July 21, 2015

Another Excerpt From "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors And Their Quest To Ban The Bomb"

Related: PONI Live Debate: Global Zero + An Excerpt From "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors And Their Quest To Ban The Bomb."

An excerpt from, "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors And Their Quest To Ban The Bomb" by Philip Taubman:
The new look of weapons modernization work at Los Alamos is just one example of the kind of fundamental change that will be required to move the world toward nuclear disarmament. As Shultz, Kissinger, Perry, Nunn, and Drell well know, an imposing array of political, diplomatic, and technological forces must be favorably aligned---perhaps perfectly aligned---to reach the goal of abolition. Even if one sets aside some related international problems---such as the need to resolve intractable regional conflicts between India and Pakistan or between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East---the odds against global nuclear disarmament are formidable. President Obama acknowledged as much during his 2009 appearance in Prague when he said the goal might not be reached in his lifetime.

Considering the forty-one-year age difference between Barack Obama and George Shultz, it is easy to understand why Shultz and his partners have a more compressed time frame in mind. They are impatient to move ahead and are working with a sense of urgency on numerous fronts to advance their campaign. As Sam Nunn said, "You can repeat until you turn blue in the face that we want to move towards a world without nuclear weapons, but if you don't have some real accomplishments, and if you don't get some things done, you're not going to move very fast, if at all."

One of the issues they have studied is reconstitution, the notion that in a nuclear-free world the United States and other countries could maintain the expertise, equipment, and materials needed to build new nuclear weapons if faced with an unforeseen nuclear threat. At first blush, reconstitution seems a nuclear double cross to pure abolitionists. If weapons are to be eliminated, so too should the means to make them. But that outcome is unrealistic. The knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons cannot be eradicated. The next best outcome, many experts believe, is to let nations maintain the ability to produce new weapons so that they will not be left helpless if a rogue country goes nuclear at some point.

It is a provocative idea, but one with obvious appeal to realists like Shultz and his colleagues who want to eliminate nuclear weapons in a responsible way that does not leave the United States vulnerable to unpredictable future enemies.

The idea was championed by Jonathan Schell in The Abolition, published in 1984. He wrote: "As reductions continued, the capacity for retaliation would consist less and less of the possession of weapons and more and more of the capacity for rebuilding them, until, at the level of zero, that capacity would be all. Indeed, the more closely we look at the zero point the less of a watershed it seems to be. Examined in detail, it reveals a wide range of alternatives, in which the key issue is no longer the number of weapons in existence but the extent of the capacity and the level of readiness for building more."

The idea is back in vogue today, thanks in part to the work of Shultz, Kissinger, Perry, Nunn, and Drell. Indeed, they have gathered together some of the best minds in the field to study the issue in depth and organized a workshop on related technical issues in 2011.

Reconstitution could come in various forms. Schell initially proposed keeping a bank of bomb-grade materials available so that weapons could be quickly built. Michael O'Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, favors pushing the startling line further back to a world where the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium has stopped and stocks have eliminated. Drell and other scientists propose keeping weapons laboratories in operation and a highly skilled workforce in place that can restart the bomb-building process. Some scientists at Los Alamos said continual design work on new warheads is necessary to retain top-flight engineers, but others disagree.

Reconstitution is just one of many issues Shultz and his partners are working on as they try to advance their disarmament initiative. The array of topics provides a good guide to the multiple barriers impeding passage to zero. In the diplomatic arena, Russian resistance to further arms reductions has to be overcome before global negotiations about eliminating nuclear weapons can commence. That will require creative American diplomacy with the Kremlin on a broad array of security issues. In the area of defense policy, the greatest obstacle to abolition is overcoming an entrenched Cold War mind-set in Washington that sees nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence as indispensable elements of national security. And in the technological realm, there are myriad challenges, such as coming up with ways to verify that nations that say they are going to give up their weapons actually do so and that a clandestine effort to rearm---known in the zero-nukes lexicon as a breakout---can be detected. As the work at Los Alamos suggests, the science of maintaining weapons is demanding and will only become more so during a drawdown of arms that may take decades to complete.

It is a daunting list, and covers only some of the matters that must be resolved if the world is to be free of nuclear arms. No wonder Nunn and his partners talk about creating a base camp partway to the summit they seek to conquer, a place where the world can regroup and prepare for the final ascent. As of early 2012, as this book is published, the summit is visible in the far distance, but barely.

Still, there is reason to be encouraged. When the five men take stock of what has happened since their first Wall Street Journal article in 2007, they see significant advances, far beyond their expectations. "I think the progress is astonishing," Shultz said in early 2011.

They have made surprising headway. Their greatest accomplishment is the wave of renewed interest in nuclear disarmament generated by their Journal op-ed and subsequent proselytizing. Government rhetoric so far has outdistanced government action, but garnering the support of President Obama and other world leaders, including the unanimous 2009 UN Security Council resolution endorsing the elimination of nuclear weapons, was no small achievement."[Source: Taubman, Philip. 2012. "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors And Their Quest To Ban The Bomb," Pg. 361-64. HarperCollinsPublishers: New York].