The U.S. has had a unique opportunity as the only superpower since the fall of the Berlin Wall to lead the world out of the threat of nuclear warfare. While there was progress in the 1990s towards dismantling of stockpiles, our current administration has made startling policy changes that have made the world ever more vulnerable.
From the beginning, policies against nuclear proliferation have been marked with double standards, of nuclear nations and nonnuclear nations, friends and foes, “responsible” and “rogue” states.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970 debarred all its signatories except five declared nuclear countries—U.S., Soviet Union, China, France, and Britain—from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Despite their pledges to work towards disarmament, the U.S. and Soviet Union competed with each other for nuclear superiority, producing formidable stockpiles of over 60,000 weapons at the peak of the Cold War. Meanwhile, by rewarding nuclear nations, the two-tier NPT only encouraged others to join the club. Israel, India, and Pakistan did not sign the treaty, and have since acquired nuclear arsenals or capability to develop them.
Our own policies, under the Bush administration, have become unilateral, accompanied with provocative rhetoric. In his first year in office, President Bush abandoned the ABM Treaty with Russia, opening the way for testing and deploying a new generation of warheads. In 2002 he announced a policy of preemptive nuclear first strike against hostile states. The argument is that the U.S. and its allies—including Israel, Pakistan, India, and Brazil—are responsible and can be trusted with nuclear weapons, while other “rogue” nations must be contained. So we exert diplomatic and military pressure on an “axis of evil”—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. North Korea reacted by resuming production of weapons grade plutonium last year. Recent revelations of the black market in nuclear weapons by Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, who sold weapons expertise, bomb designs, and parts to Libya, Iran, and North Korea, exposes the bankruptcy of the view that nuclear weapons are safe in the hands of “responsible” nations.
We build new, specialized weapons while we tell others to dismantle their arsenals. Our modern weaponry will not make us safer, and it puts all nations at risk. It is time for the U.S., as the sole superpower, to do the responsible thing, to talk about disarmament, and lead the world towards elimination of all nuclear warheads, including our own.