Cold War Thinking is Dangerous
by Peter G. Cohen
The people who brought you to the very cusp of nuclear war in the Cold War want the US to keep doing so. Well, some of them do. Others don’t. The American people need to think about this and insist on a solution. We should be moving past those insane risks toward a world that is sustainable, not just a bluff-and-hope flirtation with The End.
Claiming “Obama’s ‘nuclear zero’ rhetoric is dangerous,” four very distinguished defense experts have warned of the dangers of pursuing nuclear disarmament. In their March 29, 2013 opinion-editorial for The Washington Post, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, James Lyons and James Woolsey write that they believe that by saying U.S. policy is to create a world without nuclear weapons, Obama is emboldening our enemies and causing our friends to consider building their own nuclear weapons.
In fact, they believe that all efforts at reducing the nuclear threat and the missiles, planes and submarines to deliver them weaken the “nuclear umbrella” that reassures our allies of our readiness to provide a nuclear deterrent for their safety. Among others signatories of an open letter to President Obama, they urge that we “modernize all three legs of the Triad; ensure the safety and deterrent effectiveness of the weapons with which they are equipped; and restore the critical industrial base that supports these forces.”
The problem with the ideas of these Cold War Warriors is that they are attempting to apply the strategies of the past to the present without facing the profound changes that have taken place in the world. Here are just four changes or developments in the last 60 years or so that Feith and friends should consider, some of which are well noted by the other experienced insiders who advocate progress toward zero nuclear weapons (e.g. Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn, William J. Perry):
1. As China, Russia and many others have developed their own economies, our relative position in the world is declining. Our effort to maintain the world’s most expensive military in a time of national debt and a stagnant economy is exhausting our treasury and causing the neglect of urgently needed investments at home, a policy that threatens the future of the United States.
2. This is not 1950. The nations for which we provide a nuclear umbrella are now quite capable of developing their own regional defenses. Even with the best international cooperation, signing a nuclear weapons convention and achieving a nuke-free world will take decades to complete. This gives the “umbrella nations” adequate time to strengthen their conventional arms and build regional defense arrangements.
3. Climate change threatens the whole world with droughts, floods, fires, violent storms and rising seas. Maintaining the triad and rebuilding its weapons at huge cost will do nothing to calm climate change. The money, energy, science and construction required to maintain the triad indefinitely would be much better invested in alternative energy development and a hardened national transmission system to efficiently deliver the new energy to areas where it is needed.
4. We now know that even a relatively modest nuclear exchange would create a cloud of debris that would circle the Earth and distribute radioactive fallout around the world. The nations of the world are becoming aware of this threat and protesting the terrible risk to all life created by the nine nuclear weapons nations.
The world is not made more secure by maintaining any level of nuclear weapons. The U.S., with the world’s greatest conventional forces, is in the best position to lead the way toward nuclear abolition. By outlawing and reducing these weapons, we tell the world that we are concerned and working to preserve life on Earth. There is still a long way to go and many challenges to be overcome. As we negotiate the step-by-step process of a Nuclear Weapons Convention and their worldwide abolition, we free our energies and imagination from the sinful incineration of human beings to their preservation in a complex and changing world.