Nuclear Weapons After the Cold War

Carl Kaysen, Robert S McNamara, George W Rathjens. Foreign Affairs. Volume 70, Issue 4, Fall 1991.


The Cold War had two chief features: the continuing confrontation on the border between the two Germanys that might, possibly without notice, break out into war, and the ideologically driven rivalry throughout the Third World.

Germany is now united within its 1945 boundaries, which have been recognized and accepted by all concerned; the Warsaw Pact has disappeared; and the three countries between the western border of the Soviet Union and the West, no longer in thrall to the Soviet Union, are admiring petitioners to the West. Communism has lost almost all of its appeal outside the borders of the few remaining polities that officially adhere to it—China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Cuba—and it is unlikely that it would survive even a modest easing of pervasive repressive central control in any of them.

Inside the Soviet Union, however, the struggle for change is producing turmoil; the forces of reaction, of reform and of disintegration are in contention, the outcome uncertain. While still possessing formidable inventories of nuclear and conven­tional weapons, the Soviet state shows no will to use its military power externally, and almost certainly lacks the political co­herence to do so. An immediate external threat appears to be the only circumstance that would change that situation, and it is hard to see whence one would arise. Even the failure of perestroika and a retreat from glasnost led by a new military- authoritarian regime would not reconstitute the powerful, ideologically driven opponent supported by East European allies that the United States saw from 1945 through much of the last decade.

Thus the great conflict that marked our lives for most of the twentieth century is over, and hardly more likely to be revived than the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries between Catholics and Protestants in Europe.

With the end of the Cold War, it is hard to construct even a semi-plausible military threat to the United States or to Europe west of the Soviet border in the immediate future. As General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has noted: “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim II Sung.” If this is so, it is reasonable to ask: What role will military force in general, and nuclear weapons in particular, play in the emerging world order?


Efforts at answering this question must begin with a re­minder of the extraordinary revolution in military technology in the last half-century. The development of nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them accurately at intercontinen­tal ranges opened a wide and increasing gap between what was technically feasible in the application of military power and what was politically usable.

At present, the world stockpile of nuclear weapons com­prises some 52,000 nuclear warheads, 97 percent of them in the hands of the United States and the Soviet Union. Beyond the three other states acknowledging the possession of nuclear weapons—China, France and the United Kingdom—there are four or five states that either have some current nuclear capability or are on the threshold of achieving it.

The most striking fact about nuclear weapons is that since their development and the demonstration of their feasibility in July 1945, only two have ever been used in war. As President Truman said in his last State of the Union message, following the first hydrogen-bomb test:

From now on, man moves into a new era of destructive power. The war of the future would be one in which man could extinguish millions of lives at one blow, demolish the great cities of the world, wipe out the cultural achievements of the past and destroy the very structure of a civilization that has slowly and painfully built up through hundreds of generations. Such a war is not a possible policy for rational men.

Yet for 38 years the United States has been building ever larger arsenals to wage (or at least be prepared to wage) just such a war.

The enormous buildup of nuclear weapons since 1945 was primarily, but not entirely, the product of the Cold War. The character of the military competition between the two super­powers was shaped by the existence of strategic nuclear weapons. Having hastily demobilized its armed forces at the end of the Second World War, the United States by 1947 began to rely heavily on nuclear weapons to counter the perceived threat to western Europe from the large Soviet army that had not been demobilized. The buildup of overseas U.S. air bases on the periphery of the Soviet Union and the deployment to them of nuclear-capable bombers stimulated a corresponding, though at first much slower, buildup of Soviet strategic forces.

