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This is the exact moment to
start total nuclear disarmament



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

Comments directly to

April 1, 2010

During the height of the Cold War it was commonly said that the science of war had now advanced to the point where it could threaten, if not the whole planet, certainly whole societies.

The new nuclear arms accord between Russia and the U.S. has not changed that. Nuclear arms are still plentiful. The cuts agreed are only on strategic, long range, super armed rockets. Smaller missiles, so called battlefield nukes, are still deployed in their thousands, mainly in Europe and aboard surface ships. (Even anti-nuclear countries like Sweden and Japan harboured them during the Cold War.)

The only place to be is zero. Only that would give the U.S., Europe and Russia the credibility to persuade Iran, North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel to forsake theirs. This is the conclusion of such Cold War warriors as former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft and General George Lee Butler, former head of the military's Strategic Service, the man responsible for putting into action a president's order to launch a nuclear attack, and generals on both sides of the Atlantic almost too many to count.

How hard it is to change the thinking of most people. Watch the forthcoming debate in the U.S. Senate where this new treaty will have to be ratified. It will be an uphill fight with many senators speaking as if the Cold War is alive and well. Nuclear weapons are buried in the American psyche. Even that most pacific of presidents, Jimmy Carter, who prides himself that America never went to war on his watch, wrote in the current issue of Foreign Policy, discussing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, "I informed the Soviets that any further aggression would be construed as a direct threat to our nation's security and I would respond accordingly, not necessarily limiting ourselves to the use of conventional weapons."

No wonder that the arms control community called the nuclear deterrent theory MAD- mutual assured destruction. It was, except for one thing - it didn't work. Deterrence was a myth.

As General Butler has written, "[Deterrence] is fatally floored as logic in two respects. First and foremost deterrence required that you make yourself effectively invulnerable to an enemy's attack. In the nuclear age, the requirements are especially high because the consequences of even one nuclear bomb slipping through your defences would be catastrophic. Yet your perfect invulnerability would spell perfect vulnerability for your opponent, which of course he cannot accept. Consequently any balance struck is extremely unstable and each side has to build larger and larger arsenals and to discover more and more elegant technologies. Yet these never strike the desired balance either - the second logical flaw - because in the history of warfare from which nuclear war is not immune, neither the offence nor the defence has ever remained dominant for a significant period."

The former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in an interview with Jonathan Schell in Nation magazine, recalled that "When I was trained in the use of the nuclear button I was briefed about the situation in which I would be told of an attack from one direction, and then, during these very minutes, that another nuclear offensive is coming from another direction. And I am supposed to make decisions!" - Gorbachev laughed. "Nevertheless, I never actually pushed the button". And when Schell pressed him on the most difficult of all questions, "Would you have given the order to use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack?" he replied, "Well, let me tell you right off that this did not concern me, not because I lacked the will or the power, but because I was sure that the people in the White House weren't idiots."

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The chance of nuclear war between the two great powers is over. As Medvedev said in his last conversation with Obama during the sticky final bit of the negotiations, "We are friends aren't we?" And who can deny that on the very important issues and everyday relations they are.

The Russians, to give them credit, relatively recently unilaterally reduced a number of their strategic nuclear weapons. The UK and France are planning to. Under George H.W. Bush senior the U.S. made unilateral cuts in battlefield weapons which the Soviet Union quickly followed. George Bush junior advanced negotiating techniques when he told President Vladimir Putin he just wanted an understanding written on one side of paper that each side would put 1000 or so nuclear weapons on the shelf. Then ratification by obstreperous legislatures could be avoided.

Soon the two presidents are going to announce the next step in their nuclear negotiations. They should simply take a leaf out of the two Bushes' book - a good dose of unilateral disarmament combined with negotiations that retire weapons to the shelf.

Now Obama and Medvedev have the momentum they need to flow with it.


© Jonathan Power 2010


Copyright © 2010 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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