Friday, February 29, 2008

Disarmament Efforts Get a Boost in Norway

A group of high-level disarmament experts gathered this week in Oslo, Norway for an international conference hosted by the Norwegian government. Participants for the conference, entitled, "Achieving a World Free of Nuclear Weapons," included former Secretary of State George Shultz and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn.

Schultz and Nunn are two authors of the four-member team, also including former Defense Secretary William Perry and former secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that published articles in the Wall Street Journal last month and in January 2007, calling for a "world free of nuclear weapons."

In an interview with the Arms Control Association, Nunn described moving toward the abolition of nuclear weapons as "climbing a mountain, the top of the mountain being zero nuclear weapons. We might not get there in my lifetime, but we need to be heading up the mountain, not down the mountain." With that broad goal in mind, the authors and the members of this week's conference offered practical steps to take along the way and prevent the "nuclear nightmare" toward which Nunn believes we are headed.

Conference participant Jeff Lewis of the New America Foundation (known in the blogosphere through Arms Control Wonk) commented on the steps discussed.

The end point seems really quite unachievable and the challenges of getting there seem very daunting, but I haven't heard any ridiculous ideas today. I've heard sensible pathways to elimination that one has to consider very carefully even if only to dismiss them. That's very impressive. I think that's a very different debate than we've had the past 20 years.
One of those actions is what Nunn sees as the best single step for U.S. and Russian security: extending warning times on nuclear weapons, thousands of which currently sit on hair trigger alert, with the capability to launch in minutes. "If everyone had the posture where they could not shoot for a week...that would make nuclear weapons less relevant, and the discussion about how many you need takes on a different flavor," he told ACA.

Other steps discussed at the conference, according to Greg Webb, included:
  • deeper reductions in the massive nuclear stockpiles in Russia and the United States (the United States nuclear arsenal includes almost 10,000 warheads, and Russia's, approximately 15,000);
  • speeding up efforts to secure loose nukes;
  • and removing and eventually dismantling forward-deployed nuclear weapons.
The process will certainly not be easy, and no one expects it to be, especially in light of tense U.S.-Russian relations. But this week's conference adds credibility to a disarmament process re-invigorated by the earlier letters of Nunn, Schultz, Kissinger, and Perry.

In Lewis's words, "Serious people, who are careful what they say in public so they don't damage their reputation... gathered at a very expensive hotel to hold a very serious discussion about eliminating nuclear weapons." That's more than a step in the right direction.

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