Who were those masked men?
The US gang of four has ridden off into the sunset.
Three years ago George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and William Perry galloped into town on white horses, their badges gleaming, ready to round up and eliminate every nuclear weapon in sight. In a widely read article published by The Wall Street Journal in January 2007, they declared themselves advocates of “the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons,” which they called “a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage.”
Those of us who had been working for the abolition of nuclear weapons for decades scratched our heads and asked ourselves privately whether there was less to this late-in-life conversion than met the eye. Publicly, we embraced the cross-over abolitionists, who were joined in succeeding months by other gangs of four (or five, or six) in the UK, Germany, Norway, Australia, the Netherlands, Poland, and even France. After all, why question the motives of some erstwhile cold warriors when their words had energized a struggling movement?
The US horsemen mounted up again one year later, but apparently had some trouble finding the road. “Without the vision of moving toward zero,” they reiterated in January 2008, “we will not find the essential cooperation required to stop our downward spiral.” Yet a nuclear-weapons-free world, they fretted, was at “the top of a very tall mountain,” not visible from our present vantage point. They insisted that we keep pushing forward to higher ground, but seemed stuck in a quagmire of inadequate near-term arms control proposals. Civil society abolitionists offered a detailed trailmap to the top of the mountain — the model Nuclear Weapons Convention — but the gang seemed more comfortable tethering their horses at base camp.
This week Shultz, Kissinger, Nunn, and Perry broke camp and headed back to the nuclear reservation. The headline of their third Wall Street Journal piece drops like a whole warehouse of shoes: “How to protect our nuclear deterrent.” Their call for urgent steps toward a world without nuclear weapons is almost wholly replaced by an argument for “[urgently needed] investments in a repaired and modernized nuclear weapons infrastructure.” Judging by the smell, the horses have been standing in one place for too long.
Somehow we are supposed to connect the dots between rearmament and disarmament. The logic — to stretch definitions very thin — seems to go something like this: The same facilities and technologies the US needs to maintain a “reliable” nuclear force “for as long as the nation’s security requires it” will — presto change-o — serve “the long-term goal of achieving and maintaining a world free of nuclear weapons” equally well when the time comes. Which is when, exactly? When we no longer “require” the things that most endanger us?
The gang can’t have it both ways. They can choose to cast their lot (and ours) with deterrence and continue to believe that “reliable” nuclear weapons reduce nuclear danger by dissuading others from using their own nuclear weapons, in which case we might as well stop worrying about proliferation; or they can finally recognize that deterrence is a bankrupt policy incompatible in every respect with progress toward a nuclear-weapons-free world, and that getting to zero requires planned and irreversible obsolescence of the weapons, the infrastructure to make them, and the justifications for clinging to them.