Friday, July 10, 2009

Nuclear Realism: 'We Use Nuclear Weapons Every Day...'

From the Wall Street Journal, interview with former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, "Why We Don't Want a Nuclear-Free World":

"Nuclear weapons are used every day." So says former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, speaking last month at his office in a wooded enclave of Maclean, Va. It's a serene setting for Doomsday talk, and Mr. Schlesinger's matter-of-fact tone belies the enormity of the concepts he's explaining -- concepts that were seemingly ignored in this week's Moscow summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.

We use nuclear weapons every day, Mr. Schlesinger goes on to explain, "to deter our potential foes and provide reassurance to the allies to whom we offer protection."

Mr. Obama likes to talk about his vision of a nuclear-free world, and in Moscow he and Mr. Medvedev signed an agreement setting targets for sweeping reductions in the world's largest nuclear arsenals. Reflecting on the hour I spent with Mr. Schlesinger, I can't help but think: Do we really want to do this?

For nuclear strategists, Mr. Schlesinger is Yoda, the master of their universe. In addition to being a former defense secretary (Nixon and Ford), he is a former energy secretary (Carter) and former director of central intelligence (Nixon). He has been studying the U.S. nuclear posture since the early 1960s, when he was at the RAND Corporation, a California think tank that often does research for the U.S. government. He's the expert whom Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on last year to lead an investigation into the Air Force's mishandling of nuclear weapons after nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly flown across the country on a B-52 and nuclear fuses were accidently shipped to Taiwan. Most recently, he's vice chairman of a bipartisan congressional commission that in May issued an urgent warning about the need to maintain a strong U.S. deterrent.

But above all, Mr. Schlesinger is a nuclear realist. Are we heading toward a nuclear-free world anytime soon? He shoots back a one-word answer: "No." I keep silent, hoping he will go on. "We will need a strong deterrent," he finally says, "and that is measured at least in decades -- in my judgment, in fact, more or less in perpetuity. The notion that we can abolish nuclear weapons reflects on a combination of American utopianism and American parochialism. . . . It's like the [1929] Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy . . . . It's not based upon an understanding of reality."

In other words: Go ahead and wish for a nuclear-free world, but pray that you don't get what you wish for. A world without nukes would be even more dangerous than a world with them, Mr. Schlesinger argues.

Read the whole thing (here). Then, compare Mr. Schleslinger's comments to my essay from the other day, "Obama U.S.-Russia Nuke Partnership Belies 'Realist' Foreign Policy Creds." Speaking of President Obama's recent address in Moscow, I said:
In both words and tone, the president's speech evinces the same Wilsonianism that led to the disastrous institutional paralysis of the interwar era. It is the same kind of happy talk that we might find in the text of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.


cracker said...


Sadly I must make my exit with this comment to this post.

although i have enjoyed all your interpretations, cuts, pastes and what have you.

The banter and wit, and heartfelt opinions of your loyal commentors.

On this I must stand, The idea purveyed by Schlesinger is....and must be , forever unacceptable.

We created the catastrophe of nuclear armament as a scientific genie that would end the war to end all wars......only to be held hostage to it.

the creators of these devices are all dead, of shame, disillusionment and horror.

Any human that proliferates a theme of necessity of these misbegotten aides is ill.

Sick in the heart and sick in the head.

Nuclear weapons are not deterrents.....Nuclear weapons are instant Holocausts. THousands of them.

I will not abide.

Take care, see ya around.

Post Script prayer....May your skin never evaporate from your face, may you never have a hand in such an act.

Peace be with you.

Rich Casebolt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich Casebolt said...

cracker ... one 7.62x39 ball round from an AK can make one just as dead as a nuke ... it just takes longer to run up the body count.

Nukes are a tool, just like the AK ... and before that, arrows and swords ... and before that, rocks ... for one man to impose his will upon the other, to either take -- or defend -- the rights of others.

It can be argued that nuclear weapons have actually saved more lives than they have taken ... ask the children and grandchildren of the Americans -- and Japanese -- who were facing the alternative to Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- an invasion of the home islands.

The problem with nuclear weapons is when they get in the hands of those, from Stalin to Kim Jong Il and the Mad Mullahs, who would deny others life and liberty for their own benefit and/or empowerment ... without the presence of a credible deterrent to their use by such miscreants.

In the case of Stalin and his successors, they were rational enough to perceive they had much to lose ... because we had nukes, the means, the readiness, and the resolve to deliver them if they did first.

Does that mean I liked seeing my uncles share their farmland with Minuteman silos -- making them #1 on the Soviet target list? NO -- anyone who understood that would be a little uncomfortable with their presence, and I was glad to see them go (thank you Mr. Reagan).

But they were necessary at the time, as part of that credible deterrent ... and still are, on SSBNs and more remote land-based sites, though not as many are needed ... as are missile defenses... and strong anti-terrorism defenses, to counter the use of a shipping container as the next Enola Gay, ... because the present crop of totalitarian belligerents do not possess as much rationality as the ol' Bear did.

The ONLY way you will even come close to achieving your objective, cracker, is to see rights-respecting governance ... which puts an end to the aggression that leads to those nukes being used, whether or not they are actually decommissioned and destroyed ... established in every nation on this highly-interconnected planet.

You see, we evil neocons are not as dumb as y'all think ...

There is no excuse.

The world knows how to end the threat ... the problem is, free people lack the confidence, in their own principles and virtue, that is needed to demand that our leaders do so and back them up in such efforts.

Your heart's in the right place, cracker ... but it's writing checks that reality won't cash.

Efforts to get rid of the nukes will not end the threat. The genie is out of the bottle, and you will never be able to get them all ... let alone the intellectual property that will allow someone else to build them in the future.

Establishing rights-respecting governance in every nation -- and defending it against authoritarian/totalitarian takeover -- will end it.

Believe it or not (and yes, it will take time), that is more realistic than eradicating nuclear weapons.

And is more effective in establishing sustainable peace, than merely destroying the most egregious tools of war.

Jordan said...

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