Purpose of Nuclear Disarmament

Jimmy Carter believed that nuclear arms talks with the Soviet Union were, of themselves, a good thing. It is important to understand this about his psychology. There was a Cold War on, and he wanted to end it by creating an atmosphere of trust between the superpowers. It is important to note that the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 2) which he negotiated was not designed to eliminate the risk of nuclear war by abolishing nuclear weapons, or even to make any war that happened less destructive by reducing the number of nuclear weapons. It didn’t do either of those things. There was no disarmament or even a nuclear freeze. It was an agreement to reduce the rate at which the superpowers built new weapons. They were both to keep all the weapons they had and build new ones, but not quite as fast. The idea was that if this worked, trust would be created, and they could later talk about actual disarmament.

Ronald Reagan considered SALT a waste of time, and would only hold nuclear talks if they were about reducing the number of nuclear weapons, hence the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). Again, both sides retained the power to destroy the other. Mutually Assured Destruction was maintained. The purpose was still about trying to be friendlier, while retaining the power to wage war if necessary.

Reagan also believed that Carter’s desperation to have a treaty – any treaty – led him to agree to one that disadvantaged America. This last point is important, because it seems that Barack Obama is also desperate to have a treaty, and it is not clear to this columnist why.

Nobody believes there is likely to be a nuclear war with Russia. America’s relations with Russia are variable, but not especially hostile, and the two are no longer global rivals. The Soviet Union had a declared and frequently practiced plan to subjugate Western Europe. Russia feels it has strategic interests among its near neighbors – the former republics of the USSR – but has no plans even to regain former satellites such as Poland, let alone invade and occupy Britain, Italy and France.

Russia is not America’s strategic rival – if there is one, it is China. Russia is not in the grip of a hostile and aggressive ideology – that would be Iran. So why is there a necessity to create an elaborate disarmament regime with Russia?

Now it may be that some sort of disarmament is sensible. No-one thinks that Russia and America are planning to use their weapons. This, of itself, might be a reason to get rid of them. Why spend money on weapons you don’t plan to use? Deterrence worked against the Soviet Union. As Sting put it, the Russians love their children too. But militant Islam is less easily deterred. If people really believe that death involves 72 virgins it is not so frightening. It is not obvious that new nuclear weapons will deter anyone. The case for disarmament or a freeze is financial

But disarmament has its risks too. The fissile material is dangerous. Where will it end up? Material from former Soviet Union has supported the nuclear ambitions of the Middle East. I would rather the Russians kept their missiles intact if there is a risk of the fissile material finding its way to Iran. Russia won’t use the missiles. Iran just might.


Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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