The Folly of Disparaging Arms Control

By Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr. | Arms Control Today, October 2000 | Go to article overview

The Folly of Disparaging Arms Control


Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr., Arms Control Today


Arms control has recently come under intense attack from an unanticipated quarter. Nuclear abolitionist Jonathan Schell, in an unrestrained polemic, "The Folly of Arms Control," in the September/October Foreign Affairs, denounces arms control as a failed policy that "is the equivalent-in the context of the nuclear dilemma as it exists at the opening of the twenty-first century-of appeasement in the 1930s..." While one can share Schell's impatience with arms control's recent progress, his bizarrely distorted critique of arms control, which largely ignores accomplishments over the past decade, is bereft of any practical proposals on how to achieve his objective of abolishing all nuclear weapons.

Schell disparages the arms control process not only for its alleged current failure but also for its acceptance of the concept of nuclear-weapon states and nuclear deterrence, which he believes are responsible for proliferation and hence a barrier to the abolition of nuclear weapons. In his grim predictions about the future of nuclear proliferation, he fails to mention the first-ever consensus Final Document adopted at the 2000 Review Conference of the 187-member nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which strongly endorses the treaty and spells out ways to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.

In castigating arms control for failing to define a universal, time-bound path to zero, Schell attributes this failure to the U.S. desire to maintain its nuclear stockpile in perpetuity. The U.S. perception of its nuclear requirements has actually been in constant flux throughout the nuclear age and will certainly change in the future. In fact, candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore have both indicated they will initiate a critical review of U.S. nuclear requirements. Schell fails to mention that every U.S. president since World War II has espoused abolition as an ultimate goal and that the five nuclear-weapon states, in connection with the 2000 NPT Review Conference, "unequivocally" agreed "to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals," an obligation already implicit under Article VI of the treaty.

Schell can rightfully complain about the disappointingly slow pace of post-Cold War arms control and recent setbacks, including the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), failure of START II to enter into force, increasing pressure to deploy a national missile defense requiring amendment of or withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and Indian and Pakistani nuclear testing (although their nuclear capabilities had long been known). …

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