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Web Letter

Jonathan Schell's excellent piece underscores the importance of having bold leaders willing to address the menace posed by nuclear weapons. Indeed, the past seven years have shown that lesson in reverse.

Instead of finally dumping the successor programs to President Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative that limped through two subsequent presidencies, the current Bush Administration revived them with zeal. Its decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and push ahead with ballistic missile defenses has brought US-Russian relations to their lowest point since the end of the cold war.

The Bush Administration has similarly refused to extend a treaty made under his father's presidency that verifiably reduced US and Russian nuclear arsenals, or to de-alert the thousands of nuclear warheads that still stand ready to be launched at a moment's notice. To the contrary, it has actually moved in the opposite direction and is pushing for the development of a new generation of nuclear warheads.

Schell's call for nuclear abolition is an urgent one that needs to be heard. The question now is whether current and future leaders are listening.

Jeff Lindemyer

Washington, DC

Mar 4 2008 - 9:54pm

Web Letter

President Bush’s recent efforts at international diplomacy will, of course, face continuing criticism about being too little, too late. But perhaps there is still time for some wins, maybe smaller than a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, but larger than riding the crest of the Baghdad surge? How about a peace treaty with North Korea, for instance?

Pressing questions remain regarding past failures in US-North Korean relations and current difficulties in the episodic Six-Party Talks. The most recent cycle dates from the February 2007 agreement followed by the December 2007 North Korean failure to follow through in its disclosures. To observers of Northeast Asian security issues, this follows the predictable pattern that would be tragicomic, if the threats of the proliferation of fissile materials and transfer of nuclear technology in our post-9/11 world were not so horrible to contemplate (see Harvard professor Graham Allison's book Nuclear Terrorism, which makes the case for a reasonable policy approach for preventing catastrophe; see the reports of the Israel bombing of an alleged North Korean supported Syrian reactor for an alternative approach). Given the on-again, off-again nature of US efforts, going back to the 1994 Agreed Framework, not to mention the immediate post-Korean War Panmunjon negotiations (both of which, after all, were intended as a frameworks for future negotiations)--are there real options for the next administration that offer an escape from current cycle; in other words, is the time right for an innovative, businesslike initiative?

Newly elected South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is a former Hyundai CEO with a reputation as a hardliner and pragmatist. Many remark (too often, perhaps) that it took hard-line, anti-communist Richard Nixon to make peace with Red China. Does the election of a business-experienced South Korean leader open a window of opportunity for a significant and substantial Korean peace accord?

Time to consider a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War and normalize US-North Korean relations? As in all effective grand strategy, can we imagine reinventing the US approach by starting with the large ends in mind--to sign a treaty and, finally, officially end the war? After the treaty is signed, the six major players in Northeast Asia should continue the evolutionary and necessarily long-term processes of building an institutional foundation for broader security arrangements through a series of incremental steps. Do we have diplomats who can concentrate on such a large-scale enterprise, and will we have a President who can provide the necessary strategic leadership?

At this point, after many honest attempts to improve the regional situation through the Six-Party Talks, time is probably too limited for the Bush Administration to set the necessary conditions for an historic transformation to US geopolitical relations in the one place where stable, near-term economic and security relations are most relevant and attainable. For the next administration to improve the chances for success in establishing a stable order in Northeast Asia, the US will have to play the leading role and not expect China, Japan or even South Korea to do the heavy lifting for us. How about a peace treaty for the Koreas as a performance objective for the next administration’s Department of State? And, for timely project management, let’s set a target date for a signing ceremony in, say, October 2010.

Joseph R. Cerami

College Station, TX

Jan 19 2008 - 12:33pm

Web Letter

Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and it is fitting that the subject under discussion is the "major" weapon the emerged from World War II. This is an excellent overview of the nuclear weapons debate, and the Reagan/Gorbachev approaches toward their elimination. As a minor participant in the "cold war," I suppose I belong to the deterrence--and Mutually Assured Destruction--school of preventing nuclear war, the policy that prevented me from hearing a shot fired in anger throughout my military service. Since SDI has never worked, I would credit these concepts with saving the world from nuclear annihilation.

In recent remarks, Israeli Defense Minister Barak promised the Israel people that, in a year or two, an SDI system would be in place that would provide 90 percent protection from a missile attack. For a small country like Israel, 10 percent of the missiles getting though might mean total destruction. SDI may have proved to be too expensive for the Soviet Union, but it has also been a budget buster for the US. that has shown no real value. It has even less value for Israel.

Deterrence and containment was working with Saddam and Iraq before we invaded that country. We didn't need to go to war, which was one of the reasons I opposed it. I learned some lessons from the "cold war."

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Dec 7 2007 - 5:48pm