The reciprocal fears aroused by the possibility of a devas­tating bolt-from-the-blue nuclear attack intensified as the weapons and their means of delivery continued to improve. Profound ideological antipathy and demonization of the other side, the lag between the decision to build new weapons and their deployment, worst-case analyses, Soviet secrecy and successful Soviet bluffs about the size and capability of their forces, and American belief in the possibility of sustaining technological superiority—all were factors in keeping the process going. In the tactical arena similar factors and the belief that Soviet superiority in mobilized manpower in Eu­rope could not be overcome led to the nuclearization of first American and then NATO’s ground and tactical air forces in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Soviet nuclear buildup was a response to that of the United States. The other nuclear powers, however, made their initial commitments to develop nuclear forces in varying circumstances. For the British it was the desire, in Prime Minister Macmillan’s words, to continue to “eat at the top table,” to participate in U.S. military, particularly nuclear, decision-making as an equal. France also invested in nuclear weapons for equally illusory political reasons, but with a difference: the French saw them as the symbol of indepen­dence, especially from the security umbrella of the United States, but also from the United Kingdom.

China began its quest for nuclear weapons as early as 1955 as an ally and client of the Soviet Union. When the break between the two occurred (partly because of the Soviet refusal in 1959 to continue helping Beijing develop nuclear weapons) the Chinese pressed forward, as anxious about the potential nuclear threat from their neighboring former ally as they had initially been about the threat from the distant United States. In 1964 China exploded its first test weapon, becoming the fifth avowed nuclear weapons power.

India felt threatened by a powerful nuclear-armed neigh­bor, namely China, with whom it had an open political dispute and at whose hands it had suffered a humiliating though limited military defeat. The Indians, however, declared their test a peaceful explosion, and denied that they had or wished to have weapons. Nevertheless the major incentive for Paki­stan’s nuclear weapons program has been the threat from India and India’s nuclear program.

Israel does not acknowledge the nuclear capability it is widely believed to possess. Its more populous, heavily armed and deeply hostile neighboring states do not recognize its legitimacy and have remained in a state of war with Israel since its founding. Until now Israel has relied successfully on its conventional forces in four wars. However its nuclear capabil­ity is the ultimate security guarantee.

Evidence of the Israeli nuclear armory has spurred Iraqi and Libyan efforts to achieve nuclear capability.

It is noteworthy, however, that most states have not sought to acquire nuclear weapons. Some that clearly have the tech­nical capability and resources to do so see no need or threat, or view the possible advantages as outweighed by the political costs. These include professed neutrals, such as Sweden, which started down the weapons path but then turned back, and potential adversaries, such as Argentina and Brazil, which have recently decided against continuing that path. Others such as Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan have seen their security interests served best by alliance with the United States. Many countries, perhaps the majority, are simply too poor in both technical and economic resources to contemplate acquiring nuclear weapons.


What of threats to peace since the beginning of the nuclear era? In Europe there were many moments of crisis that in pre-nuclear times probably would have led to war: the re­peated crises in divided Berlin, beginning with the Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948; the Soviet invasions to put down dissident governments in Hungary and Czechoslovakia; incursions by U.S. military aircraft across Soviet borders, involving the shooting of U.S. planes and American U-2 flights across the Soviet heartland.

But deterrence worked. The possession of substantial nu­clear armories by both sides certainly reinforced it, and may by itself have been a sufficient condition for its continuing effec­tiveness. Whether such possession was a necessary condition is unclear. The memory of the enormous toll of death and destruction in Europe wrought by conventional weapons in World War II may have been daunting enough to both the European members of NATO and the Soviet Union to maintain the peace. And it is certainly relevant that from the early 1950s to the early 1960s, when the United States had clear “strategic superiority” and even a near monopoly of effective nuclear capability, the Soviet Union was not deterred from using force or the threat of it to maintain suzerainty over its European domains.

Outside Europe the world changed continuously, beginning with the struggle for control of China. The former imperial powers of Europe retreated in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, in part voluntarily, in part under duress. New states were created, many with unstable regimes and shifting allegiances in the superpower competition. Many of the changes involved violence: colonial revolts and guerrilla wars against the Euro­pean powers, civil wars or less organized civil violence within new states and conflicts among them as well.

