Sure, it’s easy to criticize the goal of no nuclear weapons — articulated yesterday by President Obama — as excessively optimistic (not quite calling him a “hope-mongerer,” but close). And not all of the critiques are as tendentiously partisan as Bill Kristol’s. Anne Applebaum reasonably points out that the French and the Brits, let alone the Indians or the Pakistanis or the Chinese, might not be so keen on kissing their nukes goodbye. Thomas Barnett warns, only a little jokingly, that we might need nukes for outer-space visitors who might not like us. And Judah Grunstein doesn’t think that this is the time for non-proliferation:
I’d suggest further that such a volatile and uncertain historical moment isn’t the best time to tear down the scaffolding that’s held the global security order together for the past fifty-odd years.
The problem with this “bad timing” argument is that, according to these conditions, it will never be a good time to pursue non-proliferation. The world is always “volatile and uncertain;” this is not a reason not to work toward eliminating nuclear weapons, which only make the world more volatile and uncertain. Nor is the fact that other deadly weapons of mass destruction exist reason, as Applebaum implies, not to try to take one of these dangerous categories of weapons off the list.
The current “global security order” is not the same as the one that reigned during the Cold War. Nukes no longer serve as a deterrent against one global power; rather, the gravest danger now regarding nuclear weapons is the possibility of non-state terrorists acquiring them. This may not be likely, but eliminating nuclear weapons will only make it less so.
And to rebut Bill Kristol, no, this is not 1939.
(image from flickr user Lebatihem under a Creative Commons license)