A world free of nuclear weapons

The United States should take the lead in forging a new global consensus on nuclear disarmament, married to an action plan of urgent interim steps to control and reduce nuclear weapons, according to two Cold War veterans Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr, former General Counsel and acting director of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and Ambassador Robert L Barry, former ambassador to the Stockholm Conference on Disarmament in Europe and member of the board of the British American Security and Information Council (BASIC).

The two spoke at a meeting of the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC on February 7. They discussed the work of the Hoover Group – a bi-partisan group of distinguished officials drawn from academia, government and the private sector. The group, of which Ambassador Graham is a member, takes its informal name from a series of conferences held at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University, and came to widespread public attention with the publication last year of an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal highlighting the group\’s support for a world free of nuclear weapons. The piece was signed on the group\’s behalf by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry.

The Hoover Group first met at the behest of former Secretary of State George Schultz in October 2006. The purpose of the meeting was to review the goals of the Reykjavik summit in light of the strategic changes that had taken place in the intervening years. The participants, including such luminaries as Sidney Drell, Max Kampelman and former Secretary of Defense William Perry, recognized that the growing strains on the NPT regime and the threat of nuclear terrorism demanded new solutions to the problem of nuclear weapons.

The Wall Street Journal article called for a reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons – as well as a series of agreed and urgent steps toward achieving that goal. They include:

*  eliminating short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward deployed

*  ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

*  getting control of the uranium enrichment process

*  halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally

*  sharply limiting the number of warheads operationally deployed on ballistic missiles

The Hoover Conference and subsequent Journal op-ed generated a great deal of interest in the United States. While many in the arms control community supported the vision and steps enumerated in the Journal article, others were less inclined to follow the Hoover Group\’slead. In a Journal op-ed published 10 months after the initial Schultz et al piece, former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and former Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch advised against the elimination of all nuclear weapons. The goal of nuclear disarmament, they argued, will not advance substantive progress on nonproliferation; and it risks compromising the value that nuclear weapons continue to contribute, through deterrence, to US security and international stability.

The Hoover Group decided to convene a follow-on conference in October 2007. The second conference, with Nunn and Kissinger both in attendance, weighed the importance of the vision of nuclear abolition against the urgent interim steps. The conclusion of the 2007 conference was published as a second op-ed piece in the Journal, (January 15, 2008) which argued for both the vision of a nuclear-free world” and concrete steps to reduce warhead numbers and to limit the role of nuclear weapons in security policy. The article reprised many of the steps put forward in the initial January 2007 op-ed, while also emphasizing US-Russia cooperation on missile defense and an extension of key provisions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991.

There has been a great deal of activity since the publication of this second op-ed piece in January 2008. In a recent speech to the Chamber of Commerce in Delhi, India UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown positioned his government at the forefront of global efforts to abolish nuclear weapons: Britain is prepared to use our expertise to help determine the requirements for the verifiable elimination of nuclear warheads in the run-up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in 2010 we will be at the forefront of the international campaign to accelerate disarmament amongst possessor states, to prevent proliferation to new states, and to ultimately achieve a world that is free from nuclear weapons. UK Secretary of State for Defense Des Browne echoed these comments at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva earlier this month, proposing that the United Kingdom become a nuclear disarmament laboratory for determining the requirements for the verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons. Building on these efforts, the Hoover Group is planning a third conference in Oslo, Norway this month to broaden its base of support among world leaders. Select members of the Group will then proceed to London to meet with Gordon Brown and other members of the British government.

Beyond these efforts, various non-governmental organizations, such as the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), have played an instrumental role in shaping the debate on arms control and disarmament within the United States and the United Kingdom. Due to its mission focus and location on both sides of the Atlantic, BASIC can and has served as a catalyst for transatlantic dialogue on nuclear disarmament and other multilateral non-proliferation efforts. BASIC sponsored a visit by Ambassador Max Kampelman to London last year and plays an important role in popularizing the vision of Getting to Zero nuclear weapons.

According to Barry and Graham, the Hoover Group, due to the seniority and bi-partisan nature of its membership, wields a great deal of influence on these issues. But its influence will depend, in large measure, on the next administration and its willingness to implement the urgent steps and active vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Barack Obama, as Barry observed, may hold the greatest promise for future American efforts in this regard.

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