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Gone Nuclear: How the World Lost Its Way | The Nation

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Gone Nuclear: How the World Lost Its Way

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The Risk of Nuclear Anarchy

About the Author

George Perkovich
George Perkovich is Vice-President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and is the author of...
Randall Caroline Forsberg
Randall Caroline Forsberg is Ann and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York....
Mary Kaldor
Mary Kaldor is professor and director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of...
Richard Falk
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human...

Also by the Author

A DECADE after the end of the cold war, the peril of nuclear destruction
is mounting. The great powers have refused to give up nuclear arms,
other countries are producing them and terrorist groups are trying to
acquire them.

POORLY GUARDED warheads and nuclear material in the former Soviet Union
may fall into the hands of terrorists. The Bush Administration is
developing nuclear "bunker busters" and threatening to use them against
nonnuclear countries. The risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan
is grave.

DESPITE THE END of the cold war, the United States plans to keep large
numbers of nuclear weapons indefinitely. The latest US-Russian treaty,
which will cut deployed strategic warheads to 2,200, leaves both nations
facing "assured destruction" and lets them keep total arsenals (active
and inactive, strategic and tactical) of more than 10,000 warheads each.

THE DANGERS POSED by huge arsenals, threats of use, proliferation and
terrorism are linked: The nuclear powers' refusal to disarm fuels
proliferation, and proliferation makes nuclear materials more accessible
to terrorists.

THE EVENTS of September 11 brought home to Americans what it means to
experience a catastrophic attack. Yet the horrifying losses that day
were only a fraction of what any nation would suffer if a single nuclear
weapon were used on a city.

THE DRIFT TOWARD catastrophe must be reversed. Safety from nuclear
destruction must be our goal. We can reach it only by reducing and then
eliminating nuclear arms under binding agreements.

WE THEREFORE CALL ON THE UNITED STATES AND RUSSIA TO FULFILL THEIR
COMMITMENTS UNDER THE NONPROLIFERATION TREATY TO MOVE TOGETHER WITH THE
OTHER NUCLEAR POWERS, STEP BY CAREFULLY INSPECTED AND VERIFIED STEP, TO
THE ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. AS KEY STEPS TOWARD THIS GOAL, WE CALL
ON THE UNITED STATES TO:

§  RENOUNCE the first use of nuclear weapons.

§  Permanently END the development, testing and production of nuclear warheads.

§  SEEK AGREEMENT with Russia on the mutual and verified destruction of nuclear weapons withdrawn under treaties, and increase the resources available here and in the former Soviet Union to secure nuclear warheads and material and to implement destruction.

§  STRENGTHEN nonproliferation efforts by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, finalizing a missile ban in North Korea, supporting UN inspections in Iraq, locating and reducing fissile material worldwide and negotiating a ban on its production.

§  TAKE nuclear weapons off hairtrigger alert in concert with the other nuclear powers (the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel) in order to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized use.

§  INITIATE talks on further nuclear cuts, beginning with US and Russian reductions to 1,000 warheads each.

TO SIGN THE STATEMENT, GO TO URGENTCALL.ORG OR SEND NAME,
ORGANIZATION/PROFESSION (FOR ID ONLY) AND CONTACT INFORMATION TO URGENT
CALL, C/O FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM, 11 DUPONT CIRCLE NW, 9TH FLOOR,
WASHINGTON, DC 20036. WE NEED TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS, MADE TO URGENT
CALL, TO DISSEMINATE THIS CALL. PLEASE MAIL TO THE SAME ADDRESS.

THIS CALL WAS DRAFTED BY JONATHAN SCHELL, THE HAROLD WILLENS PEACE
FELLOW OF THE NATION INSTITUTE AND THE AUTHOR OF THE FATE OF THE
EARTH
; RANDALL CAROLINE (RANDY) FORSBERG, DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE
FOR DEFENSE AND DISARMAMENT STUDIES AND AUTHOR OF THE "CALL TO HALT THE
NUCLEAR ARMS RACE," THE MANIFESTO OF THE 1980s NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREEZE
CAMPAIGN; AND DAVID CORTRIGHT, PRESIDENT OF THE FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM AND
FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SANE.

Also by the Author

We must contain terror and protect its victims through extending human rights law.

New types of violence are on the rise, and the only exit route is political.

Also by the Author

By ignoring the UN Security Council resolution’s mandate authorizing intervention, NATO may have destroyed the prospects for future legitimate uses of the principle of “responsibility to protect.”

