December 8, 2010

According to Charles Krauthammer, (Washington Post, 11/25/10:  “A world without nukes would be the ultimate nightmare.”  Didn’t he feel ridiculous writing this?  Hello! A nuclear war would be the ultimate nightmare.

The reason Krauthammer fears a world without nuclear weapons is that psychopaths and rogues could develop nukes and would no longer be deterred by our nuclear arsenal.  But his reasoning is flawed.

First, a world without nuclear weapons would be just that, not a world in which nuclear weapons still exist.  Unlike other types of weapons, international control of nuclear weapons is feasible because of the difficulty creating fissile material.  This is why we need a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.

Second, Krauthammer seems naïvely to believe that our nuclear weapons will deter rogues, radicals and psychopaths. Wouldn’t it be better to keep nuclear weapons out of their hands in the first place?  The only way this can happen is by delegitimizing these hideous weapons and strengthening international treaties such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Krauthammer argues against arms control treaties because, “the problem is never the weapon, it is the regime controlling the weapon.”  To him, a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia is “inconceivable.” This ignores the vast literature on the risk of accidental nuclear war  — see e.g. an article in the New England Journal of Medicine:

He writes, “…that’s why no one worries about British nukes and everyone worries about Iranian nukes.”  Perhaps no one in the US worries about British nukes.  But perhaps people in Iran do worry about them, or about US and Israeli nukes and conventional weapons.

Rather than trying to perpetuate an unsustainable world of nuclear haves and have-nots, thoughtful strategists from both parties and the vast majority of the world’s population believe we would be safer in a world free of nuclear weapons. The New Start treaty is a small step in the right direction.

Thomas B. Newman, MD, MPH
Board Member, Physicians for Social Responsibility