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A new missile crisis?



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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June 2, 2008

LONDON - President Dmitry Medvedev is too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but if he’d talk to some of the oldies around like Georgi Arbatov, he’d learn how close a call it was. If President John F. Kennedy hadn’t surrounded himself with very cool and level headed people like his Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara, there could have been nuclear war. No wonder that Arbatov, a former foreign affairs advisor to Soviet leaders from Brezhnev to Gorbachev, calls for Russia to shame the U.S. into disarmament by unilaterally cutting its own rocket force.

Presidential aspirant John McCain is old enough to remember. Presumably this had something to do with his call last week for the U.S. to start talking to the Russians again about reducing their massive inventories of nuclear weapons. Yet by the light of fellow conservatives, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Paul Nitze and other prominent Cold War warriors, McCain's proposals were very mild. Last year in a joint article in the Wall Street Journal these hawks called for rapid nuclear disarmament to as near to zero as possible.

If the nuclear arms debate were ruled by reason rather than chest puffing machismo, disguised as national security, then the two nuclear heavyweights could move rapidly beyond the stalemate of the Clinton/Bush and Yelstin/ Putin years to make the world not only safer but save themselves a lot of money that could be spent on retraining the industrial sector’s workers displaced by globalisation, a marvellous force for change that brings the world closer together.

According to Joseph Cirincione, writing in the current issue of Foreign Policy, “If President George W. Bush’s requests are met the U.S. will spend more this year that it ever has on antiballistic missile defence - some $12 billion, or nearly three times what was spent in any year of the Cold War.

Bush justifies this enormous expenditure by positing the threats of Iran and North Korea. The truth is that there are fewer missiles, missile programmes and hostile states with missiles aimed at the U.S than there were 20 years ago. The number of long range missiles aimed by China and Russia has decreased by 70% since 1987. Most of the 28 countries that have ballistic missiles have only short range ones with a maximum range of 300 miles and they are growing older and less reliable by the day, thanks to a de facto Russian moratorium on selling new ones. Even the number of coutries trying to build their own is falling.

North Korea’s tests of long-range missiles have ended in failure. Besides it’s now engaged in striking a series of deals with the U.S. that could end up with its complete nuclear disarmament or at least its ability to produce more nuclear weapons. Iran also has more failures than successes with its long-range rocket programme. As for its nuclear bomb work, it may or may not exist. Remember Hans Blix’s wry remark concerning Saddam Hussein’s bomb: “Nobody can stop him putting up a sign ‘beware of the dog’ even if there is no dog.”

But if secluded North Korea can be persuaded by creative, meet us half way, diplomacy then surely Iran with its much more open minded, even pro American population, can be too.

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Diplomacy has destroyed far more missiles than interceptors ever will. The last American president who poured the greater part of his energies into nuclear disarmament was Ronald Reagan. It was highly fruitful. So was the work of his successor, the older George Bush. It led to Russia cutting its long-range rockets by half. And it completely got rid of all of Russia’s shorter range missiles. Negotiations convinced South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and later Libya to unwind their nuclear bomb programmes. Brazil now is engaged in a programme very similar to Iran’s to develop its capacity for uranium enrichment but nobody accuses it of wanting a bomb, even though with its advanced aeronautical industry it could manufacture an accurate missile to carry it in short time.

A John McCain presidency offers so little. But it is still unclear what a Democratic president would do. The American arsenal of 10,000 warheads, all far bigger than the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, needs to be cut very fast, unilaterally if necessary, shaming Moscow into following suit. The newly elected president need to use the likely Democratic congressional majority to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which, besides making it more difficult for the nuclear-have powers to upgrade their capabilities, would prevent non-nuclear weapons states from developing anything but the most primitive weapons.

This would start to breathe life into the near moribund Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty, which the nuclear-have powers have undermined by refusing to do what they ask other countries to do. Credibility should be at the centre of nuclear diplomacy, not a discredited afterthought.


Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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