In January 2007 four elder statesmen, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for "a world free of nuclear weapons."

As it was partially designed to do, their statement seized the attention of arms control and peace and security professionals. Non-governmental organizations large and small, including the Arms Control Association, Peace Action, 2020 Vision Campaign, ACDN, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and many other others, have taken to quoting and invoking the "SPKN" manifesto as a means of instantly legitimating nuclear disarmament. Most disarmament advocates have adopted the practice of beginning fundraising letters, action alerts, and even their own research and analysis with a nod to the SPKN vision - noting that "even these esteemed men of government now join the growing chorus of voices calling for...." or similar accolades. One norwegian official writing on the Arms Control Association's web site goes so far as to praise the "courage and commitment" of Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn, and credits them with opening up political space in which "we might move beyond the false debate between the demand for overnight elimination and the demand that nuclear abolition must be "contemporaneous with the abolition of all evil in the world."

Praise like this is extremely dangerous and counterproductive for advocates of nuclear disarmament.

The goals espoused by Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn are not congruent with the holistic goals sought by most anti-nuclear organizers. Yes, on surface these four men are calling for "a world free of nuclear weapons," but once we delve into the details of their plan, beyond the gloss of the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, we find something different than disarmament grounded in a wider vision of global justice.

What SPKN are actually building through their writings, conferences, and appeals toward a nuclear free future is a pragmatic strategy to maintain US military and economic dominance well into the 21st century. More so, they are establishing the basis for legitimized use of military force against would be proliferaters such as Iran, or any nation that is said to possess or seek WMD capabilities (remember Iraq?). Finally, they are contributing to a wider project of extending neo-colonial control over the technological capacity of the global south by denying these states any independence over their energy or security affairs.

A colleague an I have written about this political strategy, which we call anti-nuclear nuclearism at length here.

George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have not built their careers off of making peace and pursuing disarmament. In fact, quite the opposite.

Schultz is an insider of the Bechtel Corporation (its former president and board member). Bechtel is arguably the greatest nuclear enterprise in history. It is currently the manager of a vast portion of the US nuclear weapons complex, including the Los Alamos and Livermore weapons labs. Shultz was a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, the political action group that drummed up support for the invasion by arguing, among other things, that Iraq was pursuing WMDs. This is an example (an unfortunately botched one, even many neoconservatives now admit) of Shultz's wider foreign policy plans that are congruent to his call for a nuclear weapons free world.

Former Defense Secretary Perry is a close collaborator of Shultz. Both are Hoover Institute fellows and have used that conservative think tank to organize and mobilize their "nuclear free" message through books, conferences, articles, op-eds, TV appearances, and more. Perry also runs a center at Harvard University called the Preventative Defense Project. Similar to the work at Hoover, the PDP scholars and fellows are hard set on creating a new paradigm for US hegemony in the post-Cold War world. PDP formulates aggressive US military plans to "prevent the emergence of major new threats to the US."

Perry's co-director at the PDP is Ashton Carter. Perry and Carter have spent the last decade drafting articles and op-eds advocating US military strikes against North Korea, alarmist tracts about rising China, and rationalizations of the US-India nuclear deal. Here's a partial bibliography of Perry and Carter's work's. In their 2003 essay "Good Nukes, Bad Nukes," they promote their faux anti-nuclear politics as a way to create legitimacy for US military action against "bad guys." Defending the CTBT and calling for its ratification (which they see as a way to lock in US nuclear advantages and simultaneously legitimate US strikes against would be transgressors) they write:
"...the treaty does have an impact even on "bad guys" like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. When the United States moves against such regimes, it does so with the support of the global opprobrium for nuclear weapons that the treaty enshrines. This consensus undergirds the multilateral approach that is under way to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and was at the heart of the international pressure that persuaded Tehran to increase the transparency of its nuclear program. Even in the divisive case of Iraq, no one argued that Saddam Hussein should be left alone with weapons of mass destruction."
Henry Kissinger; need I spell out why it's problematic for advocates of nuclear disarmament and general demilitarization invoke this man's name and opinions as though they are synonymous with our own? It's important to remember that Kissinger remains a realist strategist, no matter his specific political positions. If he's calling for nuclear disarmament it must be understood in the context of his unwavering attention to the preservation and extension of US power.

Kissinger's sign-on to the "world free of nuclear weapons" essay is probably the least surprising. He has never seen much use in nuclear weapons for the maintenance of US empire. The former Secretary of State began his career by publishing a very influential study on nuclear weapons, (Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. New York: Harper, 1957.), the underlying thesis of which is that the strategic deterrent capable of totally annihilating an enemy is rather useless in most every military engagement the US faces in imperial expansion.

