In the early 1970s, Bruce Blair spent two years as a Minuteman launch officer, on duty as the missiles stood ready to fire on the Soviet Union at a moment's notice. Later, he worked on a top-secret study of U.S. command and control of nuclear weapons. As a think-tank scholar, he wrote books about nuclear strategy. Yet Blair felt frustrated that he was having "zero impact" on national policy. "I came to the realization, this doesn't work," he recalled. "You have to be a change agent."
So Blair reached beyond the traditional Washington methods of white papers, news conferences, and earnest panel discussions and turned to film, inspired by Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Blair devoted three years to help create a movie about nuclear danger, Countdown to Zero, a rallying cry to abolish all nuclear weapons that this year has become a cornerstone of a re-energized movement for "global zero."
Blair's path suggests a surprising twist: The new global zero movement came not from the grassroots, like the "nuclear freeze" drive of the 1980s, but from policy wonks and pillars of the establishment, from President Barack Obama to former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. With some 22,500 nuclear weapons remaining in the world--most in Russia and the United States two decades after the Cold War--the spectacle of the wise men calling for the elimination of the nukes whose deterrent capability they once touted has done the improbable: fuel the rise of a new popular movement to get rid of them.
The new push dates back to October 2006. Shultz and physicist Sidney Drell convened a conference at Stanford University's Hoover Institution to reflect on the lessons of the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in which the two leaders came tantalizingly close to scrapping nuclear weapons altogether. Max M. Kampelman, a top arms negotiator in Reagan's second term, suggested a renewed drive for zero nukes. "We must learn from the events of September 11 that we are vulnerable--and will become increasingly vulnerable," he said.
After the conference, four prominent wise men of the late Cold War, led by Shultz, teamed up to fulfill the promise of Reykjavik. They wrote an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 4, 2007: "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons." It was signed by Shultz, Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Georgia Sen. …