In all these struggles nuclear weapons played little, if any, part. The United States’ near monopoly in deliverable nuclear weapons in no way deterred the Chinese communists from their conquest of the Chinese mainland. North Korea was not deterred from invading South Korea in 1950, nor North Vietnam from its support of guerrilla war in (and then its open invasion of) South Vietnam in the 1960s. Nor were Egypt and Syria deterred in 1973 from attacking Israel, which at the time had at least a “screwdriver-away” nuclear capability; or Argen­tina from seizing the British Falklands in 1982. Nor was Saddam Hussein deterred from seizing Kuwait in 1990, though he presumably knew that there was some risk that the United States, Britain and France would see such an attack and its likely consequences for the control of Saudi oil as a clear threat to their vital interests.

From the start of the nuclear age in 1945 enormous expen­ditures of ingenuity and ink have been devoted to analyses and discussions of nuclear strategy. While more voluminous in the United States, such analyses have by no means been confined to it and have spread over the entire world. Yet all this discussion has produced only one plausible scenario for the use of nuclear weapons in war: a situation where there is no prospect of retaliation, either against a nonnuclear state or against one so weakly armed as to permit the user to have full confidence in his nuclear forces’ capacity to achieve a totally disarming first strike.

But even such circumstances have not, in fact, provided a sufficient basis for the use of nuclear weapons in war. Al­though American forces were in desperate straits twice during the Korean War—first immediately following the North Ko­rean attack in 1950 and then when the Chinese crossed the Yalu—the United States did not use nuclear weapons. At that time, North Korea and China had no nuclear capability, and the Soviet Union only a negligible one. Although President Truman’s hasty response to a reporter’s question at a press conference in November 1950 appeared to suggest that he was considering the use of nuclear weapons, political leaders recoiled from the perceived political costs.1 Just the suggestion that the United States might use nuclear weapons provoked an immediate descent on Washington by British Prime Minister Attlee, and a presidential assurance that no such action was contemplated.

Nearly four years later, when the besieged French in Dien Bien Phu were desperate, French and U.S. military leaders considered the possibility of relieving the fortress by using U.S. air strikes against the Vietnamese attackers. Within the U.S. military, discussion favored the use of low-yield nuclear weapons for that purpose. President Eisenhower later told his biographer that when these discussions were reported to him, he responded: “You boys must be crazy. We can’t use those awful things against Asians for a second time in less than ten years. My God.” Self-deterrence was as effective as mutual deterrence.


The end of the Cold War clearly does not in itself mean the end of international conflict, but it need not mean a return to an earlier style of international relations based on the balance of power and shifting alliances, with its ultimate reliance on national military forces. The unlimited destructiveness of nuclear weapons and the increasingly devastating power of conventional weapons call into question the utility of war as a policy instrument. So does recognition that wars fail to settle the conflicts that lead to them.

The post-Cold War era means that wars are not likely to occur within the context of a bipolar world dominated by two great ideological opponents. What this new era provides is the opportunity to strive for truly collective security and an international rule of law, in which self-help by the use of military force for resolving conflicts among nations loses its legitimacy. The U.N. charter and the instruments available under it can gain increasing credibility through increasing use and thus provide the framework for an evolving rule of law.

It is in America’s deepest interest, even in the short run, to continue on the path of delegitimizing war and the unilateral use of military force in relations among states, and to lead the way to worldwide acceptance of this view. This requires that Washington and its allies do better than they have so far in the Middle East and elsewhere, not only in contesting overt interstate aggression but also in dealing with underlying causes of conflict. This is the aim that should inform U.S. military and diplomatic policies, and the U.S. government must persuade others of its primacy. This is the essence of the new international order that the end of the Cold War makes possible.


What of the role of nuclear weapons in this new order? Against what kinds of threats might they be useful? What interests would the United States judge to be so vital that nuclear weapons would be critical and credible for their defense? What threat could even pose the possibility of their use for deterrence?

In our view, it is hard to see any near-term need at all for those of the United States. It is hard to imagine any more serious threats for France, Germany or the other countries of western Europe than that posed last year by Saddam Hussein, to which nuclear weapons were incredible as a deterrent and therefore irrelevant. As for the Soviet Union and China, it is implausible that either could use such weapons effectively to deal with its internal problems. And by comparison with those problems, all other threats pale, including even that of one attacking the other.

