The Interpreter, the blog for Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, is hosting a debate on whether or not nuclear deterrence is still relevant (assuming it ever was). In his contribution, George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace made an extraordinary statement.
US interest in nuclear disarmament stems from the perception that a world without nuclear weapons would give it a greater advantage against others that might threaten it or its allies. The others — particularly China, Russia and North Korea — recognize this! They see the Obama agenda as a means of strengthening the US advantage. Hence they (and Pakistan) are likely to impede nuclear disarmament. How does this weaken extended nuclear deterrence?
By “stems from,” Perkovich seems to be saying that the elimination of nuclear weapons allows the indisputable supremacy of U.S. conventional weapons to assume pride of place in global security. Without the great equalizer of nuclear weapons, the United States, with all its might, would no longer be liable to ransom by an “irrational actor” — from a North Korean dictator to a terrorist group — possessing only one or two nuclear weapons while the United States still retains thousands.
Let’s be charitable and assume that by “stems from,” Perkovich doesn’t rule out other motivations the United States might have for seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons — like exponentially reducing the number of people it might lose in an attack. (Sorry, just don’t have the time to comb through his writings to confirm that ). But, considering his position in the mainstream arms control world, Perkovich’s cynicism is eye-opening.
Yet, when it comes to nuclear disarmament, there are even more cynical depths to which one can sink. As is apparent to those who read him, this author believes that what passes for disarmament — for example, New START — is actually a smokescreen behind which the U.S. nuclear weapons program is retrenching for the long haul.
I believe that the eyes of China, Russia, North Korea, and especially Iran are also open to U.S. intentions. They’re troubled by more than the notion that the United States seeks to abolish nuclear weapons because it makes states with nominal nuclear arsenals (if any can be referred to as such) theoretically equal to the larger, more “rational” nuclear-weapon states. Even more disturbing to them is the sight of a United States that talks a good game about disarmament but plans to spend $180 billion over the next decade on its nuclear industrial complex.