Nuclear Weapons Remain a Strong Deterrent to War

Article excerpt

In 1928, world leaders signed the historic Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war forever. Alas, it didn't put an end to military conflict. But its failure didn't put an end to utopian fantasies, either.

One of those dreams is a nuclear-free world, which has been around as long as nuclear weapons. Recently, it has been championed by a seemingly unlikely group - 60 retired generals and admirals from around the world who signed a manifesto calling for the "complete and irrevocable elimination of nuclear weapons."

Their chief spokesman is retired Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the Strategic Air Command, the military's nuclear arm, who has been lionized for an address last month in Washington urging worldwide nuclear disarmament. That speech, says The New York Times, "has had an impact comparable to the diplomat George F. Kennan's classic article on containing communism, published in Foreign Affairs magazine in July 1947." By Butler's account, the response from both the public and his former colleagues in the military has been overwhelmingly positive. If so, it has also been overwhelmingly wrong. Ridding the world of nuclear weapons, like ridding the world of war, is an impossible task. And even if it were possible, it would be a fool's errand. Nuclear weapons are here to stay, and the world is a safer place as a result. The technology has been around for half a century, has been exploited by at least 10 nations and is firmly lodged in the minds of thousands of scientists scattered all over the world. So accessible is the essential information that back in the 1970s, an obscure American political magazine was able to produce an accurate article on how to build an H-bomb. Trying to purge such knowledge from the human mind is like trying to disinvent fire. It can't be done. True, all the existing nuclear powers could scrap their doomsday stockpiles. But that wouldn't prevent a rogue state like Libya, Iraq or North Korea, or some terrorist fanatics, from assembling a bomb. And in an otherwise nuclear-free world, anyone with a couple of these weapons, and the willingness to use them, would hold vast coercive power over any government it chose to target. With our current nuclear arsenal, an Iraqi bomb would be a problem. With no nuclear arsenal, it would be a catastrophe. …