But so long as these states retain nuclear weapons, each may see them as useful in the narrowest deterrent role: to make sure that no other nuclear weapons state is tempted to attack them. In the changed world, however, the weight of interna­tional opinion, both official and public, against any use of nuclear weapons will be stronger than it has been, and the inhibitions on the use of nuclear weapons against states without nuclear arms will be stronger still.

But two states do face near or medium-term threats to their existence for which they might judge nuclear weapons credible deterrents or responses: Pakistan and Israel. The former is already seriously outgunned by India with conventional weap­ons, and the latter faces the near certainty of being so some years hence by the Arab states, which together have many times Israel’s population, much higher birth rates and oil wealth to boot. While nuclear weapons may not be as useful for “war-fighting,” given the development of “smart” technologies for delivery of conventional ordnance, nor as credible as deterrents as they were believed to be some years ago, it is implausible that Israel will not insist on retaining them as weapons of last resort, absent a resolution of its fundamental security problem. This may be true for Pakistan as well. Its leaders are likely at least to keep open the option of acquiring nuclear capabilities quickly should India do so, or should hostilities with India seem close. In both of these cases prob­ably only international action could resolve the underlying conflicts or contain them below the level at which they lead to war. Nuclear capability, actual or potential, cannot be relied on to keep the peace.


But a world free of nuclear weapons is at best a distant prospect. The five declared nuclear powers will each wish to keep some weapons as long as any of the others do. Further all or most will claim the necessity for keeping some weapons as a hedge against the uncertainties of the status of “threshold” states and the possibilities of “breakout”—open deployment of nuclear weapons by one or more of them. The current deployments, however, particularly of the United States and the Soviet Union, are absurdly large and negotiations for reductions have been ridiculously slow. All the purposes that these weapons can conceivably serve could be met by forces no more, and perhaps less, than one-twentieth their current size.

To begin with, the more than 25,000 tactical warheads that both powers together deploy could be almost entirely disman­tled. Many thousands are based in Europe, where their pres­ence no longer serves any military or political purpose and where their use would destroy much of both eastern and western Europe. These weapons were developed and de­ployed in Europe in response to the Soviet Union’s achieving the capacity to deliver a devastating nuclear attack against the United States. This led to a growing belief in NATO that the United States could not and would not respond to air attack by Warsaw Pact conventional forces against NATO Europe by immediately “unleashing” the Strategic Air Command. Hence, the birth of the concept of initiating nuclear action with the use of tactical or theater nuclear weapons.

Although no responsible political or military figure ever came up with a truly convincing explanation of how nuclear weapons might be used in Europe without unacceptable risks of catastrophic escalation, the possibility of their use could not be totally discounted.

Not surprisingly, NATO’s deployment of theater nuclear weapons came to mean all things to all men. To those fearful that a strategic nuclear exchange would destroy the United States, it offered the hope that war in Europe might be deterred by the prospect of Warsaw Pact forces suffering unacceptable punishment, but without escalation to a strategic nuclear exchange. To those mainly concerned about the devastating consequences of any European war—mainly the Europeans themselves—theater nuclear weapons offered the prospect of coupling: making escalation from the use of conventional forces to the engagement of strategic forces by the superpowers sufficiently credible that Soviet leadership would be deterred from actions that might lead to conven­tional war. With these differences in beliefs and hopes about how nuclear weapons might be used, possible modifications in NATO force posture, whether as a result of Western initiative or in response to actions by the Soviet Union, inevitably have had divisive effects within the alliance. Hence, the controversies about the “neutron bomb,” intermediate-range nuclear forces and futile American efforts to get the Europeans to increase their conventional forces and defense expenditures.

With the end of the threat of a devastating Warsaw Pact attack against western Europe, the rationale for NATO’s theater nuclear weapons has disappeared. It is clear that all such weapons should be withdrawn from Europe. In fact we see no case for their deployment or retention anywhere, much less for the development of new ones.

