Stop at Start

Barry Blechman. New York Times, 18 February 2010.


Here’s how a global nuclear disarmament treaty could work. First, it would spell out a decades-long schedule for the verified destruction of all weapons, materials and facilities. Those possessing the largest arsenals — the United States and Russia — would make deep cuts first. Those with smaller arsenals would join at specified dates and levels. To ensure that no state gained an advantage, the treaty would incorporate “rest stops”: if a state refused to comply with a scheduled measure, other nations’ reductions would be suspended until the violation was corrected. This dynamic would generate momentum, but also ensure that if the effort collapsed, the signatories would be no less secure than before.

Editor’s Comment:
There is something missing in this measured disarmament scheme which invalidates it as a path to full nuclear disarmament. Blechman makes an erroneous assumption shared by too many nuclear disarmament advocates. He assumes that nuclear weapons are a class of weapons that can be dealt with in isolation from the problems of international security and insecurity. Nuclear weapons cannot be separated strategically from the context of the conventional military power they supplement.

Note the following phrase in the above excerpt from Blechman: “To ensure that no state gained an advantage…” His prescription applies only to nuclear weapons and presumes no adjustments to conventional military power. In those conditions some states stand to gain considerable advantage from nuclear disarmament.

Imagine the case of Russia in Blechman’s staged draw down of nuclear forces with the U.S. As Russia approaches zero nuclear weapons they become more and more vulnerable to superior U.S. conventional military power.

Without parallel and compensatory reductions and adjustments in conventional forces and strong political assurances weaker nations such as Russia will never agree to give up all their nuclear weapons.

Careful schemes of balanced nuclear weapons disarmament of the type that Blechman argues for cannot by themselves get us to zero nuclear weapons. Compensating for the national insecurities arising from imbalances in conventional military power must be part of any formula for full nuclear disarmament. We need to work toward an international security regime that delivers the reassurance of fifty years without international aggression and military intervention. After that period of peace nuclear nations might be ready to go to zero.

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