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A Skeptic's Case for Nuclear Disarmament

Michael E. O'Hanlon

Publication Year: 2010

In 2007 two former U.S. secretaries of state, a defense secretary, and a former senator wrote persuasively in the Wall Street Journal that the time had come to move seriously toward a nuclear-free world. Almost two years later, the Global Zero movement was born with its chief aim to rid the world of such weapons once and for all by 2030.

But is it realistic or even wise to envision a world without nuclear weapons? More and more people seem to think so. Barack Obama has declared "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." But that is easier said than done. Michael O'Hanlon places his own indelible stamp on this critical issue, putting forth a "friendly skeptic's case for nuclear disarmament."

Calls to "ban the bomb" are as old as the bomb itself, but the pace and organization of nonproliferation campaigns have picked up greatly recently. The growing Global Zero movement, for example, wants treaty negotiations to begin in 2019. Would this be prudent or even feasible in a world that remains dangerous, divided, and unpredictable? After all, America's nuclear arsenal has been its military trump card for much of the period since World War II. Pursuing a nuclear weapons ban prematurely or carelessly could alarm allies, leading them to consider building their own weapons —the opposite of the intended effect.

O'Hanlon clearly presents the dangers of nuclear weapons and the advantages of disarmament as a goal. But even once an accord is in place, he notes, temporary suspension of restrictions may be necessary in response to urgent threats such as nuclear "cheating" or discovery of an advanced biological weapons program. To take all nuclear options off the table forever strengthens the hand of those that either do not make that pledge or do not honor it. For the near term, traditional approaches to arms control, including dismantling existing bomb inventories, can pave the way to make a true nonproliferation regime possible in the decades ahead.

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Front Cover, Title Page

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Copyright Information

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pp. iv-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

For the past sixteen years, Mike O’Hanlon has been a rare and valued asset—not just to Brookings but to the nation and the world. He combines expertise based on fact-based research with intellectual passion for his subject, which is nothing less than war and peace—how to prepare for, and sometimes prosecute, the...

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1. The Vision of Nuclear Disarmament

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pp. 1-21

Can mankind uninvent the nuclear bomb and rid the world of the greatest military threat to the human species and the survival of the planet that has ever been created? Logic might seem to say of course not. But the president of the United States and a number of key foreign policy dignitaries are now on record as...

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2. The Case for Eliminating Nuclear Weapons

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pp. 22-46

The case for eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth begins with the simple and compelling argument that humankind has ultimately used every type of weapon it has ever created. While we cannot uninvent nuclear weapons, we can attempt to remove them from the planet. If we do not, it seems...

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3. Why Abolition Is Impractical

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pp. 47-81

The arguments for getting rid of nuclear weapons, rather than assuming that mankind can peacefully and safely coexist indefinitely with the bomb, are very strong. The problem is that abolition almost surely cannot be achieved—at least not in any absolute, permanent, unconditional sense. Proponents of abolition...

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4. Dismantling, Not Abolishing, Nuclear Weapons

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pp. 82-107

So nuclear weapons would seem too dangerous to keep, yet impossible to eliminate. Is there a way out of this paradox? The answer is yes, if the goal is the dismantlement of nuclear weapons rather than their permanent extinction. Abolition is too sweeping, absolute, and permanent an action. The force of...

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5. The Near-Term Agenda

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pp. 108-141

For those who support the nuclear disarmament vision but recognize the practical impediments to achieving it in the near future, the near-term nuclear agenda is unclear. Most advocates of global zero and other possible approaches to nuclear disarmament will naturally support a classic arms control agenda of ...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 142-144

A global zero accord that would eliminate all nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth is one of the most challenging propositions ever conceived in international politics. It is far ahead of its time. Even to pursue it seriously would be counterproductive, perhaps fostering the very nuclear proliferation dynamics that it would...


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pp. 145-166


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pp. 167-174

Back Cover

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pp. 175-176

E-ISBN-13: 9780815705086
E-ISBN-10: 0815705085

Page Count: 174
Publication Year: 2010