Obama: Rid World of Nuclear Weapons (Updated)

Barack Obama has a plan to solve the nuclear issues in Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere: have everyone get rid of their nukes.

Senator Barack Obama will propose on Tuesday setting a goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons in the world, saying the United States should greatly reduce its stockpiles to lower the threat of nuclear terrorism, aides say. In a speech at DePaul University in Chicago, Mr. Obama will add his voice to a plan endorsed earlier this year by a bipartisan group of former government officials from the cold war era who say the United States must begin building a global consensus to reverse a reliance on nuclear weapons that have become “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.” Mr. Obama, according to details provided by his campaign Monday, also will call for pursuing vigorous diplomatic efforts aimed at a global ban on the development, production and deployment of intermediate-range missiles.

[…]

His speech was to come one day after an announcement by the Bush administration that it had tripled the rate of dismantling nuclear weapons over the last year, putting the United States on track to reducing its stockpile of weapons by half by 2012. The exact number of weapons being dismantled, like the overall stockpile, is secret, but officials said Monday that with the planned reductions, the total number of American nuclear weapons would be at the lowest levels since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.

[…]

If elected, Mr. Obama plans to say, he will lead a global effort to secure nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years. He also will pledge to end production of fissile material for weapons, agree not to build new weapons and remove any remaining nuclear weapons from hair-trigger alert.

In his speech, according to a campaign briefing paper, Mr. Obama also will call for using a combination of diplomacy and pressure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Aides did not say what Mr. Obama intended to do if diplomacy and sanctions failed.

Reducing stockpiles and changing alert procedures make sense for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s incredibly expensive to maintain an inventory of outdated weapons. But total elimination? That’s crazy talk, right?

Actually, he’s echoing “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” a WSJ op-ed from January by George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn.

Nuclear weapons were essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence. The end of the Cold War made the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence obsolete. Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.

North Korea’s recent nuclear test and Iran’s refusal to stop its program to enrich uranium — potentially to weapons grade — highlight the fact that the world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era. Most alarmingly, the likelihood that non-state terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing. In today’s war waged on world order by terrorists, nuclear weapons are the ultimate means of mass devastation. And non-state terrorist groups with nuclear weapons are conceptually outside the bounds of a deterrent strategy and present difficult new security challenges.

Apart from the terrorist threat, unless urgent new actions are taken, the U.S. soon will be compelled to enter a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence. It is far from certain that we can successfully replicate the old Soviet-American “mutually assured destruction” with an increasing number of potential nuclear enemies world-wide without dramatically increasing the risk that nuclear weapons will be used. New nuclear states do not have the benefit of years of step-by-step safeguards put in effect during the Cold War to prevent nuclear accidents, misjudgments or unauthorized launches. The United States and the Soviet Union learned from mistakes that were less than fatal. Both countries were diligent to ensure that no nuclear weapon was used during the Cold War by design or by accident. Will new nuclear nations and the world be as fortunate in the next 50 years as we were during the Cold War?

If the blessing of a bipartisan group of distinguished foreign policy giants isn’t enough, how about this?

Ronald Reagan called for the abolishment of “all nuclear weapons,” which he considered to be “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.”

The WSJ piece outlines in some substantial detail the road to nuclear abolition. Despite the imprimatur of these gentlemen, I remain highly skeptical that uninventing technology is possible or that the types of regimes we’re most concerned about will play along. Further, while I agree that Cold War-style deterrence is much less certain with the North Koreans and Iranians than it was with the Soviets — and I hasten to add there were times when it didn’t seem all that sure even then — it makes sense to maintain a small arsenal for whatever deterrence effect it might provide. For that matter, it’s quite conceivable that the possession of small nuclear arsenals by the likes of India and Pakistan and Israel has a sobering deterrence effect at the regional level.

While I remain unconvinced of either the practicality or even desirability of the goal of a nuclear free world, the outlined process for getting there nonetheless makes a lot of sense. Safeguarding and confidence building measures can be quite useful at preventing misunderstanding, accidents, and the escalation of minor disputes into military conflict.

Update (Dave Schuler)

The prepared text of Sen. Obama’s speech, A New Beginning, is here.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2008, Military Affairs, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that deterrence continues to be a useful approach to discouraging nuclear attack and it could be practical against both Iran and North Korea or other nuclear power wannabes, even in the third party cases frequently brought up in the discussion. Unfortunately, the current crop of politicians, Republican and Democrat, are working hard to undermine its effectiveness, in all likelihood from a combination of ignorance as to the requirements of deterrence and wishful thinking.

    Simply put if the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances is unthinkable then deterrence is dead and yes, indeed, we should destroy our stockpiles unilaterally. Anything that’s said that suggests that we won’t use nuclear weapons under any circumstances undermines deterrence.

    That’s not the only thing, though. The Rumsfeldian “war on the cheap” undermines it, too. The opposite, the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force, is consistent with deterrence, use of minimum force isn’t.

  2. […] “former government officials” being cited are, no doubt as pointed out by James Joyner, George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn. It’s a mainstream […]

  3. If there’s a way of coercing the countries with which the US does not have good faith into getting rid of their nukes without having nukes itself, then by all means, let the US get rid of its nukes.

    But if forcing the rest of the world to drop their nuclear power requires that the US remain a nuclear power (as I suspect is the case) then I don’t see the logic in the US getting rid of its entire program.

    People complain about consistency and fairness in US demands that other countries disarm. Such issues are (in large part?) irrelevant. After all, coercion is what nuclear power is all about, and coercion is already a hazy moral subject. Simply pointing out that there’s haze (“The US is being inconsistent!”) really says nothing.