If both sides embrace the fragile cease-fire with leaps of imagination and faith, Israelis and Palestinians could chart an escape route from the inferno.

To head it off, we need leaders with the vision and the political will to put nuclear disarmament back on the world's agenda.

GEORGE PERKOVICH

Three factors produced the hopeful moment of Reykjavik. The United States and the Soviet Union recognized the reciprocal devastation they could impose on each other, and with the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, both were tiring of global military adventures. The leaders of both countries morally understood that nuclear weapons blighted civilization and were problems to be gotten rid of rather than solutions to be brandished. And third, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were change-minded leaders who applied their boldness to the goal of eliminating nuclear dangers.

None of these three factors operates today.

The United States now sees itself as the global hegemon. Its national security establishment seeks to project dominant military power in order to prevent a peer competitor or a coalition of powers from rising to balance US power. Leaders in Washington and, indeed, Moscow, Paris, Beijing, Tel Aviv, Islamabad, Pyongyang and perhaps other capitals see their nuclear arsenals more as valued assets than as problems to be eliminated, and they resist moral questioning of this position. And, with the exception of George Bush and Tony Blair in their campaign to disarm and liberate Iraq, leaders of nuclear powers have for years lacked strength, vision and boldness.

Reagan also displayed an optimism that is now largely absent from post-Iraq America and from other major powers. Perhaps a consummation of the Reykjavik proposal would have given birth to a more optimistic future, and the nuclear pessimism of our day would have become the dismal fantasy of airport bookstand novelists rather than the agate gloom of daily headlines. But great disparities in power and prestige, unregulated by universally enforced rules, motivate the disadvantaged to seek the magic balancing potential of nuclear weapons.

The vast majority of the world's states do not possess nuclear weapons and cannot match the military, economic and political power of the nine states that do (though two of the nine--North Korea and Pakistan--are hardly major powers). Yet without universal rules to govern the international system, even nuclear weapons states will find security difficult to obtain. A rule-based system cannot be sustained globally without the vast majority of states believing that voluntary adherence to international rules and obligations is mutually beneficial and that rules will be fairly enforced.

This leads back to the disarmament bargain on which the nonproliferation regime was founded in the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. The states that did not then possess nuclear weapons agreed not to acquire such weapons, while the five that did--Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and the United States--agreed in return to get rid of their nuclear arsenals at some undetermined time. The five pre-1967 nuclear weapons states plus Israel, India and Pakistan (which never signed the treaty) no longer fool anyone that they take disarmament seriously. The United States leads the pack in still refusing to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which is the most basic benchmark of fidelity to the goal of nuclear abolition.

Instead of keeping bargains premised on international equity and universal standards, Washington prefers to eliminate bad governments and bend the rules for friendly ones. Iraq was invaded, Iran is vilified, North Korea eschewed for not complying with nonproliferation rules, but the Bush Administration did not hesitate to change those rules to accommodate India's nuclear arsenal and may do so with other friends in the future. Russia neither resists nor poses alternatives to US nonproliferation policy; it simply doesn't help much. Iran may get the bomb because Russia won't support Security Council diplomacy tough enough to pose real costs to the Iranian government, and the United States will not offer Iran a relationship that would change its calculation about its nuclear program. The mere prospect of an Iranian bomb in turn has prompted Egypt to announce a big civilian nuclear program; Turkey is making similar noises. North Korea's bomb, plus the rise of Chinese power and disillusion about the future of cooperative security, may lead Japan and South Korea to flirt with acquiring nuclear weapons. Brazil is going into the uranium enrichment business, which Argentina notes with interest.

None of these potential next-wave proliferators would pose a direct threat to the United States, but such proliferation would cause deep and wide-ranging international insecurity. The United States would have to step in to try to reorder the world and allay the insecurities that result from more proliferation. Yet most other countries would be reluctant to cooperate either in punishing or containing the proliferators or in improving nuclear technology rules. They would want to know what's in it for them.

If the United States, Russia and other countries with nuclear weapons were not offering some meaningful equity, the system of rules would give way to the unpredictability, cost and insecurity of nuclear anarchy. It is this prospect that should lead us to put nuclear disarmament back on the world's political agenda today.

Maybe disarmament is not the equity others will demand now, but until leaders with the attributes of Gorbachev and Reagan arise to begin international negotiations to replace the existing disarmament bargain, the risk of nuclear proliferation will grow. Nuclear threats cannot be diminished without the vision and political will that the Reykjavik leaders shared.

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