Road Map for a Nuclear-Free World

SOMETIMES it seems little short of miraculous that we managed to walk along the knife edge of the cold war for 40 years without falling into the nuclear abyss. Does that mean that the threat of global nuclear holocaust has been reduced to zero? Not yet. But at least, policymakers and thinkers now have breathing-space in which to consider the role we want nuclear weapons to play in the world of our children and grandchildren.Some have argued that nuclear weapons were a force for international stability during the past 45 years. It was precisely the awe-fullness of the threat of 'mutually assured destruction' that kept the two superpowers from fighting. Whether we like it or not, the genie of knowledge of how to build these doom machines is out of the bottle. It cannot be stuffed back in - in the United States, in the chaos-torn Soviet Union, or anywhere else. The prospect of social and political breakdown in the formerly Soviet area should force us to rethink the role of nuclear weapons in world affairs. So should the news of how close Saddam Hussein came to having a usable nuclear weapon. Let's face it, until now our international system has conferred a type of super-sovereignty on nations with nuclear arsenals. The five nations that wield veto powers in the UN Security Council just happen to be those with declared nuclear arsenals. And those nations like Israel, India, or Pakistan that have undeclared nuclear capabilities often got kid-glove treatment from the "Permanent Five not least because of their ability, during the cold war, to catapult the globe into nuclear war. The end of the cold war has made it possible to think of, say, Israel or Pakistan openly threatening to use nuclear weapons in a local dispute without the nuclear mega-powers immediately being sucked into global war. Or an ultranationalist Russia might engage in nuclear posturing against a Ukraine that also has nuclear weapons, without the US becoming involved. The end of the cold war may have made the world 'safe' for local nuclear war. But is that the kind of world we want to live in? To me, the answer must be no. I think that we should seize the present chance to rethink the role of nuclear weapons in world affairs, and to engage in a worldwide effort to reduce that role to zero. How could that be done? Well, the US and the Soviets have made a great start, by unilaterally starting to dismantle their nuclear hair-triggers and build down their massive arsenals. As that process continues, the smaller nuclear powers should also be drawn into the build-down effort. Every effort should be made to strengthen existing firebreaks against the spread of nuclear weapons to additional nations. And then, as a major step toward world nuclear disarmament, a cooperative effort could be made to ha ve all the nuclear powers, declared and undeclared, cede control over their nuclear stockpiles to a global nuclear reserve force under tight international control. For a number of years, or decades, after that, the global reserve force could serve as an ultimate deterrent against remaining nuclear mavericks. Meanwhile, we could hope that worldwide education and economic integration would make the idea of continued intergroup conflict obsolete. Sounds far-fetched? Well, this idea already sounds much more reasonable than when I first started discussing it a year ago. Since then, we have had the US and the Soviets move decisively away from continued nuclear arms-racing. The role of the United Nations has been considerably strengthened. History is moving in fast-forward. Bringing the world's nuclear weapons under UN control could be a realistic goal within a 10- or 15-year time-frame. For the vast arsenals of the former Soviet Union, it should be accomplished well before that. Something unique has happened in the history of warfare this century. The development of nuclear weapons and our century's other means of mass destruction have brought us to a point where trying to deal with conflict by threatening ever-escalating levels of violence has reached a total dead end. Now, for the first time in history, we can start realistically planning for a world without war.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.