Wednesday, February 20, 2008

FOCUS: A world free of nuclear weapons -- a dream?

Kyodo World Service
Feb 18, 2008

Can we make a world free of nuclear weapons?

If you are involved in shaping security policy, you would say, ''Unfortunately no. The world is not such an easy place.''

And you can explain why the United States and other powers need nuclear weapons to deter rogue nations, such as Iran and North Korea, and hostile nations like China and Russia, and to attack al-Qaida's underground headquarters.

''They are all wrong,'' 87-year-old George Shultz, architect of the Ronald Reagan administration's foreign policy, said in a recent interview. ''These weapons come to be unusable by civilized people and with the spread of nuclear weapons and the threat of them falling into the hands of terrorists, I think the concept of deterrence deteriorates.''

One year ago, Shultz, along with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sum Nunn, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, ''A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,'' and proposed to the U.S. president and leaders of other nuclear weapon countries ''setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal.''

What made Shultz, Reagan's secretary of state and the mastermind of the U.S. Cold War policies, and other Cold War warriors advocate a nuclear free world? Have they become peaceniks in their older years?

''It's something that I have felt was desirable for a long time,'' Shultz said at his home in the penthouse of a San Francisco high-rise apartment building. When Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev, then general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1987, making a world free of nuclear weapons was put on the table and ''those two leaders fundamentally agreed that was a good idea.''

But of course at that time there was a very negative reaction from militaries in both countries. They argued that nuclear weapons were the key to mutual deterrence. ''The subject has kind of languished. It's fallen off the table,'' Shultz said.

Shultz said he thinks nuclear weapons are ''immoral.'' Even in the Cold War when mutual deterrence was believed to have prevented the United States and the Soviet Union from going to war, Shultz said nuclear weapons made him feel uneasy.

He posed the question, ''What would I say to the president if I were in his office and he asked me my advice in using a nuclear weapon, knowing that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people are killed and who thinks they are in position to make that kind of decision?''

Shultz and his friends revitalized the idea of abolishing nuclear weapons and proposed concrete steps on the 20th anniversary of the Reykjavik summit. The spread of nuclear weapon technology to Iran and North Korea forced them to recognize the urgency of the proposal.

With increasing worries about global warming, the idea of expanding nuclear power has been embraced by many countries, but ''if you can enrich the uranium for a power plant, you can enrich it for a weapon. When you get through with the spent fuel, it's reprocessed and becomes plutonium and that's a basis of a bomb,'' Shultz said.

Some U.S. security experts argued that the proposal risks compromising the value that nuclear weapons continue to contribute to U.S. security and international stability. Shultz simply said, ''There is plenty of power,'' meaning nonnuclear weapons, and if you wanted to use it, you could do severe deterrent-type damage. He asked people believing in nuclear weapons, ''Would you really lay a nuclear weapon into North Korea and wipe out Pyongyang?''

So what can we do to deter North Korea and Iran, which are said to aspire to having nuclear weapons? Shultz said that the best option is to ''change the scene so that having a nuclear weapon is a problem for countries, not a boon to them...the nuclear club should be abolished and anybody who has a nuclear weapon is the enemy of mankind, so let's get rid of them.''

He said if the international community starts moving toward abolishing nuclear weapons, then it can strongly tell countries to give them up.

President George W. Bush's administration seems to have a different idea. In 2002 it released ''Nuclear Posture Review,'' which reiterated the nuclear deterrence and called for new types of small and penetrating nuclear weapons.

''That's the way you get proliferation. I disagree,'' Shultz said.

Another disagreement concerns the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Bush administration and the Republican Party oppose ratification of the treaty on the grounds that it cannot verify other countries' secret nuclear testing. But Shultz said, ''The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a good treaty. We should ratify it.''

After one year of discussion, Shultz and his group contributed another article on the same subject to the Wall Street Journal last month and disclosed that Madeline Albright, James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Christopher, Robert McNamara and Collin Powell indicated general support.

Gorbachev wrote his own essay in the Journal and said, ''It is becoming clearer that nuclear weapons are no longer a means of achieving security; in fact, with every passing year they make our security more precarious.''

Joseph Cirincione, director of nuclear policy of the Center for American Progress, said, ''People with such a long history of support for nuclear weapons are now declaring not only that we should reduce nuclear stockpiles but actually eliminate them. This is stunning, a dramatic change of the elite's opinion in the U.S.''

But we cannot know when ''a world free of nuclear weapons'' might become a reality. Shultz likened the question to his experience in the construction industry. Overlooking San Francisco Bay, Shultz said, when somebody tells you to build a bridge across the bay here, that's a hard problem. But ''if you work at it continuously, it turns out you can produce (the bridge),'' he said. ''It's attitude.''

Shultz also had thoughts about recent discussions in Japan that the country should possibly possess nuclear weapons.

A world free of nuclear weapons ''would mean a world with less military force. So that would be an environment in which the Japanese would feel very comfortable,'' he said, adding, ''Japan has to think about its demography. Japan's labor force is shrinking, so the more you spend on the military, the less you can spend on your standard of living.''


There is no question from a moral perspective (i.e traditional morality per the Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis) that nuclear weapons are inherently evil. They are incapable of differentiating between innocent non-combatants and armed enemy forces. This of course assumes that it is still possible in light of the incredibly indiscriminate and destructive nature of modern conventional warfare to participate in a "just war" in which a nation (as a last resort) is forced to defend itself against unjust offensive aggression. Clearly some high-tech conventional weaponry is also immoral for similar reasons. I reserve that discusion for another day.

Given that it is always and everywhere wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings, nuclear weapons by their very nature (both strategic and tactical) must be ruled out on categorical grounds; i.e. they are morally illicit even as part of a just war in which the innocent party has only mounted a defense against aggression. That being the case, all the original nuclear weapons states (NWS's) should proceed with their NPT promised agreement to progressively disarm (which of course includes the United States). This undoubtedly would require great courage and political leadership but the moral case is not at all difficult to make.

--Dr. J. P. Hubert