At the time, Kissinger called on military strategists to rethink war planning and put more emphasis on the ability to engage in limited wars, with limited aims, where military victory might not even be necessary for the achievement of strategic victory. At the time he was not calling for nuclear disarmament under any rubric, however. His recent shift isn't all that tectonic though.

His call today seems based entirely on the new world order, the absence of the Soviet Union and the not yet appearance of another great power like it. Shultz, Perry and Nunn seem to agree. In the interim period between the rise of another hyperpower, another state capable of challenging US hegemony and empire, the most practical and useful goal appears to them as the adoption of the rhetoric of disarmament, with some small steps taken to legitimate their call.

According to their plan (which is extremely popular among incoming members of the Congress and Obama administration) the US will significantly scale back its arsenal and slow growth of the nuclear weapons budget. Other programs will be approved or slashed in order to ensure the appearance of a slow move toward eventual, distant US disarmament.

In the meantime, an aggressive campaign to secure nuclear materials (perhaps a more robust and fully supported version of the Nunn-Lugar Act), passage of the CTBT, selective attacks against states said to be seeking WMDs, promotion of nuclear energy far and wide, and general expansion of US dominance under the cover of anti-nuclear rhetoric will be the word of the day.

Is it clear now why uncritical invocations of SPKN's "world free of nuclear weapons" is both dangerous and counterproductive for genuine advocates of nuclear disarmament?

1 comment:

Pancho Ramos-Stierle said...

You are leading us to a higher state in our evolution brother Darwin! ;-)

(I wonder why your parents name you after such a great critical thinker).

"...the ideologues behind the anti-nuclear nuclearist platform justify invasions, military strikes, economic sanctions, and perhaps even the use of nuclear weapons themselves against the "rogue states" and "terrorists" whose possession of weapons technologiesvastly less advanced than those perpetually stockpiled by the United States is deemed by the anti-nuclear nuclearists the first and foremost problem of the nuclear age."

The antidote to dismantle the hypocrisy of their imperial agendas is to expose their cognitive dissonance, because:


If the U.S. wants a "world without nukes", well, let the Cold War quartet walk their talk. We want to see, _with actions_, how the University of California and its labs, for example, stop making new nuclear weapons.

RRW? Reliable Replacement Warhead? Is there such a thing as a "safer" nuclear weapon? Will the Obama administration support this fallacy? Will they baptize "RRW" with another oxymoron to try to deceive the public?

If the U.S. want "security", what about demilitarizing the streets, the Universities and stopping the support of genocide in the other side of the planet?

Until then, the double standards of the last Empire won't take us anywhere.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Martin Luther King Jr.

We all are Chiapas! We all are Atenco! We all are Oaxaca! We all are New Orleans! We all are Oakland! We all are Gaza!

Perhaps, we can give the Obama team (which seems to be not "change" but more "continuity") the benefit of the doubt AND be ready to escalate our civil disobedience.

"The battle...has to begin here. In America (the U.S.). The only institution more powerful than the U.S. government is American civil society. The rest of us are subjects of slave nations. We are by no means powerless, but you have the power of proximity. You have access to the Imperial Palace and the Emperor's chambers. Empire's conquests are being carried out in your name." -- Arundhati Roy

"Ultimately the creation of a new paradigm in the contemporary society is essentially, not about putting the right kind of people in power, but the right kind of power in people." --Michael Nagler

Yes we can! as Cesar Chavez said ;-)

The antidote for the reactionary/retrograde goals of nuclearists, again: OUR MEANS ARE ENDS ON THE MAKING.

Love you brother Darwin! :-)

If you want to be a rebel, be kind. Human-kind, be both.

PS: Powerful paragraph! Well done!

"Perhaps the Obama administration will undertake a more visionary and just campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons? The incoming president could reintroduce the CTBT, nix the RRW and any new weapons designs, cut the nuclear weapons budget in half, stop construction of the plutonium bomb pit factory in New Mexico, close one of the weapons labs, and downsize the entire nuclear weapons complex. Obama could dismantle the profit-driven system of contracts that have made such powerful lobbying interests out of firms with government nuclear contracts. His administration could enjoin talks toward implementing Article VI of the NPT. He could go against the explicitly pro-nuclear power Energy secretary he appointed and enact a ban on new nuclear power development. Continuinity of the status quo, however, is altogether more likely. Hope and change, as this election showed, are possible, but only if those who desire it unconditionally demand it."