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    Aides did not say what Mr. Obama intended to do if diplomacy and sanctions failed.

    lol, pipe dreams dont need alternatives, just a good ligter!!!!

  5. Alex Knapp says:

    If memory serves, the elimination of nuclear weapons was attempted once before in the late 1980’s by Superman acting under U.N. auspices. His efforts were undermined by Lex Luthor, who used the opportunity to spread mistrust among the major powers of the world, thus increasing market share for his growing arms concerns. Additionally, this effort resulted in the creation of the “Nuclear Man”, a superpowered sociopath whose powers rivalled Superman’s.

    In short, I think we should listen to history on this one…

  6. Kathy says:

    Excellent post, James.

  7. […] James Joyner has more. James is a bit less critical than I, but ultimately is in basic agreement with my […]

  8. […] to Outside the Beltway, DeMediacratic Nation, Adam’s Blog, The Populist, Pirate’s Cove, Webloggin, Leaning […]

  9. Muslims Blow Up Buddha Statue…

    Like the Giant Buddhas in Afghanistan, another ancient work of art is destroyed by the Religion of Peace. Some unidentified militants blew up the historic statue of Buddha in Jihan Abad area of Swat district on Saturday. Talking to The…

  10. Dale says:

    A noble goal but I’ll believe it when I see it. This genie has been out of the bottle for over 60 years now. I suspect we’re not getting it back in no matter how bad we want to.

  11. Family Fun, Cotton Candy and Death to Israel…

    Time to pack the family up and get ready for the fun and frivolity of International Qods Day (IQD) celebrations slated for…

  12. Right Truth says:

    Pay for war with a “surtax”…

    “Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he will not allow a bill to come for debate to provide emergency supplemental funds for the war and suggested Americans should be compelled to pay for it…

  13. […] to Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, guerrilla radio, […]

  14. Obama Urges Elimination of Nukes…

    Off The Table:…

  15. Anita Hill Lies Again…

    Tawana Brawley. Crystal Gail Mangum. Anita Hill. Each used false accusations of sexual improprieties to attack and destroy men. Each has been shown to be a liar. But since she is a liberal icon, Anita Hill has gotten space in……

  16. […] to Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, DeMediacratic Nation, Adam’s Blog, Right […]

  17. Where Are The Calls For Resignation?…

    It is really too bad that John shut down the Bay Area Houston website last week — I’d love to get his take on this story. A meeting behind a church with $10,000 cash changing hands, five-figure gifts for a……

  18. MSM Hides Another “Resident Alien” Murderer…

    If youÂ’ve watched enough local network affiliate news broadcasts, you get a feel for how itÂ’s usually done – especially when the story is about a gruesome murder. ThereÂ’s always the on-the-scene reporter live at the scene. There are usually brief i…

  19. Right Voices says:

    About That Erik Prince And DeVos Family Connection…

    TPM has a story up about Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince. I wanted to share a bit of information about his family connection to the DeVos family, that seemed to get dropped from Josh’ piece.
    Josh did a great job of painting both families as &#…

  20. 123beta says:

    Good Stuff Tuesday…

    Highlighting some of my favorite reads of the day (mostly non-story phoney soldier stuff)……

  21. Butch says:

    Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya…

  22. Heroes 2, Bionic Woman 1…

    We are now two weeks into the second season of the Heroes TV series, and I am happy to report that the series is maintaining its quality. There is still the sweetness, plenty of dramatic tension, and multiple AHA moments. Mostly, however, I know it mus…

  23. […] to Outside the Beltway, MoreWhat, Perri Nelson’s Website, Faultline USA, DeMediacratic Nation, Adam’s Blog, […]

  24. GOP Weeping & Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth!…

    THE END IS NEARThere are danger signs everywhere.  To quote Threepio, “We’re doomed.”  While I don’t think it is ……

  25. […] questions, linkage, shout outs, gripes, FO’s, etc. are welcome here. Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, DeMediacratic […]

  26. […] To: Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, DeMediacratic […]

  27. […] to Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, DeMediacratic […]

  28. Congress Should Worry About Its Own Punctuality…

    A terrorism drill will be conducted as Congress has required since 2000 and this drill is raising questions about our preparedness especially since the after action report (AAR) from the 2005 drill has not been made public. The lawmakers are concerned…

  29. Blackwater USA…

    The company trains more than 40,000 people a year, from all the military services and a variety of other agencies. The company markets itself as being ‘The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stabili….

  30. […] to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, Right Truth, Big Dog’s Weblog, […]

  31. […] to Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, DeMediacratic […]

  32. Mid-week Linkfest…

    Trackposted to …

  33. […] to Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, DeMediacratic […]

  34. […] to Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, DeMediacratic […]

  35. Right Voices says:

    Linkfest:Poll: 27% of Republicans Would Vote for Pro-Life Third Party Instead of Giuliani…

    In response to this article in the NYT’s by James Dobson, I wanted to link to this Rasmussen Reports poll. Keep in mind that “a survey conducted earlier this month found that 72% of Republicans think Giuliani is at least Somewhat Likely to…

  36. […] Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, Right Truth, Big Dog’s Weblog, The […]

  37. Phony soldiers include Tom Harkin, Dan Rather and many more…

    Ignoring John Kerry, who is to me the most blatant about trumping up his war record (Christmas in Cambodia?  Not!), there is a large list of people who have used the exaggeration of service, or whole cloth creation for that matter, to enhance thei…

  38. […] Obama: Rid World of Nuclear Weapons » Outside The Beltway | OTB […]