Abolishing nuclear weapons is not a pacifist fantasy. Just ask Max Kampelman, a former Reagan official.
In an op-ed in the April 24 New York Times, Kampelman, an arms negotiator with the Reagan Administration, calls for getting rid of all weapons of mass destruction, with an emphasis on the eradication of nuclear weapons.
“The goal of globally eliminating all weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical and biological arms—is today not an integral part of American foreign policy; it needs to be put back at the top of our agenda,” Kampelman states.
For this, he lays out a concrete proposal.
“President Bush should consult with our allies, appear before the United Nations General Assembly and call for a resolution embracing the objective of eliminating all weapons of mass destruction,” Kampelman suggests. “He should make clear that we are prepared to eliminate our nuclear weapons if the Security Council develops an effective regime to guarantee total conformity with a universal commitment to eliminate all nuclear arms and reaffirm the existing conventions covering chemical and biological weapons. The council should be assigned the task of establishing effective political and technical procedures for achieving this goal, including both stringent verification and severe penalties to prevent cheating.”
To counter the notion that his proposal is naïve and utopian, Kampelman brings in a seemingly unlikely person to support his case—his former boss, President Reagan.
A fact that is well known to scholars of the field but that the general public is less aware of is that Reagan in 1986 laid forth a proposal before President Gorbachev at their Reykjavik summit for the abolition of all nuclear weaponry.
“Though no agreement was reached, the statement had been made,” Kampelman writes. “More remarkably, it had been made by someone who understood the importance of nuclear deterrence.”
Though the idea of Reagan as a nuclear abolitionist goes against the grain of his image—and the reality of most of his policies—he did, weirdly enough, have an idealistic streak in him, a streak that presented itself most manifestly in Iceland in October 1986.
Just like his boss, Kampelman is an unlikely proponent of nuclear disarmament. In the 1970s, he was a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, a group that hyped Soviet military capabilities, and is currently on the board of advisers of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a hawkish, ardently pro-Israel group. Indeed, according to Right Web, a project set up by the Interhemispheric Resource Center, Kampelman was a member of a team at the National Institute for Public Policy that produced a paper that “served as a blueprint for the Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review.”
The Nuclear Posture Review has been the basis for the Bush Administration’s aggressive nuclear posture that has goaded an increasing number of countries (such as, possibly, Iran and North Korea) toward having a nuclear deterrent. (See my March 1, 2005, column on the issue.)
So, if Kampelman had anything to do with this policy statement, he has much to answer for. Still, even if the light has dawned on him this late in life, it is better than never, and one should grant him the benefit of the doubt.
Kampelman isn’t the only former high official to finally see reason on the issue of nuclear weapons. Robert McNamara (yes, that Robert McNamara—the Vietnam War architect) has also come around to the view that nuclear weapons need to be gotten rid of.
“We must move promptly toward the elimination—or near elimination—of all nuclear weapons,” McNamara wrote in the May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. “For many, there is a strong temptation to cling to the strategies of the past 40 years. But to do so would be a serious mistake leading to unacceptable risks for all nations.”
McNamara’s tortured and tortuous journey from war enthusiast to disarmament advocate is too complex for me to do justice to in a single column. In fact, entire books have been written and movies made (including the Oscar-winning “The Fog of War”) on his intellectual evolution. But the fact that a former defense secretary has finally come around to the position that nuclear weapons need to be eliminated is quite incredible.
The list of proponents of nuclear disarmament includes even a former head of the U.S. Strategic Command.
General Lee Butler, who was in charge of the Air Force and Navy’s strategic nuclear arsenals, felt so strongly about the need for nuclear disarmament that after retirement he established the Second Chance Foundation to work toward that goal.
“Truth, in my own case, took me almost 40 years to grasp,” Butler said in a 1999 speech. “It required 30 years simply to reach the point in my career where I had the responsibilities and most importantly, the access to information and the exposure to activities and operations that profoundly deepened my grasp of what this business of nuclear capability is all about.”
It took a really long time for Kampelman, McNamara, and Butler to finally perceive the truth. It may be too much to expect even this late an awakening from members of the current Administration.