This includes tactical nuclear weapons deployed on naval ships and nuclear bombs designed for antisubmarine warfare. The Soviets currently deploy some 6,000 of these, the United States perhaps half as many. The U.S. navy has so far strongly resisted Soviet requests to bring naval weapons into the dis­cussions on nuclear arms control. Yet it has begun unilaterally to retire some of its naval antiaircraft and antisubmarine weapons. Moreover, the U.S. navy is organized around large carriers that are highly vulnerable to Soviet nuclear-armed antiship missiles. The Soviet navy has only one such vessel, and it does not play a central role in Soviet naval strategy. The U.S. navy is beginning to recognize that the tactical denucleariza­tion of the seas may be to its advantage.

Turning to the disposition of strategic nuclear weapons, we must recognize the particular interpretation of deterrence embodied in the structure and targeting doctrine of U.S. strategic forces. The highest priority target has been the other side’s strategic forces, both offensive and defensive, rather than the hundred-odd urban-industrial centers critical to the functioning of a modern society. Many military targets other than strategic forces further lengthen this target list. Our limited information about Soviet targeting suggests that they have a similar concept of deterrence. Thus the forces on both sides have been structured and targeted as first-strike or war-fighting forces. The proponents of this force structure have seen it as essential to providing “extended deterrence”: deterrence of any Soviet military action against the West, not only a nuclear attack.

All strategic arms control negotiations with the Soviets have been conducted within this framework. An exemplary 1988 study illustrates how such thinking is reflected in consideration of arms reduction and force posture questions. The authors estimate that with reduction of U.S. strategic warheads from 12,000 to 6,000 the United States could still destroy 1,500 to 2,000 Soviet targets in a retaliatory strike. Such a strike, in addition to eliminating these military targets, would kill tens of millions of civilians and reduce the economic and social order to chaos.

In common with most of the American establishment, the study’s authors view this as adequate for deterrence, indeed, as being essentially as dissuasive as our present force of twice that number. But when postures involving the retention of “only” 3,000 warheads for each side are considered, consensus within the establishment splinters. The study simply notes that at those levels the outcomes of nuclear exchange calculations become quite sensitive to specific details of force posture assumptions. Consistent with this caution, others have noted that reductions by both sides to these levels “would require costly investment in mobility, higher alert rates for subma­rines, and inland basing of strategic bombers.” And some even conclude that such reductions would be to Soviet advantage.

We believe such concerns are seriously flawed, as are weap­ons acquisition policies rationalized on these premises. Con­fronted with plausible crises, we do not believe American or Soviet leaders would have made—or would in the future make—different decisions if either or both nations had only what many have characterized as “minimal” deterrent forces: forces of a size and structure that would permit the destruction of, say, a dozen rather than thousands of targets in a retalia­tory attack. Thus we do not see how commitment to forces capable of inflicting higher levels of destruction can offer American presidents politically exploitable military capabili­ties.

The acceptance of such “requirements” has given too much influence on American policy to those committed to them, and to the continued buildup and virtually unlimited moderniza­tion of strategic forces. These are points that clearly troubled both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy as they became aware of U.S. air force planning in 1960-61.

We earlier noted President Truman’s statement that nuclear war could not be a possible policy for a rational man. A few years later, in 1954—the same year of his famous public “massive retaliation” speech—Secretary of State John Foster Dulles observed within government councils that “the increased destructiveness of nuclear weapons and the approach of effective atomic parity are creating a situation in which general war would threaten the destruction of Western civili­zation and of the Soviet regime, and in which national objec­tives could not be obtained through a general war even if a military victory were won.”

These points have, or should have, troubled all succeeding presidents and secretaries of state. President Reagan ex­pressed the same view when he said that a nuclear war could never be won and therefore must never be fought. Yet this nation has continued to premise its war plans and procure its forces on the need for substantial counterforce nuclear capa­bilities. This was a significant factor in keeping the Cold War alive, and has been excessively dangerous—a point driven home particularly in the last several years as we have come to understand better the extent of misperception and miscalcu­lation that characterized various Soviet-American confronta­tions, particularly the Cuban missile crisis.

