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Time for the West
to nuclear disarm



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

Comments directly to

October 18, 2006

LONDON - The saddle on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has more than slipped. It has become undone. For America to carry the world on this issue it has to become convincing. It has to demonstrate that what it is asking others to do it is also doing itself.

Public opinion in Europe certainly, but also in much of the rest of the world, seems to have an intuitive understanding that:

a) war over alleged nuclear weapons’ capability is hyprocrytical whilst the U.S. (and Britain and France) is so over-armed;

b) is doubly hypocritical given the West’s long tolerance (only relatively recently curtailed) of exporting the ingredients for making weapons of mass destruction;

c) is triply hypocritical given the blind eye it turned to Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds and Israel’s manufacture of a large nuclear arsenal.

There is also a further point, perhaps too sophisticated for the man or woman in the street - that neither Iran nor North Korea could have a logical purpose in actually using a nuclear weapon unless they had their back against the wall in the face of an overwhelming attack, and the only country that could actually make such an attack is the U.S..

America has no choice but to find a way to become credible again. Moreover, it has no choice but to look with a fresh eye at the arguments of the nuclear dissenters. Their main point is that by possessing nuclear weapons there is a risk that they will be used by accident or by a rogue commander. Their second argument is that nuclear deterrence is at best an unproved point. The Soviet Union never sought to intrude on Western territory and had no ambitions in that direction. In its own eyes Soviet nuclear weapons were developed only to match America’s.

The Indian/Pakistan confrontation also suggests deterrence does not work. Both sides have continued direct conventional fighting- in the Pakistan case using proxy guerrilla forces. Both sides seem prepared to risk nuclear war and have moved several times to the brink, By developing nuclear weapons both sides have given themselves more severe military and political problems than they had before.

The only two cases where arguably nuclear weapons appear to work as a deterrent are Israel’s vis a vis the Arab world and North Korea’s vis a vis the U.S. Yet Israel was effectively invulnerable to a major conventional attack before it became nuclear armed and its decision to pursue nuclear arms had the counterproductive effect of persuading Iraq and perhaps Iran to try to develop theirs. And North Korea is only in such a strong position because 50,000 American troops are deployed in an essentially static formation so close to its southern border.

The core argument of the nuclear disarmers is that the continued possession of nuclear weapons are unnecessary and therefore immoral. General George Lee Butler, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command (the man responsible for putting into action a president’s order to begin a nuclear attack), has concluded, “nuclear weapons are irrational devices. They were rationalised and accepted as a desperate measure in the face of circumstances that were unimaginable.”

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General Charles Horner, who was the allied forces’ commander in the first Gulf War, concludes that “the nuclear weapon is obsolete. Even for Israel, he agues if the military replied to a chemical Scud attack on Tel Aviv with nuclear weapons “they would lose all legitimacy as a nation. They’d be a pariah.” Indeed, if the U.S. used nuclear weapons, even a small one against an Iranian nuclear research bunker, America would effectively make itself an outcast for decades to come.

Yet against this passion is ranged popular inertia on one side and an extraordinarily deeply embedded culture of “nuclear deterrence” on the other. As the former West German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, has analysed it, "There is an enormous body of vested interests not only through lobbying in Washington and Moscow but through influence on intellectuals, on people who write books and articles in newspapers. It is very difficult as a reader or consumer of TV to distinguish by one’s own judgement what is led by these interests and what is led by rational conclusion.”

If ever there was a right moment to nuclear disarm this must be it. There is little real enmity between the old superpower rivals and indeed between both of them and up and coming China. Not since 1871-1913 has there been so little active hostility between the big powers. This must be the time to get a grip on the issue of big power nuclear disarmament, for without that there is simply no credibility when dealing with the would-be nuclear proliferators of the Third World.


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


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