On July 15 2010, the World Affairs Council organized a film screening and discussion titled, Nuclear Tipping Point, at the University of California, Washington Center. As Daryl Kimball, the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association (ACA) put it yesterday, “it is a nasty world out there.” To many, this spurs the desire to acquire more belligerent weapons for deterrence- the usual “just-in-case” reason that many states and nations give for having nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and warheads. In a refreshing twist to that reasoning, Kimball offered a perspective that resonated in some in the audience, “it is already a nasty world out there, what will it be with nuclear weapons?”
The film screening of Nuclear Tipping Point, produced by the Nuclear Security Project, was to raise awareness about nuclear threats and to garner support for the urgent actions needed to reduce nuclear dangers. Introduced by General Colin Powell, this film pushes for a world free of nuclear weapons. The film includes comments by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who, in the film, expressed a strong desire to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S., and in the world to make it a safer place. As a well-known staunch believer in Realpolitik, and a controversial figure that played a crucial role in belligerent American involvement overseas, Kissinger’s comment was somewhat an incongruous representation of his fundamental foreign policy beliefs. Accounts of personal experiences by former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry and former Senator Sam Nunn share similar ethos of having a nuclear free world. Have they become irrational? Do they not want nuclear weapons as a deterrent measure?
The reason propelling our statesmen to hold their views is embedded in the reality of a post-9/11 world: “Al Qaeda has been seeking nuclear weapons for 10 years, what if they get a nuclear weapon?”
If we want the rest of the world to cooperate with us in preventing nuclear terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we must have the political will to lead the world to recommit to the vision of a nuclear-free world where actions must be taken for a more secure and safer world.
Deborah G. Rosenblum, the Executive Vice-President of the Nuclear Threat Initiative added that Iran, a signatory of the NPT will have to be held accountable for not abiding by the rules as stipulated by the NPT because we have to uphold universal norms that are fundamental to us. If not, other nations would rationalize that it is acceptable to flout these rules since Iran had done so.
The other issue that was raised involves the politics of getting the New START Treaty passed by Congress. On April 8, 2010, Russia and United States signed the New START Treaty, which would limit both sides’ deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 and deployed strategic delivery systems to 700 (deployed and non-deployed launchers would be limited to 800). Kimball foresees the difficulties of getting this passed, if domestic politics dominate the discussion before the midterm elections.
The path to a nuclear-free world is a long and arduous one. The question of whether a nuclear-free world is safer in a post-Cold War and a post-9/11 world still remains. Perhaps the notion that illuminated in this film screening is that being mired in what is, and not consider the possibility of what ought to be, might place us in a stagnant position. But is the U.S. ready to consider this possibility? And is the world ready to consider this possibility?