New York Times Editorial

On Sunday February 28th the  New York Time’s published a must read article  on nuclear weapons policy (Click Here for Article) which outlines with great clarity the issues involved and useful ideas for a forward looking American national security policy.  The next day the same paper had a detailed report by David Sanger and Thom Shanker, “White House is Rethinking Nuclear Policy”(March 1, 2009) which is also worth our readers attention for its inside look at the debate on nuclear issues within the Obama administration.

In reading these items I was reminded about just how far back we have been engaged in the debate about nuclear weapons.  While that debate started with the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, one of the most telling comments about this policy was made by former defense secretary Robert S. McNamara, in his 1986 book, “Blundering into Disaster.” He called for a major overhaul of our flawed view of these weapons. He said to look at them not at all as weapons but as having “no military use whatsoever” except as deterrence.  He stated that major reductions in nuclear weapons were not only feasible but required for the safety of mankind. His call then was given attention among experts who shared his perspective, but largely ignored by some subsequent administrations.  His views however are now reflected by growing number of experts.  Former defense Secretaries, both Democrats and Republicans, now say the same thing and argue for reductions towards zero or close thereto.

Some in the Defense Department today seem to be arguing for larger forces than are necessary or required, and for a greater range of use than is prudent or even rational as they did during the cold war, not calculating what Russia (and other states) would likely do in response.  They miscalculated then and the arms race continued.

Thankfully wiser heads did achieve some real progress over time in both reducing nuclear weapons deployed and in developing an arms control framework.  It gave us treaties and institutions like the IAEA, the START and SALT treaties, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and not least the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In the last decade this approach was in large part dismantled or ignored, yet we are now again forging a path along the lines that McNamara and others envisioned towards some measure of increased security stability, and verification for all sides.

Yet the continued debate and the advocates for bigger and more weapons continue their campaign that leads towards a more not less dangerous
world.   This all sounds like “deja vu” all over again given the present
dilatory and disingenuous advocacy by some right wingers for ever more of these useless weapons at the expense of real security.

McNamara, cited a navy study of 1958-59 that proposed an invulnerable retaliatory force of just some 464 warheads. He cited the Navy’s words for this sized force thus: “an objective of generous adequacy for deterrence alone, not the false goal of adequacy for ‘winning.'”
McNamara also noted that other powers would need to be engaged in the process of reducing nuclear arsenals lest their weapons disturb the
strategic equilibrium.

This is a clear argument for the U.S. and Russia to proceed with the agreement on the follow-on to START, and then continue to move towards greater reductions which would help resurrect the Non-Proliferation Treaty and non-proliferation in general. It supports the rationale for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and reduction of many expensive and destabilizing weapons systems. It would move us all towards a defense posture that is relevant for the 21st century and less dangerous for the entire world.

Harry C. Blaney III
Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy (Foreign Service Officer (Ret.)

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