," writes Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist."Skip to next paragraph
Sen. John Kerry, though a supporter of no nukes, notes that you can't get to zero unless everyone goes there. "The road to zero does not run through a nuclear Iran," he says.
Former US Defense Secretary William Cohen, speaking with the Monitor at the Munich (Germany)Security Conference, says a nuclear-free world is a difficult idea that needs support. But in the current world environment, he doesn't see it happening anytime soon. "Zero is a concept that is desirable as a global initiative," Mr. Cohen says. "Is it feasible? I doubt it. Is it verifiable? I'm not sure. Plus, Israel is never going to say, 'We're OK with that now.' "
And if one country isn't OK with that, others may not be either. Francis Gavin, director of the international security program at the University of Texas, Austin, notes that Iran, for one, is hardly irrational in wanting to develop nuclear weapons. In its region alone, Tehran looks around and sees that Pakistan, India, and, yes, Israel have nukes. "If a state feels under threat," he says, "a treaty isn't going to help."
In a world of outlier states, fashioning effective international controls becomes difficult. David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C., believes that Iran and North Korea are now "sucking the air out of the room politically" on the treaty issue. "But the biggest problem anyway is not a treaty, but illicit trade," he says.
Still, no one is suggesting the world go to zero nukes next week. The point for proponents may be just to get the conveyor belt moving. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said as much last February in Munich, noting: "Do I believe in global zero? Not in my lifetime. But if we don't start, never in the lifetime of my grandchildren."
Further, proponents of nuclear reduction note that political will is always a problem. Their concern is that weapons of mass destruction have become like nuclear wallpaper – so accepted in daily life and security that they no longer seem a threat, but are simply part of the décor, part of stability.