Less Than Zero

Josef Joffe, James W. Davis
Content Type
Journal Article
Foreign Affairs
Issue Number
Publication Date
Council on Foreign Relations
All previous attempts at total nuclear disarmament have failed, as strategic logic and state interest have prevailed over wishful thinking. A similar fate awaits Global Zero, the newest disarmament movement, for similar reasons.
Political Geography
United States
Once again, a global movement is afoot to free the world of nuclear weapons. Unlike the Easter marches of the 1950s and 1960s or the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, however, this time around, the policy elites themselves are leading the charge. The list of supporters of Global Zero, the new campaign's flagship organization, reads like a Who's Who of international strategy: from Zbigniew Brzezinski and Lawrence Eagleburger to Strobe Talbott and Philip Zelikow, from Carl Bildt and Hans-Dietrich Genscher to Igor Ivanov and David Owen. In April 2009, moreover, U.S. President Barack Obama aligned himself with the cause, declaring global disarmament a top priority. Two months later, Vice President Joe Biden stymied a Pentagon plan for a new generation of warheads as a threat to the administration's credibility. And the consensus runs from the White House to City Hall: last June, cheering "U.S. participation in [the] global elimination of nuclear weapons," the U.S. Conference of Mayors called on Congress to "terminate funding for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex." Global Zero calls for "the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide" on the grounds that this is "the only way to eliminate the nuclear threat -- including proliferation and nuclear terrorism." All previous such attempts at nuclear disarmament have failed, grabbing headlines for a while but then waning as strategic logic and state interest prevail. And a similar fate is almost certain for Global Zero, for similar reasons. So why not just sit back and let the pantomime play out once more, as the nobly expressed intentions of the good and the great founder on the hard realities of world politics? Because words have consequences. The calls for disarmament have started to spread from op-ed pages to cabinet rooms and are being invoked to legitimate shortsighted and ultimately dangerous positions on nuclear policy and strategy on both sides of the Atlantic. The intellectual coalition behind Global Zero is unprecedented and needs to be engaged head-on, even if the movement's practical prospects are dim