Continuing with such planning—and with force acquisition based on it—now seems absurd. With the Cold War over, it suggests that U.S. strategic thinking remains chained to obso­lete doctrines: that as a nation we are incapable of reacting intelligently to changes in the world scene.

The most seriously discussed alternative has been the afore­mentioned concept of “minimum deterrence.” There have been many efforts to define strategic force postures consistent with the concept, going back at least to the Eisenhower administration when Donald Quarles, secretary of the air force and deputy secretary of defense, asked the question: “How much is enough?” Robert McNamara suggested early in the 1960s during the Kennedy administration that an ability to destroy in retaliation 20-25 percent of the Soviet population and 50 percent of its industrial capacity, something achievable with the delivery on the order of 100 one-megaton weapons, was surely an upper bound. McGeorge Bundy, national secur­ity adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, wrote in 1969 that much lower damage levels might suffice: “In the real world of real political leaders … a decision that would bring even one hydrogen bomb on one city of one’s own country would be recognized in advance as a catastrophic blunder; ten bombs on ten cities would be a disaster beyond history; and a hundred bombs on a hundred cities are unthinkable.”

Force requirements for “minimum deterrence” depend on how vulnerable those forces are to preemptive attack. This point, too, has been much discussed. Herbert York, the first director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, has examined this question in light of the inevitable uncertainty about the weight of preemptive attack. He suggests that, assuming serious but feasible efforts to minimize the vulnerability of retaliatory forces, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 weapons might be about right for each side.

Although we have no quarrel with this estimate, nor with most of the other discussions of minimum deterrence in the last three decades, the size of the force required for the purpose depends on the size of others’ nuclear forces. More­over all of this discussion has been premised on a need for deterrence of attack by the Soviet Union that now seems among the least worrisome of imaginable threats to our society. If, as General Powell suggests, our only significant enemies are now North Korea and Cuba, we have no imme­diate military need for strategic nuclear forces for deterrence beyond that required for deterrence of nuclear attack by other nuclear powers. Looking ahead we see no military need whatsoever for any modernization of U.S. strategic forces for at least the remainder of this century, assuming that the Soviets follow similar policies.


The question we must address is how to proceed from here to our ultimate objective. It is clear that the objective will never be reached by the tedious and seemingly interminable process of negotiation on which the superpowers have relied so far. Reductions to levels of, say, 1,000 warheads on each side, could be achieved by a series of unilateral actions, what in a lost hopeful moment twenty years ago was called the process of “mutual example.” With both sides continuing to adhere to the antiballistic missile treaty, the United States could announce that it would decommission a certain number of missiles and bombers, and disassemble their warheads within a fixed pe­riod, half to be done immediately, the other half when the Soviets undertook a reciprocal action.

At these proposed levels of warhead numbers, effective strategic equivalence does not require equality or near equal­ity in numbers of the opposing forces. It requires only that each side recognize that the other can inflict unacceptable damage in a retaliatory strike. Equivalence is thus not a line, but a band of considerable width. Thus from 1965 to 1980, although U.S. strategic nuclear forces far outnumbered those of the Soviets and were qualitatively superior in many ways, they were strategically equivalent. President Gorbachev’s understanding of the width of the band of equivalence led him to accept the disproportionately large reductions in Soviet forces relative to those of the United States in the inf and start treaties. Thus the process of reciprocal unilateral reductions could go forward without risk of meaningful strategic imbalance.

Similarly the United States can dispense with modernizing the remaining weapons. They are already efficacious enough to serve the residual function of minimum deterrence of the use of nuclear weapons by any state against the United States or its allies, which is all that we can ask or expect of them. Simply getting on with reductions and foregoing moderniza­tion is at least as likely to have a salutary effect in inducing emulation, not only by the Soviet Union but by the other nuclear powers. It is a better example than prolonged negoti­ations, which give the impression that the United States which has had the most experience with them—continues to believe that nuclear forces offer such military and political advantage as to justify quibbling over the arcane details of force posture. At some point—perhaps in the neighborhood of 1,000 U.S. and Soviet warheads—France, the United King­dom and China would have to be drawn into the reduction process if it were to continue.

