Global Zero is attracting international support for a world without nuclear weapons.
The Cold War ended two decades ago with the Soviet Union going broke, spent into submission by an arms race neither Moscow nor Washington could afford.
Now it is our turn. The United States kept spending on a centerpiece of those international tensions: a massive nuclear deterrence maintained long after the threat and national-security rationale went away.
If Republicans and Democrats in Congress are keen on cutting budgets and taming deficits, ending gluttonous spending on an obese nuclear arsenal is basic.
This was pointedly reinforced by the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former commander of U.S. nuclear forces. Gen. James E. Cartwright endorsed proposals in a study by Global Zero, a nuclear-policy organization that seeks to secure and eliminate all nuclear weapons.
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Cartwright is no gray-haired hippie in a tie-dyed T-shirt with a peace symbol. The man who led the U.S. Strategic Command is one of more than 300 international military, diplomatic and nuclear experts drawn to Global Zero’s campaign.
Cartwright said the U.S. would be fully protected with a nuclear arsenal of 900 warheads; half deployed and half in reserve. The U.S. currently has more than 5,000. In 2010, the U.S. and Russia signed New START (for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) , which would reduce the number to 1,550 deployed for each side by 2017.
Congress ratified the treaty in 2011, but to win support President Obama agreed to spend billions modernizing nuclear-weapons infrastructure. Think pork-barrel politics for congressional districts.
Global Zero also seeks to eliminate the use of intercontinental ballistic missiles, relying on submarines and long-range bombers. One intent is to build in some delay to allow for mistakes and errors and recall orders.
The proposal is not a unilateral offer, but a pathway to follow jointly with Russia, and demonstrate intentions to those intimidated by two nuclear superpowers.
Fundamentally, the U.S. cannot afford to maintain its huge arsenals, storage facilities, research laboratories and delivery systems. Tens of billions of dollars can be saved, without compromising security.
Global Zero was the brainchild of Dr. Bruce Blair, a security expert, and Matt Brown, a Yale-educated lawyer and former Rhode Island secretary of state. Global Zero was launched in Paris in 2008. In addition to 300 world leaders, the campaign has 450,000 worldwide members and student groups on 100 campuses around the world. Half are in the U.S.
In a telephone interview Wednesday from Washington, D.C., co-founder Brown said support grew with the recognition there is no rational argument for maintaining these arsenals.
U.S. nuclear arms deployed and maintained in five European countries are targeted at former Soviet bloc nations now part of NATO.
A world in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons only creates more opportunities for buying, stealing or building arms, Brown said. “So far, the global community has not built the unified, forceful response and forceful mechanism for ensuring countries do not get nuclear weapons.”
Global Zero’s goals have drawn international support across the political spectrum, dipping back into the Reagan and Thatcher eras with endorsements from tenacious hawks of another time. Insightful and alarmed enough to embrace a new approach.
Long gone are the days of two lone superpowers facing off or setting international agendas. The arsenal — the overkill — that remains from the Cold War is an economic and security menace. Global Zero represents a powerful antidote.
Niccolo Machiavelli noted the difficulty of planning or managing a new system, or it succeeding, “For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.” Ah, Congress.
Lance Dickie’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org