“After I became an American citizen, the thing that stands out so clearly in my mind is the Reagan/Gorbachev summit at Reykjavik,” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said recently. “The leaders of the two most powerful nations on earth were actually discussing the elimination of nuclear weapons. Such a breathtaking possibility. I still remember the thrill of it.”
The occasion was a conference at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, led by the four authors of an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last January. It called for “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” as championed by Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavik, and its authors were George Shultz, Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan (Shultz was present at Reykjavik); William Perry, Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton; Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon; and former Senator Sam Nunn–four archbishops of the cold war nuclear priesthood, most of whom until now have dismissed the idea of nuclear abolition as undiscussably utopian and naïve. The four cited proliferation and the terrorist danger, and warned that the world is entering “a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically costly than Cold War deterrence.” Significantly, they invoked moral as well as practical reasons for their proposal, approvingly quoting Reagan’s opinion that nuclear weapons are “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.” The conference at Hoover was the second in a series convened to explore concrete pathways to the goal of abolition. The group will eventually publish a book and hold an international conference to present their findings.
As Schwarzenegger self-deprecatingly observed, he knows more about weight lifting than throw-weights; yet he went on to speak compellingly of the new nuclear dangers. (It is a perverse pleasure to be able to quote Schwarzenegger, Shultz, Kissinger, Perry, Nunn and Reagan approvingly in a single article in The Nation, which normally does not keep company of this kind. The hopeful aspect may be that in our fractious time there are still some issues that can recall us to our common humanity.) And not only former weight lifters and nuclear priests but anyone who reads a newspaper can see that nuclear dangers are spreading like the brush fires that were sweeping through Southern California as the conference met. The United States has, of course, got itself stuck in Iraq in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and facilities for making them, including nuclear ones. In Iran the government is racing to produce nuclear power fuels that, with a few extra touches, could become nuclear weapons materials. To halt this development, many inside and outside the Bush Administration have favored a military attack on Iran, though a recent National Intelligence Estimate has declared that while Iran once had an active nuclear weapons program, it was suspended in 2003.
The Pentagon has even developed plans for nuclear strikes against Iran as well as other possible proliferators. In nuclear-armed Pakistan, the state is in crisis and the danger is rising that some of its nuclear bombs or materials will fall into hands even more irresponsible than those currently holding them. A recent op-ed in the New York Times by liberal hawk Michael O’Hanlon and neoconservative Frederick Kagan suggested that the United States might intervene militarily in Pakistan. The mission would be to take control of the country’s nuclear arsenal and help “hold the country’s center.” (If, in a neoconservative dream-come-true, the United States assailed both Iran and Pakistan, it would be at war simultaneously in four contiguous Islamic countries: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.)