Global Zero — an organization whose sole reason for existence, as its name clearly indicates, is to promote the elimination of all nuclear weapons — has published a new report calling for deep reductions in the U.S. arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons. Despite the prestigious credentials of the report’s authors, including the former head of U.S. Strategic Command, General James Cartwright, this proposal is “Dead on Arrival.” In fact, the entire Global Zero idea is, to borrow from the popular commercial, so “thirty seconds ago.”
The goal of Global Zero is as dead as that of fiscal austerity in the European Union and basically for the same reasons. Both have been overtaken by political events. In the case of EU austerity it was the election of Socialist Francois Hollande as the President of France. Vladimir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency has done the same for further reductions in nuclear weapons.
Within days of taking office, an event itself marred by Russian government thugs beating up peaceful demonstrators, Putin declared that his top policy goal was a union with two former Soviet republics, Belarus and Kazakhstan. One more step, the reabsorption of Ukraine, and the recreation of the old empire will be essentially complete. Putin is a staunch defender of the killer regimes in Iran and Libya, a vocal opponent of the Obama Administration’s plan to deploy missile defenses in Europe, and an advocate for a new Russian “blue water” navy. Putin turned Russia from a rising new democracy into an authoritarian state dominated by a class of corrupt bureaucrats, businessmen, security officials and courtiers. Reset is dead and Putin’s election killed it.
More important from the perspective of nuclear arms control, President Putin is a proponent of Russia as a world power. But, with an economy 75 percent dependent on oil and gas revenues, the demographic profile of a North Korea or Zimbabwe and a conventional military that can only beat the likes of Georgia or a Baltic nation, Putin knows that Russia’s sole claim to a global position comes from its nuclear arsenal. Putin and the Russian military want, need and will retain a large arsenal both of strategic and theater nuclear weapons. Anything like meaningful reductions in Russian nuclear forces simply will not be on Moscow’s agenda.
The notion that in a world where Iran and North Korea are pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, China’s defense budget is rising by double digits every year, NATO allies are cutting their defense budgets and a dictator is trying to recreate the old Russian/Soviet empire, the United States should unilaterally cut its nuclear arsenal borders on the surreal. If this is what passed for strategic thought from senior military leaders in the late Bush and early Obama Administrations, then both presidents were ill-served.
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