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The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and…
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The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb

by Philip Taubman

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Nuclear strategy during the Cold War had on its face a kind of Alice in Wonderland logic. Having thousands of weapons, enough to eradicate entire civilizations, was safer than not having any. Eschewing promises to never launch the weapons on a first strike, despite no offensive intent to ever do so, blocked enemies from launching theirs -- a "launch on warning" posture made each side very cautious. The possibility that escalation to nuclear weapons might stem from conventional war kept the powers from risking war. Low-yield tactical nuclear weapons (so-called battlefield nukes) are more dangerous than the mega tonnage weapons because their limited destructive capacity make their use easier to contemplate. Huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could destroy entire populations are more cost-effective than maintaining large conventional forces. Anti-nuclear defensive weapons, i.e. the SDI "Star Wars" plan of the Reagan years, were actually destabilizing to the balance of terror since being protected from the others' nukes meant you could use your own with impunity. Perhaps the most illogical aspect of nuclear weapons systems is that, even though the consequences of their use is almost too great to horrible to contemplate, the weapons were controlled by hair trigger protocols -- decision makers had literally minutes to decide to launch and a single human or mechanical error could unleash Armageddon on the world.

This is all quite scary, but one could fairly conclude that these strategies worked. Nuclear weapons were not once used after their first introduction against Japan. The 20th century saw two great wars in its first half with tens of millions of casualties. There were none in the century's second half, perhaps due to fear of escalation to nuclear weapon use. Indeed, the two great powers controlling nuclear arms, despite their bitter, hostile relationship, were, but for a few close calls, exceedingly cautious in keeping the lid on rising tensions.

But, the Cold War is over. So, what should be the strategy governing nuclear weapons in the 21st century? If our nation once needed massive stocks of nuclear arms to check the aggression of hostile foes, who are these foes now? If deterrence once worked, what or who are we needing to deter now? If we need to retain nuclear weapons in our national armory for the possibility that they might be needed in the future, do we really need thousands of them? Are the instantaneous launch practices of the past worth the risk of accidental use?

In this post Cold War world, there still remains significant institutional commitment -- military, policy think tanks, techno-industrial -- to the policies of the last 70 years. Isn't it time to think and act outside the Cold War strategy box? When the world conditions underpinning the logic of deterrence strategies no longer exist, it becomes pointless to continue those strategies. But, the task of disengaging is actually quite complex, in some respects made difficult by the changed conditions.

Fortunately, the vital challenge to move beyond Cold War strategies has been taken on by five prominent leaders as told in The Partnership by Philip Taubman. Perhaps ironically these leaders are among the fathers of nuclear policies of the last seventy years, the authors of the doctrines they now feel misdirected: Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry. Sidney Drell, a physicist and weapons expert, joined the four in this undertaking. These statesmen have not only seen the wisdom of de-escalating the place of nuclear weapons in the nations that possess them, but envision moving toward complete abolition. In 2008, after intense deliberation and collaboration, the five authored an Op-Ed column in the Wall Street Journal that called for radical reorientation of nuclear policy, including ultimately, steps to ultimately abolish nuclear arms altogether. Their lofty reputations and international standing lends enormous credibility to their recommendations.

In the first decades of the 21st century the challenges of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials are vastly more complicated than the issues of the past. The first challenge is the sheer size of nuclear arsenals. Between the Soviet Union and the United States there was at its zenith over 70,000 nuclear warheads. The work in the 1990's and early 2000's to remove weapons from former Soviet republics is rightly hailed as a major accomplishment, as was the reduction of delivery systems. Notwithstanding these successes, the size of the arsenals can only continue the risk of mishap -- the greater the quantity the greater the risk. (And, isn't the risk still greater as our concentration on nuclear weapons wanes?) While reductions were made following the dissolution of the Soviet Union the downsizing initiative seems to have stalled.

