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Caging the Cold War Monster



Throughout the Cold War, nuclear deterrence was at the heart of US nuclear policy. But deterrence has some important limitations that make it highly unreliable, particularly in a time of terrorism. The most critical shortcoming of nuclear deterrence is that the threat of even overwhelming retaliation is not credible against extremist groups that cannot be located. Further, even a credible threat of nuclear retaliation would not be effective against an enemy that was suicidal. Simply put, an enemy that is not locatable or that is suicidal cannot be deterred, no matter how large a country’s nuclear arsenal or how clear its threats of retaliation.

The decreasing value of deterrence in the post-Cold War period has been recognized by a bipartisan group of former high-level US officials, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn. They have argued in a seminal Wall Street Journal article that reliance on nuclear weapons for the purpose of deterrence “is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”

Going back to 1984, Ronald Reagan argued in his State of the Union Message, “A nuclear war can never be won, and must never be fought.” Reagan concluded, “The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”

The bottom line is: Nuclear weapons do not make us safer. US reliance on these weapons sets the standard for the world. Right now the US appears content to promote nuclear double standards, one standard for ourselves and our friends and another for our perceived enemies. For example, the US is seeking to bend the international non-proliferation rules for India, a country that has developed and tested nuclear weapons, while threatening to attack Iran for enriching uranium, which it claims is for nuclear energy development.

The problem is that double standards do not hold up ­ not with children and not with nations. So long as the US government continues to rely upon nuclear weapons for security, other nations will also do so, and eventually these weapons will further proliferate, end up in the hands of terrorists and be used with devastating consequences.

Some people believe that we must wait until nuclear weapons are used again before policy makers will realize the critical need to eliminate this danger. We disagree with this view. We believe that humans are capable of using their imaginations, foreseeing the likelihood of future nuclear weapons use in a world in which deterrence is not effective, and acting with determination to prevent such a catastrophe.

What should we do? First, the US must lead the way by working with Russia to reduce nuclear dangers and then convening the other nuclear weapons states for a common effort to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Such a plan is far more pragmatic than utopian. What is truly in the realm of fantasy is the belief that nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear war can be prevented by continuing with business as usual.

Since US leadership is essential, the US needs either new nuclear policies or new leaders and most likely both. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has developed an Appeal to the Next President of the United States that calls for US leadership “in convening and leading the nations of the world” to take the following seven steps:

* Remove all nuclear weapons from high-alert status;

* Make legally binding commitments to No First Use of nuclear weapons;

* Initiate a moratorium on research and development of new nuclear weapons;

*Ratify and bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;

*Bring all weapons-grade nuclear material and the technologies to create such material under strict and effective international control;

*Commence good faith negotiations on a treaty for the phased, verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons; and

*Reallocate resources from nuclear armaments to alleviating poverty, eliminating hunger and expanding educational opportunities.

Achieving these goals will not be easy, but they are essential. The Appeal has already been endorsed by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and many other leading world citizens.

A world free of nuclear weapons is a goal that demands our high-priority commitment and our country’s best efforts. Each of us on the planet shares in the responsibility to prevent future nuclear catastrophes. If we fail, the future will not be bright. If we succeed, we will leave the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.

DAVID KRIEGER is the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Stanley K. Sheinbaum is a former Regent of the University of California.





David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation ( 

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