Zero Nuclear Weapons? Think again


Ridding the world of nuclear weapons has long been a cause of the pacifist left. But in the past few years mainstream politicians, retired military leaders and academic strategists have begun to share the same goal, albeit with a very different idea of how to get there. That is partly thanks to a campaigning body called Global Zero…Despite its rapid ascent, Global Zero is facing problems that it may find hard to overcome. Its plan’s timeline already looks optimistic. Mr Obama struggled even to get the New START ratified in the Senate. Last year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference made little progress on bringing pressure to bear on Iran to mend its ways. For all Mr Medvedev’s rhetorical support, Russia’s armed forces are intent on becoming more dependent on nuclear weapons, not less. If progress is to be made, it will have to be at a far slower pace than Global Zero is urging.

More fundamentally, not all Global Zero’s signatories are convinced that zero is either achievable nor necessarily desirable. They support the journey, but are less sure about the final destination. And by focusing its campaign on the most dangerous proliferators and nuclear terrorism, it raises an awkward question: will minutely choreographed multilateralism make much difference to the hardest cases?

Global Zero’s persuasive backers, such as Richard Burt, a retired American diplomat who negotiated the first START treaty, have plausible answers to every objection raised by sceptics. But if the gap between what can be achieved and the high ambition of Global Zero grows too wide, its claim to temper idealism with gritty pragmatism will be in jeopardy.

Nuclear endgame: The growing appeal of zero, Economist, June 18, 2011, at 69

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