Brown has expanded on some of his ideas in a Washington Quarterly article, which differs in detail from the WSJ op-ed, but not by a lot. Brown and Deutch mention “some former officials and presidential aspirants” (or “several former senior foreign policy officials”) who “have called for the adoption of a nuclear weapons–free world as a concrete goal.” No mention who those folks are, nor is their op-ed properly referenced, which seems like a cheap shot and a poor way to begin a responsible dialog.
The main criticism that Brown and Deutch offer is that the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons is “aspirational” and therefore counterproductive. I take this to be an assertion rather than a conclusion, because the arguments presented in its support are thin to none. Nor do they present any specifics for a program, as the earlier authors did.
There are many possible problems with aspirational goals. One is that, if they are not supported properly, they will cause disillusionment. This, as Brown and Deutch admit, is the problem with Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Such disillusionment might be better met with increased effort toward the goal rather than junking the goal entirely if it is worthwhile, but let that pass for a bit. Another is that aspirational goals can fog the vision of those pressing ahead and cause the enterprise to falter or go in the wrong direction. This, it seems to me, is the more damaging charge, but Brown and Deutch make it only indirectly.
Another assertion is
A nation that wishes to acquire nuclear weapons believes these weapons will improve its security. The declaration by the U.S. that it will move to eliminate nuclear weapons in a distant future will have no direct effect on changing this calculus. Indeed, nothing that the U.S. does to its nuclear posture will directly influence such a nation's (let alone a terrorist group's) calculus.The Washington Quarterly article qualifies this with the motive of prestige, but then asserts that security is the major factor, again with little support. More careful studies have identified complex mixtures of motives, differing by country, for acquisition of nuclear weapons. [Here, where it is convenient, the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons is in “a distant future.” At other places in the op-ed, immediate and unilateral nuclear disarmament is implied. Neither is what is proposed in the earlier op-ed.]
Brown and Deutch then assert that “at present, there is no realistic path to a world free of nuclear weapons.” They evidently have not read the earlier op-ed, which provides eight steps toward that world, some of which, like ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, they agree with. Nor have they been in contact with some of the group that is working to flesh out the recommendations of the earlier op-ed. Thomas Graham, one of that group, recently spoke here on the next steps after nuclear weapons are brought down to a few hundred for any country. Because of the danger of outlaw nations, some fissionable material, not in the form of weapons, would be stockpiled under international inspection. Enough for, say, thirty weapons each in the United States and Russia, ten each in China, France and the UK, and five each in India, Israel and Pakistan.
Brown and Deutch also discount the value of the negotiations themselves, which would build trust and calm tensions. This is an important and concrete point; negotiations provide a forum for interactions that produce greater familiarity and means to dispel misconceptions. Extensive negotiations, over years, would be required to accomplish the eight steps. Brown and Deutch write as though they believe that former secretaries of state and defense would not understand this.
Interestingly, Brown and Deutch agree with those other “former officials” that ratifying the CTBT is a good thing (although they would begin with a five-year treaty); that reduction of the US stockpile is a good thing (they don’t give numbers, but Brown mentions 1000 warheads in the WQ article); that the U.S. “should not propose or fund large-scale programs or initiatives that suggest new roles for nuclear weapons,” which may or may not include the RRW program; and that “it is urgent to put into place new means for controlling the aspects of the fuel cycle—enrichment and fuel reprocessing—that present the greatest proliferation risk.”
The op-ed lacks the specificity of the previous proposal, although it tries to use that accusation.
Finally, the most important and difficult task is to change the underlying security circumstances that lead nations to seek nuclear weapons. To that end, direct negotiations involving positive incentives (economic, political and security arrangements) for states willing to abandon nuclear weapons aspirations, as well as cooperation with others to impose negative sanctions across an escalating spectrum on recalcitrant actors, are essential. These are concrete actions, analogous to the Marshall Plan, to take a historical example, not mere gestures like the Kellogg-Briand Treaty of 1928, which "outlawed war."Unfortunately, they ignore the fact that the previous writers made security the eighth of their points:
Redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers. Achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons will also require effective measures to impede or counter any nuclear-related conduct that is potentially threatening to the security of any state or peoples.
Their entrapment in Cold War thinking becomes clear with their summary paragraph:
Nuclear weapons are not empty symbols; they play an important deterrent role, and cannot be eliminated. Foreign policy must be based on this reality; and the U.S. should work with other nations on those achievable objectives that lower the risks of the spread of nuclear weapons capability and the possibility of nuclear weapons use.Nuclear weapons played an important deterrent role in the rivalry with the Soviet Union, which, even these two admit, dissolved in 1991. It’s not clear whether they mean to say that all foreign policy should revolve around nuclear weapons; that was not even true during the Cold War.
Aspirational goals are important. At the time of the writing of the NPT, the nuclear powers indeed may have taken* a cynical view toward Article VI. But the times have changed, and we must consider the possibility that what was once a cynical gesture can become genuine. We no longer face the Soviet Union. That changes all the nuclear calculus.
* This is frequently asserted; that the nuclear powers in the 1960s allowed Article VI to be written into the NPT without intending that it ever would be the case. But I have seen little to back up this assertion. Can any readers help?