The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and Dealerting of Nuclear Weapons

By Chiles, Hank | Naval War College Review, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and Dealerting of Nuclear Weapons


Chiles, Hank, Naval War College Review


Feiveson, Harold A., ed., The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and Dealerting of Nuclear Weapons. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1999. 460 pp. $52.95

Ah, ecstasy! A benign world for the next two decades. Power politics disappear. America leads the drawdown, with Russia following to achieve parity with China, Britain, and France at about two hundred nuclear weapons. Worldwide nuclear verification becomes practically perfect. Permanent members of the UN Security Council agreeably limit their vetoes. It is all here in this book, the product of the "Deep Cuts Study Group."

The authors make no secret of their advocacy for drastic nuclear weapons reductions by the United States and Russia, the dealerting or deactivating of all weapons to preclude launch on warning, and announcements of no-first-use policies. The thesis depends on extraordinary verification beyond today's technology, open sharing of weapons storage data, ironclad control of fissile material, and an effective worldwide security system. An actual nuclear war with Russia is considered unthinkable, despite significant nuclear capability in that country; although Russia now makes no bones about its dependence on nuclear weapons, the authors believe intentions can change. The authors reject nuclear supremacy and deterrence for the unknown of utopian equality.

On the other hand, this book espouses a number of valid premises. "Military and political objectives should be achieved without use of nuclear weapons, if at all possible." The Russian early-warning system has deteriorated since the breakup of the Soviet Union (hence recent U.S. overtures to share data). Any national missile defense system must be tested extensively against a host of decoys before the United States can certify its technical effectiveness. As a result of conventional weaknesses, Russia has placed great reliance on nuclear weapons in its military strategy. The Russian government has been unable to negotiate effectively on the issue during the past few years; significant problems remain in the transparency of weapons systems between Russia and the United States, and fissile material stockpiles are hard to verify.

However, if you are looking for a balanced blueprint for the sizing, alert status, and verification of nuclear forces during the next two decades, you will not find it here. There are several bothersome aspects. The authors cite Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and chide the nuclear powers for failure to pursue more rapid reductions despite enormous changes in the 1990s. Except for one footnote on page 34, the authors fail to address the full provisions of Article VI, which calls for not only "cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and ... nuclear disarmament" but also "a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." With international initiatives not in fact leading to 11 general and complete disarmament," and with potential aggressors armed as they are today, the nuclear nations have no incentive to seek the reductions envisioned.

The authors place great stress on the premise that Russian command and control has dangerously deteriorated. In fact, the system seems to have functioned the way it was designed in the incident of the 1995 rocket launch from northern Norway.

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