The second problem haunting the nuclear stage is the proliferation of weapons among various states across the globe: India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and, possibly soon, Iran. Successes were gained in persuading some countries tinkering with acquiring nuclear arms (South Africa, Libya and Brazil) to drop their development, but the presence of these weapons in the remaining states - several of which are unstable or with ideological axes to grind. Undoubtedly, it will be a heavy lift to stop further proliferation and entice these states to give up their nuclear arms. The proliferation problem is made more problematic because the technical ability to create nuclear weapons is no longer exclusive to the super powers.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the porous control over existing fissile materials. It is certain that terrorist groups would salivate at the prospect of obtaining highly-enriched uranium. While these substances could be used in bomb-making, a much lower tech possibility are so-called "dirty bombs" that whose detonation, while not capable of nuclear fission, would spread deadly radioactive toxins across wide areas. A dirty bomb set off in a major metropolitan center would result in many thousands of casualties. Unlike the nukes of old, these bombs don't need sophisticated delivery systems; they could be carried in a trunk. Moreover, the retaliatory check on the Cold War nuclear powers is meaningless to terrorists; there is nothing we could do in retaliation that would deter them. High-yield uranium stocks exist in significant quantities in many locales around the globe. Investigations have shown that these materials are poorly accounted for and stored in unsecure settings. An effort to retrieve this fissile material has been partially successful, but the lack of precise accounting hampers this initiative.

The partners have proposed bold but practical steps to reverse these disturbing situations. They have gotten endorsement from many world leaders and from the General Assembly of the UN. President Obama has shown genuine interest in advancing these goals. Along with a steady reduction of arms inventories and continued efforts at non-proliferation, the retrieval and control of high-yield uranium is a vital priority. Dissuading or preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is critical; a nuclear Iran would incredibly dangerous to the region and to the world. Pakistan is worrisome due to the instability of the government and its covert links to terrorist groups. North Korea has such a bizarre world view that its possession of weapons can only be viewed with the gravest concern.

The partners are hard-headed realists who know that achieving the goal of a nuclear-free world is a hard slog. One is aware that these leaders are in their last few years -- Schultz and Kissinger are past 90. It seems that to sustain their efforts and continue on toward the goals, all of us must keep this a high priority. ( )
  stevesmits | Feb 27, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006174400X, Hardcover)

A terrorist attack with nuclear weapons is the most dangerous security issue America faces today—and we are far more vulnerable than we realize. Driven by this knowledge, five men—all members of the Cold War brain trust behind the U.S. nuclear arsenal—have come together to combat this threat, leading a movement that is shaking the nuclear establishment and challenging the United States and other nations to reconsider their strategic policies.

Illuminating and thought-provoking, The Partnership tells the little-known story of their campaign to reduce the threat of a nuclear attack and, ultimately, eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. It is an intimate look at these men—Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and the renowned Stanford physicist Sidney Drell—the origins of their unlikely joint effort, and their dealings with President Obama and other world leaders. Award-winning journalist Philip Taubman explores the motivations, past conflicts, and current debates that drive, and sometimes strain, their bipartisan partnership. Through their stories, he examines the political and technological currents that shaped nuclear strategy during the Cold War—including the 1986 Reykjavik summit, at which Reagan and Gorbachev narrowly missed a landmark agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons—and illuminates how the end of that conflict gave rise to the dangerous realities of today. He reveals the heated discussions taking place in Washington and in nuclear-weapons laboratories, and spotlights current threats and the frantic efforts of America and its allies to prevent the spread of fissile materials.

Meticulously researched and compellingly told, The Partnership demands that we turn our attention to an issue that has the potential to alter our world order. Philip Taubman has provided an important and timely story of science, history, and friendship—of five men who have decided the time has come to dismantle the nuclear kingdom they worked to build.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A terrorist attack with nuclear weapons is the most dangerous security issue America faces today--and we are far more vulnerable than we realize. Driven by this knowledge, five men--all members of the Cold War brain trust behind the U.S. nuclear arsenal--have come together to combat this threat, leading a movement that is challenging the United States and other nations to reconsider their strategic policies. This book tells the little-known story of their campaign to reduce the threat of a nuclear attack and, ultimately, eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. It is an intimate look at these men--Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and the renowned Stanford physicist Sidney Drell--the origins of their unlikely joint effort, and their dealings with President Obama and other world leaders. Journalist Philip Taubman explores the motivations, past conflicts, and current debates that drive, and sometimes strain, their bipartisan partnership. --From publisher description.… (more)

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