scholars and rogues

One day, when it grows up, the anti-nukes movement will thank George Bush

“Sooner or later, [the arms control] community will. . . have to struggle with how to adapt its conceptual paradigms to the 21st century. When it does. . . the arms controllers will owe the Bush administration much for having opened the debate.”
— Christopher Ford

Odd as it sounds, some believe that the perspective of history will yield redeeming characteristics to George Bush’s presidency. While Iraq, like Vietnam, is a lost cause, perhaps, like Lyndon Johnson’s domestic programs and Richard Nixon opening China to trade, something positive will emerge from the Bush administration.

Christopher Ford, until September 1 the Bush administration’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, would have us believe that’s likely to be case. Ten months before he resigned, he folded a defense of its disarmament record into an article for the November 2007 Nonproliferation Review entitled “Debating Disarmament.”

For those unaware, the consensus of the arms control community is that the Bush administration can charitably be described as pursuing a nonproliferation policy of one hand giveth, while the other taketh away. Most recently, of course, it signed a nuclear deal with India, even though it had developed nuclear weapons without signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Also, it pulled us out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, maintained much of our nuclear arsenal on hair-trigger alert, refused to renounce first-use, and sought to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the administration signed a preliminary deal to station interceptor missiles in Poland. Ostensibly intended as a defense against Iranian missiles, it’s perceived as a threat by Russia, which, as you probably know, reacted by moving missiles of its own to its border with Poland.

For his part, Ford cites some of the Bush administration successes. In 2002, Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, more commonly known as the Moscow Treaty. It called for reducing the nuclear arsenals of both countries to about 2,00 operational warheads each by the year 2012. In 2006, the United States introduced a draft of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty while already reducing its own weapons-related stockpile of fissile materials.

However, latent signs of Ford’s insecurity over the administration’s nuclear record are hinted at by the subtitle of his piece: “Interpreting Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” Turns out, in fact, that his piece is teeming with legalistic contortions.

Article VI and the preamble are the sections of the NPT directly concerned with disarmament. But they both suffer from vague language and, though easy targets, Ford has no compunctions about going after them.

Article VI speaks of “measures relating to the cessation” of the nuclear arms race. Meanwhile the preamble refers to the intention of the NPT’s signatories “to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.” [Emphasis added.]

It’s tough to argue that the phrases “in the direction of” and “relating to the cessation” don’t sound like the the drafters of the NPT had no intention of pinning its signatories down to disarmament. In light of that, you’d think those who purport to care about nonproliferation would make a priority out of nailing down the language.

Instead Ford attacks those who interpret Article VI as calling for the conclusion of a disarmament agreement. “The negotiating record could hardly be clearer,” he declares with an almost celebratory finality. “Specific disarmament steps are not required by Article VI.” All that’s required are negotiations in good faith, which don’t need to be concluded.

One can’t help but wonder: Were the Bush administration’s few nonproliferation efforts pursued out of the goodness of its heart then?

Furthermore, Ford maintains that disarmament need not precede, just follow, the signing of a general disarmament treaty. Also, the disarmament burden should fall not only on nuclear weapon states, but on the non-nuclear international community. In addition, he disdains too close an inventory of disarmament efforts and would give the United States credit for simply attempting to negotiate disarmament.

All things considered, it’s hard to believe how tone-deaf Ford is to the possibility that his message can be interpreted: “We don’t really have to disarm. We just have to look like we are.”

However, we’ve dissected his piece elsewhere (not yet posted). For the purposes of this post, we’ve narrowed our reservations to his approach down to one, which becomes apparent when Ford turns his thoughts to Russia.

He writes that a United States-Russian nuclear disarmament relationship might one day consist of only “the reciprocal exchange of various sorts of transparency and confidence-building measures.” Which are “more appropriate to the current strategic situation than the pursuit of further Cold War-style arms control agreements.”

Yes, you read that right. The first shock is that he actually contends that a major nuclear power would disarm without binding agreements. The second is the contempt in which he holds advocates of arms control.

It’s questionable how many in that community are aware of the condescension with which the Bush administration, as well as various and sundry hawks and neocons, view them. It’s encapsulated in what Ford writes about the proposed nonproliferation initiative with Russia: “Such a new paradigm might indeed perplex old-school arms controllers.”

The “conventional wisdom of the disarmament community,” he adds, is, “still all too wedded to Cold War-era concepts and approaches.”

Arms Control: How Quaint

I had thought the Nonproliferation Review piece was Ford’s parting shot. But in this November’s Arms Control Today, even though he’d left the administration (for the Hudson Institute of Herman Kahn fame), Ford presents a more straightforward appraisal of the Bush administration’s record in a piece entitled “A New Paradigm: Shattering Obsolete Thinking on Arms Control and Nonproliferation.”

Bear in mind that we’re continuing to confine ourselves to the aspersions Ford casts on the arms control community. Emphases are added where the passages most offend.

Ford writes that the Bush administration’s “willingness to rethink the conventional wisdom of the arms control community, particularly that community’s reliance on the concept of mutually assured destruction. . . and fear of missile defenses, led to dramatic and controversial results: withdrawal from the [ABM] Treaty; agreement with Russia on [SORT]; and firm moves away from Russia-centric strategic planning.”

“The Bush administration. . . brought into office a profound skepticism about traditional arms control negotiations, which officials tended to feel were anachronisms predicated on a tense and competitive Cold War stalemate that no longer existed.”

Under the Bush administration “ways were found to engage constructively with foreign counterparts. . . in a fashion intended to contribute to helping the conventional wisdom of the arms control community catch up with modern realities.”

“There is. . . a sad irony in the criticism Bush policy elicited from an arms control community that now seemed unable to take “yes” for an answer when faced with a U.S. president interested [in] making the two powers’ mutual homicide pact increasingly a thing of the past.”

“The famously idealistic disarmament community has responded only slowly to calls for a more level-headed debate. … in my view, the Bush administration was far more intellectually agile and open-minded [Ford may be the first to use those words to describe it. — Ed.] in these regards than its critics.”

“For too many critics. . . not departing from the conventional wisdom was a higher priority than adapting to 21st-century circumstances or apparently even than laying a realistic foundation for further reductions.”

“Whether one agrees or disagrees with the administration’s approach. . . it is inadequate simply to indict the administration for failing to hew to the long-established conventional wisdom of arms control paradigms rooted in the Cold War. … serious leaders. . . adapt their remedies to evolving global security problems, keeping old formulae where they remain appropriate. . . but fearlessly jettisoning them where they do not. The Bush administration deserves a fairer hearing in these regards than it has gotten from the arms control community.”

The arms control community might have become a little rigidified, but it’s the height of arrogance for those who are placing the obstacles in its path to point that out.

Ford reaches an apotheosis of condescension when he trots out a quote by Mr. Megadeath himself, the late Herman Kahn, who, in fact helped found the Hudson Institute:

“It is the hallmark of the amateur and dilettante that he has almost no interest in how to get to his particular utopia.”

To turn the tables on the Kahn. . . it is the hallmark of he who is wedded to nuclear weapons to lack the capacity to visualize a world without them.

Meanwhile, arms controllers better get on board because. . .

“the Bush administration’s efforts to move arms control and strategic policy emphatically into new territory, focused on 21st-century threats and opportunities rather than reflexively pursuing older agendas, will likely stand the test of time better than its critics can today imagine.”

“Sooner or later, [the arms control] community will. . . have to struggle with how to adapt its conceptual paradigms to the 21st century. When it does. . . the arms controllers will owe the Bush administration much for having opened the debate.”

Talk about your cold days in hell.

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