Disarmament Insight


Friday, 8 August 2008

How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb ... Not

On Wednesday, the world commemorated the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In some earlier posts on this blog, we discussed reappraisal of the utility of using nuclear weapons on Japan and its flow-on effects, including post hoc rationalization about huge weapons programmes like the Manhattan Project to build the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (like: otherwise there would have been a million or more American casualties invading Japan, apparently), and the subsequent Cold War nuclear arms race. It was also observed that moral arguments for nuclear disarmament or those based on the costs to civilians are - despite their importance - often pooh-poohed by the so-called realists.

I was therefore intrigued to read Frank Gaffney's opinion editorial in Tuesday's Washington Times entitled 'Dangerous Disarmers'. To put it politely, I thought Gaffney's op-ed was more than a little daft, seriously out of touch and out of date - fitting the above-mentioned pooh-pooh category with a nice splat.

Gaffney was upset, he said, because he felt he'd been ambushed by Japanese television in what he described as a "propaganda-fest" filmed by NHK last weekend on nuclear abolition. Maybe Gaffney is right: I haven't seen the film. But I am acquainted with NHK TV film crews, and it's hard to feel threatened by almost invariably bright, petite, impeccably-made up Japanese female journalists and frantic looking production people lugging huge heavy-looking Sony camera bags from gig to gig like hamsters on speed.

Perhaps this is what led Gaffney to contend that:

"Sadly, as the NHK program made clear, the campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons - heretofore a hobbyhorse of the radical left and its Soviet [sic] handlers - has now taken on a unprecedented degree of respectability. Prominently featured in the taping was a clip lionizing former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Thanks to two op-ed articles he co-authored in the Wall Street Journal urging a nuclear-free world, Mr. Kissinger has been transformed in the eyes of the anti-nuke crowd from a "war criminal" into a sage and inspiration."
Well, I don't know about that - however, maybe can he tell me where the Soviets have been all these years? Meanwhile, do I detect any sour grapes in that little sideswipe at Big H.K.? I mean, I think that's Doctor Kissinger to you and me.

Gaffney continues by saying that "As a result, many who do - or certainly should - know better, have begun to embrace the idea that we can safely and responsibly effect the global elimination of nuclear weapons. Some, like Barack Obama, appear intent on doing so forthwith. In what passes for prudence, John McCain says it is a long-term goal."

Well, I should hope so. The U.S. Government, like the other nuclear weapon states, is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Article 6 of this treaty, frequently described (including by the U.S.) as the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime, is a commitment that:
"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
The NPT is a good thing to you and me, but not to Gaffney. To him, the NPT has failed and resulted in the dissemination of nuclear-weapons relevant technology. Perversely, Pakistan's A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network is a result of the NPT (although Pakistan is not a member) and North Korea - "the world's 'Nukes-R-Us'" is also the treaty's fault.

Oh good grief. It's clear Gaffney isn't a believer in nuclear disarmament. Fair enough - that's his prerogative. But he needs a better set of arguments to support his point-of-view. His op-ed rolls out the same old tired, boiler-plate clichés with which everyone is familiar, and which have been comprehensively dealt with by bodies like the WMD Commission : the nuclear genie is out of the bottle; others won't abide by agreements they make with the US to disarm; Pakistan, Iran and North Korea aren't nice people, and a number of these states "have ties to terrorists" and - my favourite - "history shows that, in the absence of nuclear deterrence, the world would eventually be plunged yet again into the sort of cataclysm that twice scarred the 20th century". You mean, before humankind invented - in the course of the second of these conflicts - the means to annihilate everyone on the planet many hundreds of times over, as opposed to conventional conflicts killing tens of millions?

I hope Gaffney reads historian Richard Rhodes' new book, Arsenals of Folly, which, although dense in places, is an excellent corrective. (He probably won't: Rhodes certainly doesn't have very nice things to say about some of Gaffney's mentors such as Paul Nitze, Henry 'Scoop Jackson' and Richard Perle. No doubt he has Soviet handlers too.) At one point Rhodes quotes Eisenhower speaking about the escalating Cold War conflict between Washington and Moscow:
""You can't have this kind of war," Eisenhower concluded. "There just aren't enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets. " It followed, and follows, that there is no military solution to safety in the nuclear age: There are only political solutions. As the Danish physicist and philosopher Niels Bohr summarized the dilemma succinctly for a friend in 1948, "We are in an entirely new situation that cannot be resolved by war." The impossibility of resolving militarily the new situation that knowledge of how to release nuclear energy imposes on the world is the reason the efforts on both sides look so desperate and irrational: They are built on what philosophers call a category mistake, an assumption that nuclear explosives are military weapons in any meaningful sense of the term, and that a sufficient quantity of such weapons can make us secure. They are not, and cannot."
Meanwhile, the US Government has been quietly getting on with reducing the size of its nuclear stockpile. According to a recent fact sheet by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) (do they have Soviet handlers too? Surely not), announced nuclear reductions by President George W. Bush will leave its stockpile at about a quarter of the size it was at the end of the Cold War. There have also been sharp Russian reductions, although comparable data isn't available.

Nevertheless, long after Frank Gaffney and others have passed on to their conservative think-tanks in the sky (where there just might be a few Soviets waiting to greet them), the rest of us will be living with the appalling risks of nuclear warfare because one-quarter of Cold War stockpiles is still not zero. In his op-ed, Gaffney appears to contend that we should thank nuclear weapons for stability during the Cold War. That is highly debatable, and we certainly have nothing to thank them for in today's world.

John Borrie


Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, London: Simon & Schuster: 2008.

IISS Strategic Comments: 'The US-Russian nuclear balance: New treaty needed' (Volume 14 Issue 06, August 2006).

Picture credit: Slim Pickens riding the bomb, from Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), downloaded from Wikipedia.
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