There are several reasons why it is desirable to reduce the number of nuclear weapons even further. Perhaps the most basic is the fundamental immorality of relying on the threat of death and destruction to civilians and the urban fabric of civilization on the scale that even a few tens of modern nuclear weapons would produce. Such a strike would put at risk not only the citizens of the nuclear powers involved but millions of citizens of even distant nonbelligerent states affected by the fallout of radiation, as Chernobyl made clear. The world has lived with a similar immorality ever since Germany and then Britain and the United States relied on air attack of cities as a major instrument of war. But the basic point remains and at bottom reflects the deeper moral difficulty of relying on war as an instrument of state policy.

There are more pragmatic reasons for seeking to continue the process of nuclear disarmament. First is the simple calcu­lation that reducing the number and variety of weapons and the geographic breadth of their deployment reduces the probability of their accidental or unauthorized use. At any level of effort devoted to ensuring the central control and security of deployed weapons, the fewer there are, the less the probability of failure.

Second is the influence of the size and growth of the weapons stockpiles of the nuclear weapons states on the acceptance by the others of their nonnuclear status. Those states that have refused to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty have always justified their refusal by the asymmetry of obliga­tion between the recognized nuclear weapons states and all others. The more the asymmetry is diminished the more likely it is that nonproliferation can achieve the status of an accept­able international regime. This too will require the involve­ment in the disarmament process of all the nuclear powers, not just the United States and the Soviet Union.


If there is no need for most of the world’s nuclear weapons, nor for their modernization, it seems obvious that there is not much of a case for continued nuclear weapons testing or for the production of fissionable materials. The only remaining argument for continued testing—and it seems to us an argu­ment of last resort—is that of safety. The United States has some weapons in its stockpile that are overly susceptible to accidental detonation, and some experts claim that further testing is required so that these faulty systems can be replaced with new, safer weapons. With reductions on the scale we envisage, however, these more worrisome weapons can be eliminated without replacement.

We strongly advocate that the United States go along with the rest of the world—Washington and London are now the only clear holdouts—to extend the proscription of the present test-ban treaty to include underground testing. The vigorous underground test programs of the United States and the Soviet Union under the present treaty have made it almost a sham as regards arms control—though useful as an environmental pro­tection measure. Consummating a comprehensive test-ban treaty could have some direct effect on nuclear weapons proliferation. Parties to it could still develop simple fission weapons. But without testing, such development would be somewhat more difficult and for thermonuclear and other sophisticated weapons probably impossible. We favor consummation of a comprehen­sive test ban treaty mainly because weapons testing has been so symbolic of the nuclear arms race—we might say symbolic of America’s commitment to nuclear madness. Perhaps more than any other single action, a comprehensive test-ban treaty would signal both domestically and internationally the rejection of nuclear weaponry as a basis for security.

If the United States is prepared to do all this, why should it not lead or at least join others in a move for the abolition of all nuclear weapons? One of the standard arguments against this has been that notwithstanding undertakings to get rid of nuclear weapons, others might retain a few. The other is that even a world free of nuclear weapons would be intolerably unstable because in a crisis, or even at the hint of a crisis, the parties involved would be driven to develop, stockpile and perhaps use new weapons. The knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons is something from which we cannot escape. Both these points have merit, but focusing on them invites the search for a technical fix that will provide a way around them. There can be none.

This is all the more valid in that technological developments, aside from those in nuclear weaponry, have meant that in­creases in our destructive abilities have so outpaced whatever increases there have been in the resilience of our social infrastructures that war with modern weapons has to be seen as an increasingly unacceptable means for dealing with differ­ences. And so we cannot emphasize too strongly the impor­tance of seizing the moment—certainly the best opportunity since World War II—to work on reducing motivations for the use of force to deal with the world’s problems, to try to realize the promise of the U.N. charter and to establish an interna­tional rule of law.

We should view getting rid of nuclear weapons as something facilitated by that larger effort. To the extent we succeed in that approach, getting rid of them will be easier, but less important.