Jesuits breach the perimeter! And "negative security assurances"

Deproliferator1.0THE DEPROLIFERATOR — Nuclear disarmament is usually approached from three directions. They who pursue the middle way might, by definition, be capable of appreciating the charms of those following the two paths which diverge from it. But chances are that each of those parties — one of which is an outlier; the other an in-lier — views the other with a jaundiced eye.

An example of a group that approaches disarmament head-on is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. In his most recent letter, its worthy president David Krieger writes:

The starting point for ending the omnicidal threat of nuclear weapons is the recognition that the threat is real and pervasive, and requires action. … We are called upon to end our complacency and respond to this threat by demanding that our leaders develop a clear pathway to the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

This straightforward faction seems to predicate its actions on the notion that not only is it speaking truth to power but on behalf of a sizeable segment of the public. As for the other two, the inlying group comprises realists, who, because many have worked in the government, military, or nuclear labs, operate on the assumption that they’re capable of influencing policy. Before we examine its m.o., let’s first review that of its opposite — activists such as the Berrigan brothers, who in 1980 penetrated a nuclear weapons base and damaged warheads as well as pouring blood on documents and files.

For those who think that incident was of a time, it might surprise you to learn that the Berrigans’ group, Plowshares Nuclear Resistance — however long in the tooth its leading members are — still pull off actions. In fact, though it garnered scant attention in the media, the most recent was November 2 at the Trident submarine base called Kitsap-Bangor near Seattle, Washington.

The base houses over 2,000 nuclear warheads — more “than China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan combined,” reads the group’s news release, which continues:

Bill “Bix” Bischel, S.J., 81, of Tacoma, Washington; Susan Crane, 65, of Baltimore MD;  Lynne Greenwald, 60, of Bremerton, Washington; Steve Kelly, S.J., 60, of Oakland, CA.; Anne Montgomery RSCJ, 83, of New York, New York. … entered the Base in the early morning hours of November 2, 2009, All Souls Day, with the intention of calling attention to the illegality and immorality of the existence of the Trident weapons system. They entered thru the perimeter fence, made their way to the Strategic Weapons Facility. . . cut through the first chainlink fence [and] the next double layered fence. . . onto the grounds of [the facility, leaving] a trail of blood [not their own — RW] and hammered on the roadways [and] fences [and] scattered sunflower seeds throughout the base. [All symbolic acts, they explained — RW] They were then thrown to the ground face down, handcuffed and  hooded, and held there for 4 hours on the wet, cold ground. [Bear in mind their ages. — RW] They were. . . cited as of now, for trespass and destruction of government  property, given a ban-and-bar letter and released.

Another excerpt gives us a glimpse into their mentality:

We walk into the heart of darkness. [The nuclear weapons] are sheathed in stainless steel and metal coverings that conceal the evil incarnate lying within. They are filled with death-dealing agents that tear apart humans and leave survivors scarred for life.

As you can see, to those using this approach, nuclear weapons teem with evil. Tolerating the possession of even a handful, whether for deterrence or out of political considerations such as reassuring our allies in Europe, is playing a devil’s game.

For an example of how the mind of a nuclear realist works, watch one tackle the subject of whether or not the United States should continue to insist it has the right to nuclear first-use (a preventive or preemptive strike, that is). Turns out it’s an even hotter topic than I knew when when writing about it last week.

The U.K. publication Survival: Global Politics and Strategy featured an article (subscription only) on the subject in its June-July 2009 issue by noted nuclear writer Scott Sagan. An excerpt from its summary reads:

Is the threat of the first use of US nuclear weapons still necessary to deter the use of non-nuclear WMD [as well as a] large-scale conventional military force? Or can Washington move toward a policy of no-first-use, limiting the role of nuclear weapons to deter the use of other states’ nuclear weapons? … previous government and academic analyses have both exaggerated [its] potential military and diplomatic costs [as well as] underestimated its potential benefits.

The mind of the disarmament realist in question is the renowned Morton Halperin, who responded to Sagan’s article with a letter (which is online) in the October-November issue of Survival. He notes the “serious domestic political storm a president [seeking a no-first-use policy] would confront.”

Why? Because “Opponents of no first use. . . believe that. . . a no-first-use promise will increase the political cost of using nuclear weapons only for the United States, undermining the credibility of the US deterrent,” for not only the United States, but Europe, too. Also, “There is no doubt that some allies” — again, in Europe — “would be nervous if the United States made a no-first-use pledge.”

But isn’t no-first-use integral to disarmament? To Halperin’s way of thinking, “there are other proposals to pursue this objective which would be [as] effective as a. . . no-first-use policy and which might produce less controversy.” He continues:

In his Prague speech. . . Obama committed himself in the short run to four other measures which. . . advance the same objectives as the no-first-use proposal: reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US national security. . . negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia. . . pursuing US ratification of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and starting negotiations to end the production of fissionable material [plutonium and enriched uranium] for weapons purposes. …

Seeking three treaties on nuclear arms control in his first term will not be easy. … Under the circumstances, no first use can and should be put off for another day.

How Can an Assurance Be Negative?

Instead, according to Halperin, the United States:

. . . should update and simplify the so-called negative security assurance. . . that Secretary of State Cyrus Vance issued in 1978. [It would read] ‘The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon [states that have signed and are in compliance with] the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons’. … This would preserve the president’s right to threaten or use nuclear weapons first against any state with nuclear weapons [and] also highlight the importance the United States attaches to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Halperin sums up: “. . . universal no-first-use. … is a good idea whose time has not yet come.”

While those in the other two camps might think that Halperin is turning no-first-use into a sacrificial offering for hawks, his desire to expedite disarmament can’t be questioned. While one is tempted to assert that all three approaches constitute synergy, it’s more likely that the realists and the blood-sowers cancel each other out. Meanwhile, the question of whether the disarmament race will go to the tortoise or the hare — or end up clutched in the talons of the hawk — remains open.

First posted at the Faster Times.

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