Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Nuclear Weapons Debate

The atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed my life. I dedicated myself to the elimination of atomic and nuclear arms to preserve planet Earth, to save the human species. Total elimination of the weapons and responsible international controls are the only political solutions. After I failed with ten presidents, I welcomed the Obama initiative and the New Start Treaty with great enthusiasm. I still do. But they are only a beginning. There will be serious problems along the way. This analysis points to some of them.

A world with fewer nuclear weapons, or a world with no nuclear weapons, would enhance the military power of the United States. As the only superpower, the US spends as much on its military as all other nations combined. It has more than 1000 bases in 140 countries, and the capacity to deliver significant numbers of troops and equipment anywhere on Earth within 24 hours. No other nation can come close to matching such immediate power and those who might are not building a counterforce.

Instead, actual or potential rivals seek protection from the US colossus by arming themselves with nuclear weapons to deter a potential conventional, non-nuclear, attack by the American juggernaut. A world without nuclear weapons would increase the power of the US to intimidate or destroy its rivals without fear of nuclear retaliation.

That is one of the reasons why virtually all American military leaders, past and present, as well as experienced diplomats, support President Barack Obama's treaty with Russia that reduces the number of long-range nuclear weapons and provides for mutual inspection of arsenals. This agreement will make it easier to enforce the Non-Proliferation Treaty that discourages all nations and forbids other signatory nations from building their own nuclear weapons. These are important first steps toward a world without any nuclear weapons, steps that also affect the current balance of power between nations. It won't be easy to reach the goal of elimination, but humanity does have a plan, a plan approved by the military, the diplomats, and the moralist, a rare combination.

However, the endgame of no nuclear weapons will put the military control of the planet in the grasp of the US, a nation with only 5% of the human population obtaining military dominance over the other 95%. The only way this could be justified is to link it with the survival of the human species. It may be a choice all nations will have to accept. How long would US military dominance survive? If history is a guide, the other nations will unite to overcome US superpower. To prevent loss of hegemony, one would expect the US to resist the coalition of opponents before they unite.

There is another argument against the Obama scenario. There has not been a major war since 1945, perhaps because the major powers have nuclear weapons and the result would be mutual annihilation. If nuclear weapons were to be effectively outlawed and dropped from all arsenals, would the likelihood of non-nuclear war be increased? Would the absence of the nuclear weapons of mass destruction lead us back to our former habits, to the awful pattern of mass armies killing with pre-nuclear types of weapons? Would rejection of nuclear weapons require a total rejection of the use of force?

Is the human species capable of such a radical change in defying thousands of years of human history, misery and warfare? Don't be so quick to say no. The pace of human adaptation to change has quickened remarkably as more prompt adjustments are made to match changes in the environment and human understanding.


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