Is There a Role for Nuclear Weapons Today?

By Pomper, Miles A. | Arms Control Today, July/August 2005 | Go to article overview

Is There a Role for Nuclear Weapons Today?


Pomper, Miles A., Arms Control Today


Mikhail Gorbachev

John P. Holdren

Henrik Salander

Frank Miller

C. G. Weeramantry

William F. Burns

More than a dozen years after the end of the Cold War, the frozen nuclear strategies of that conflict have began to thaw.

Russia is itching to make further cuts in its strategic forces. Several European countries have opened a debate on whether tactical nuclear weapons are still needed on that continent, and the US Congress may appoint a civilian commission to look at nuclear policy, force structure, weapons readiness, and estimates of likely threats.

"I think the time is now for a thoughtful and open debate on the role of nuclear weapons in our country's national secprjty strategy," Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) said earlier this year.

We agree. Rather than the product of a well-thought-out but grave security logic, today's nuclear weapons arsenals often seem the product of inertia and inattention on the part of policymakers. Few leaders in the United States or elsewhere have stepped back from today's altered security landscape to ask what purpose, if any, these weapons serve now.

Arms Control Today asked six global leaders and policy practitioners to respond to the question, "Do nuclear weapons serve a purpose today, and if so, what is it?" Their answers follow.

-Miles A. Pomper

President Mikhail Gorbachev

I am convinced that nuclear weapons must be abolished. Their use in a military conflict is unthinkable; using them to achieve political objectives is immoral.

Twenty years ago, President Ronald Reagan and I ended our summit meeting in Geneva with a joint statement that "nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." This was not merely a declaration. The inescapable logical consequence of that statement had to be a genuine effort to reduce nuclear weapons, on the way to their eventual elimination. To facilitate that effort, we agreed that our two countries would not seek military superiority over one another.

The arms reduction negotiations that followed were difficult and often contentious. Crucially, the 1986 U.S.-Soviet summit in Reykjavik, seen by many as a failure, actually gave an impetus to reduction by reaffirming the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and by paving the way toward concrete agreements on intermediate-range nuclear forces and strategic nuclear weapons.

In the years that followed, the process of nuclear reductions, started by the 1987 treaty eliminating two classes of nuclear missiles,1 has continued, but the goal of ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons seems to have been forgotten by the current generation of world leaders. The military doctrines of the countries with the largest nuclear arsenals-the United States and Russia-assume the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, despite the end of the Cold War. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force, and the resumption of nuclear weapons testing remains a distinct possibility.

We must reassert the goal of nuclear weapons elimination as both a moral duty and a legal obligation of nuclear powers under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The abolition of nuclear weapons is also a practical necessity, given the new threat emerging at the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Ultimately, the only way to avert that threat is to destroy the stockpiles of nuclear as well as chemical and biological weapons.

I believe that, in their hearts, political and military leaders understand that nuclear weapons must never be used, that even contemplating such a possibility is profoundly wrong. We must therefore challenge the members of the nuclear club to recognize that nuclear weapons, far from serving any purpose today, have no place in the world of the 21st century.

ENDNOTE

1. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. …

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