Can Disarmament Work?

Debating the Benefits of Nuclear Weapons

IN SUPPORT OF ZERO
Bruce Blair, Matt Brown, and Richard Burt

In their ringing defense of classical nuclear deterrence ("Less Than Zero," January/February 2011), Josef Joffe and James Davis see nuclear weapons not as a problem but as a solution. We profoundly disagree. Nuclear weapons represent a global threat that is orders of magnitude greater than any other. The danger has increased as these weapons have spread to weak and fragile states, and they could eventually fall into the hands of terrorists.

The Global Zero movement, which we coordinate, calls for the phased and verified elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide and is spearheaded by more than 300 international leaders, including current and former heads of state, national security officials, and military commanders. It does not discount the real or perceived benefits of nuclear weapons that existed during the Cold War, but it argues that the growing dangers of nuclear proliferation and terrorism have come to greatly outweigh those dissipating benefits. That is why Global Zero calls for eliminating all existing nuclear arsenals and building stronger barriers against the acquisition of nuclear weapons and the materials to build them.

Global Zero does not underestimate the difficulty of reversing proliferation. Our critics, Joffe and Davis included, imply that the movement subscribes to the simplistic "good example" theory of deproliferation, which holds that states will cut their arsenals when inspired by the example of others' doing so. But that characterization of our view is a straw man. We do not suggest that North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons if it sees reductions by other countries. Rather, we argue that it will take a great-power-led coalition of nuclear and nonnuclear countries, fully committed to the elimination of all nuclear weapons, to marshal the political, economic, and military might to halt proliferation worldwide.

To date, the international community has paid lip service to erecting strong new barriers to nuclear acquisition while mustering only a lukewarm and inconsistent effort to do so. By contrast, a truly unified coalition could overcome that inertia by enforcing the Global Zero program worldwide. It would engineer universal verification and enforcement regimes, wielding hard incentives and punishments, not moral example, to convert the wayward.

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