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The Horsemen ride again; but toward the finish line or in circles?

March 10, 2011

On March 7, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn penned a new installment in a series of Wall Street Journal articles they launched in January 2007. The first was called “A world free of nuclear weapons,” and signaled a conversion experience that had transformed these old cold warriors into abolitionists. Subsequent articles — at the rate of about one a year — relegated the achievement of a nuclear-weapons-free world to some indeterminate future, while focusing on short term steps and what some have called “creating the conditions” for nuclear disarmament.

Last year, the US Gang of Four thought out loud about “how to protect our nuclear deterrent,” and now they have returned to the subject of deterrence and the need to reconceptualize “a safer and more comprehensive form of deterrence and prevention in a world where the roles and risks of nuclear weapons are reduced and ultimately eliminated” (“Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation”).

Are the Four Horsemen visionaries or are they stuck in old ways of thinking? If, as they say, they are truly committed to eliminating nuclear weapons, are they offering a clear path to that goal, or just throwing up frustrating roadblocks?

Former IPPNW co-president Gunnar Westberg of IPPNW’s Swedish affiliate, SLMK, and Ira Helfand, North American regional vice president and a member of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility (IPPNW-USA), had different perspectives on this latest editorial, which we share with you here.

Readers of the Peace and Health blog are welcomed and encouraged to add their own comments. What will it take to rid the world of nuclear weapons? How fast can that be accomplished? Are the Horsemen helping or hindering the effort?


Ira HelfandIra Helfand: I think this piece is fairly important.  While written, predictably, from a US security point of view, it seems the beginning of a real effort on the part of these guys to undermine “deterrence” as a rationale for holding on to nuclear weapons.

While the rhetoric is not very inspiring, it seems a very serious, and potentially game changing effort to destroy the arguments of [US Senator John] Kyl and his allies in the nuclear weapons camp who say that nuclear weapons play a positive role in maintaining US security.

We would prefer a clearer rejection of nuclear weapons altogether, and, of course, that should be our message,  but we are not the intended audience for this piece, and I think this piece advances the argument that we need to make.

Any time Kissinger says we should further reduce nuclear arsenals it is positive….


Gunnar WestbergGunnar Westberg: My impression is that this latest paper, compared to the three previous, represents a persisting, maybe increasing, understanding that nuclear proliferation cannot be stopped if the nuclear weapon states do not clearly dedicate themselves to nuclear disarmament. At the same time they have become even more timid about Going for Zero. Through this indecisiveness (and opportunism?) they risk losing their objective. How can the goal of nuclear abolition be seen as credible when they claim:

“Fourth, as long as nuclear weapons exist, America must retain a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile primarily to deter a nuclear attack and to reassure our allies through extended deterrence. There is an inherent limit to U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions if other nuclear weapon states build up their inventories or if new nuclear powers emerge.”

The first sentence says that US will be the last to abolish nukes. But the second sentence says that the problem is a build up in other nuclear weapon states. The authors seem not to dare to discuss the road to Zero which they understand is necessary. In their first paper they said that without a clear dedication to abolition by the nuclear weapon states  they will not be credible.

I do not understand their vacillation.

In the first paper they also stressed the importance of decreasing the readiness for firing of strategic nuclear arms. That, so very important step, is not mentioned now.

But I remember an interview with Kissinger in the French Le Figaro half a year after the first WSJ paper, where he says that “of course nuclear abolition will take several generations.”

Does anyone in the general media criticize or at least critically analyze their papers from this viewpoint? It is amazing to see that four statesmen of this stature are almost neglected by the media.

But we shall celebrate that these elder statesmen understand that the time of deterrence is gone, and the time for nuclear weapons will soon be over. The problem is that these men seem to believe that there is no urgency, that we must finish the nuclear era before the nukes finish the human era.

Old men are often in a hurry. I wish these were.

  1. John Loretz permalink*
    March 11, 2011 2:35 pm

    I suppose it’s an interesting question whether these four deeply entrenched members of the US foreign policy establishment — one of them a certifiable war criminal — are sincere in their declarations that a nuclear-weapons-free world is necessary, and whether they can influence their peers to adopt the goal of getting to zero. That’s all well and good, but I’m more interested in whether they have a plan — or even a notion — of how to get there.

    What I’ve seen in each successive editorial is a deeper withdrawal into the timid language of arms control and a failure to imagine any solutions that match the scale of the danger. Not one mention over four years of a nuclear weapons convention or any comparable proposal that sets zero as the endpoint of a clearly described process.

    There may well be ways to deter aggression that do not involve nuclear weapons, but it’s not necessary to find and develop them as a condition for getting to zero. Nuclear deterrence is an extraordinarily dangerous system, as the horsemen have begun to understand (perhaps), but anyone who thinks we need to find a substitute for it before we can let it go hasn’t really grasped the nature of the hoax, to borrow a term from Rob Green.

    The gang of four are onto something when they point out that “A world without nuclear weapons will not simply be todayʹs world minus nuclear weapons.” But does it really come as any surprise that these guys are preoccupied with finding a replacement for nuclear weapons that will ensure US dominance during and after the transition to the post-nuclear world of tomorrow? Maybe that’s why it always seems to *be* “tomorrow.”

    Watching these four “evolve” is interesting. We might even offer them support and encouragement, as we would to recovering alcoholics or other substance abusers. Who knows? Maybe they’ll catch up before we all get to that finish line. I’m with Gunnar in telling them they had better hurry.


  1. The Horsemen ride again; but toward the finish line or in circles? « Abolition 2000 Europe

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