Cold Warriors Question Nukes

George Shultz served as President Reagan’s Secretary of State, and Bill Perry as President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense. Henry Kissinger was National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to both President Nixon and Ford. Sam Nunn was Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee for eight years. Their key roles in the Cold War has led many to call them Cold Warriors. That status makes their recent, repeated calls for fundamentally re-examining our nuclear posture all the more noteworthy. Their most recent attempt to awaken society to the unacceptable risk posed by nuclear weapons is an OpEd in today’s Wall Street JournalDeterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation.” (That link requires a subscription to the Journal. There is also a subscription-free link at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.) Here are some key excerpts:

Deterrence based on nuclear weapons … [depends] on calculations for which there is no historical experience. It is therefore precarious. …

We have written previously that reliance on this strategy is becoming increasingly hazardous. With the spread of nuclear weapons, technology, materials and know-how, there is an increasing risk that nuclear weapons will be used. …

From 1945 to 1991, America and the Soviet Union were diligent, professional, but also lucky that nuclear weapons were never used. Does the world want to continue to bet its survival on continued good fortune with a growing number of nuclear nations and adversaries globally? …

the U.S. and Russia have no basis for maintaining a structure of deterrence involving nuclear weapons deployed in ways that increase the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon, or even a deliberate nuclear exchange based on a false warning. …

while the four of us believe that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective, some nations will hesitate to draw or act on the same conclusion unless regional confrontations and conflicts are addressed. We must therefore redouble our efforts to resolve these issues. …

Ensuring that nuclear materials are protected globally in order to limit any country’s ability to reconstitute nuclear weapons, and to prevent terrorists from acquiring the material to build a crude nuclear bomb, is a top priority.

If you agree that this issue demands greater societal attention before disaster strikes, please encourage friends and family to become more informed on this issue, either by sharing this post or otherwise bringing it to their attention. Thank you.

Martin Hellman
Member, National Academy of Engineering
Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University

OTHER RESOURCES

My web site, Defusing the Nuclear Threat

Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn’s initial 2007 OpEd is available in the Wall Street Journal and, subscription-free from their Nuclear Security Project.

Their 2008 OpEd, originally in the Wall Street Journal, is available subscription-free from their Nuclear Security Project.

Their 2010 OpEd is available in the Wall Street Journal and, subscription-free, from Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has a powerful 5-minute video that examines The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence. I summarized its key points in an earlier blog.

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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