The hurry to get rid of big power nuclear arms
Associate since 1991
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November 26, 2008
LONDON - For readers under 35 this will probably be news: from the time of President Richard Nixon to the end of the presidency of George W. Bush the consuming, most visible, foreign policy passion of successive governments, including both Democratic and Republican, was nuclear arms control - attempts, sometimes successful, for modest mutual cuts in nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But since the days of President Bill Clinton the passion has totally ebbed.
Apart from the fact this is not a good reason to make such an intimate Clintonite as Hilary Clinton secretary of state, it also reflects a lethargy among the big nuclear powers, the U.S., Russia, the U.K, France and China, that comes to us all when passion dies and routine takes over. The Cold War is dead and out. And whatever the clashes today between the West and Russia - over Georgia or the planting of American anti-ballistic missiles on Polish soil - everyone knows that with Russia with a military which is now only 25% the strength of America's there can be no real conflict.
But voters aged 18-35, even if the past arms control efforts are a very hazy memory, are aware that nuclear arms are spreading - to Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and possibly free-lance terrorist groups. What enough of them don't realize is that the leverage and moral conviction to do much about it has been subverted by the loss of momentum of the big powers to honour promises made many times to abolish their nuclear arms.
Going back to the olden days, in successive U.S. and Soviet administrations there used to be a group of tough, hard, men in charge of defence and foreign ministries or foreign policy advisors to their heads of government. A group of them on the American side last year wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal calling for the total abolition of nuclear weapons - they were Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn. Their letter was later endorsed by no less than two-thirds of all living former secretaries of state and defence, and national security advisors. At about the same time, Georgi Arbatov, a former senior advisor to Soviet presidents Brezhnev, Andropov and Gorbachev was telling me that Russia should set an example and begin to disarm unilaterally.
Perhaps most telling of all, during the presidential campaign both John McCain and Barack Obama said more or less the same thing.
The elimination of nuclear weapons is called for in Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Presidents Bush Sr and Gorbachev made a credible start on this path. Since 1990, with little fanfare, the number of Russia nuclear warheads on intercontinental missiles has been cut by almost 70%. And on the U.S. side, the largest part of the U.S. force - weapons deployed on submarines - has been cut by 50%.
During Barack Obama's term the two treaties on U.S-Russian strategic arms limitations will expire. This then is the time to put negotiations towards zero possession into overdrive. There is no reason, as in the previous treaties, to dot every "i". Flexibility should be the watchword. Let both sides be left with the choice which strategic long distance missiles should be reduced first. Then they will not have to engage in the time consuming detailed negotiations of the past. It boils down to being serious about setting an example for non-proliferation and lining up the most powerful nations on earth to really enforce it. Time is not on our side.
In an article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Columbia University professor, Stephen Sestanovich observes that, ”Many U.S. foreign policy specialists look at the return of nuclear arms control with a mixture of boredom and regret. Most stopped viewing Russia as an interesting security problem years ago. In the military, Russian issues are no longer where the promotions are.”
This is not good news if it means that the likes of a reticent secretary state Hillary Clinton is not going to be pushed from within the administration. Barack Obama needs to bring into his administration a special arms control negotiator - someone of the caliber and status of Sam Nunn, former chairman of the senate's armed services committee or former Republican secretary of state, James Baker, reporting only and directly to the president and Congress. The Russians should do something similar, perhaps using Georgi Arbatov in a key role. And these wise men should be encouraged to negotiate fast.
Copyright © 2008 Jonathan
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