the new calculus
THE CASE AGAINST A NUCLEAR-FREE WORLD
LOUIS RENÉ BERES
René Beres is Professor of Political Science at Purdue
University. He is author of many books and articles dealing
with international politics. His columns have appeared in the
New York Times, Washington Post, The Jerusalem
Post and OUPblog
(Oxford University Press). This article originally appeared
in U.S. News & World Report.
ministers from the G-7 recently ended several days of talks
in Hiroshima, Japan with John Kerry's visit to the atom-bombed
city the first ever by an American secretary of state. In an
interview with the Hiroshima-based Chugoku Shimbun newspaper,
Kerry reaffirmed President Barack Obama's preference for "a
world free of nuclear weapons," a preference that was repeated
by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. The foreign minister
indicated, also, that this core objective would become part
of a pertinent "Hiroshima Declaration."
principle, of course, such an expressed hope for worldwide nuclear
disarmament sounds utterly welcome and benign. In fact, however,
it is dangerously naive, neither plausible, nor desirable. Taken
seriously as policy, it could lead the United States and certain
of its most fragile allies to substantial (and possibly even
this conspicuous hope and "profession of goodness,"
President Obama's basic error is intellectual and analytical,
not political. This incorrect reasoning stems from his seemingly
visceral correlation of military nuclear capacity with genuine
evil. Such correlation, in turn, is rooted in the president's
stubborn presumption that nuclear weapons, precisely because
of their unique power of destructiveness, are inherently "bad."
however, deserves pride of place. After all, the past instructs
us that atomic arms are not per se destabilizing or war-mongering.
On the contrary, in many volatile and perilous circumstances
– and this is surely something that Mr. Obama should have
already learned, from the Cold War – nuclear weapons can
be peace-enhancing and altogether good. Very purposefully good.
one may be more pointedly precise. Although likely counterintuitive
to uninformed laypersons, nuclear weapons can actually prove
indispensable to international equilibrium, stability and war
avoidance. But why?
is a compelling answer. Sometimes, in complex strategic matters,
truth can emerge through paradox. It is true, of course, that
any further nuclear proliferation would be more or less intolerable,
and that such spread should (at least generally) be contained.
Still, there are particular nation-states in our anarchic world
system that simply could not survive in our global "state
of nature" without maintaining some recognizable and persuasive
forms of nuclear deterrence.
is the single most obvious case in point.
the Jewish state ever have to face its myriad enemies without
some form of nuclear deterrence, whether more fully disclosed
or still "deliberately ambiguous," its long-planned
annihilation by these relentless foes would be hastened and
expanded. Indeed, this potentially unprecedented situation could
exist, even if all of these enemy states were to remain non-nuclear
than any other state on earth, Israel requires nuclear weapons
just to stay alive. Whether unacknowledged or more fully disclosed,
their coerced exchange for any high-sounding promises of peace
through nuclear disarmament might represent the start of another
Jewish genocide. To be sure, this conclusion is not merely disingenuous
bluster or meaningless hyperbole. It is, rather, the inescapable
result of a logical and dispassionate strategic analysis.
and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. Significantly,
this important observation is strongly reinforced by well-documented
20th-century history. Both the Holocaust (World War II) and
the Armenian genocide (World War I) should come quickly to mind.
proposals for a "Nuclear Weapon Free Zone" in the
Middle East, while alluringly "pro-peace," also ignore
the obvious. Should Israel, in any badgered compliance with
pressures from Mr. Obama or with his underlying strategic philosophy,
begin a process of prompt or gradual denuclearization, nothing
of any decisive military consequence would ultimately stand
in the way of more-or-less coordinated Arab and/or Iranian attacks.
In war, in all war, as Prussian military theorist Clausewitz
commented, "mass counts."
its presumed nuclear weapons, appropriately configured and suitably
recognizable, Israel's needed capacity to deter major aggressions
Obama probably means well. Nonetheless, it is imperative that
he now be willing to look fairly and analytically beyond his
stubbornly-idealized visions of a new world order, and also
more precisely and concretely at palpably real theaters of expected
conflict. From the particular standpoint of Israel, which ought
never place its physical survival in the hands of the United
States, what is required immediately is plain.
must take place a continuous, comprehensive and systematic re-examination
of the country's fundamental nuclear posture and corresponding
sooner or later, Israel is forced to defend its essential posture
and doctrine from both insidious and naive calls to join a regional
"nuclear weapons free-zone," Jerusalem should already
have available a thoroughly lucid and convincing explanation
of its intended refusal.
would happen if Israel, for whatever reason, were to relinquish
its nuclear options? Under such portentous circumstances, Israel
would not only become more vulnerable to enemy first strikes,
it would also be deprived of its always-essential preemption
options. This is the case because Israeli counter-retaliatory
deterrence would be immobilized by reduction or removal of its
nuclear weapons potential, and because Israeli preemptions could
never be 100 percent effective against enemy unconventional
forces. Naturally, a less than 100 percent level of effectiveness
could be tolerable if Israel had a fully "leak proof"
anti-tactical ballistic missile capability, but no such capability
is technically achievable.
President Obama should agree or disagree, all nuclear weapons
states are not created equal. Some, like Iran, even after the
July 2015 Vienna agreement, could sooner or later present a
threat of nuclear aggression. Others, like Israel, need nuclear
weapons and associated doctrine simply to stay "alive."
Without these weapons of deterrence, Clausewitz's concept of
"mass" would quickly overtake and suffocate the tiny
Jewish state, a country with less mass than America's Lake Michigan.
nuclear weapons are needed to fulfill essential deterrence options
and, perhaps more residually, certain counter-retaliatory options.
These weapons, it follows, could prove necessary, inter alia,
to make any large-scale Israeli preemption "cost-effective,"
and should never be negotiated away, especially in the midst
of any still-misnamed "peace process" with a so-called
"Palestinian Authority." This survival imperative
remains in force, no matter how appealing the idealized Obama
vision of a "world without nuclear weapons."
the final analysis, regrettable as it may appear, the ultimate
structure of Israeli security must be built upon the foundations
of nuclear weapons and strategic doctrine, not on "security
regimes," "confidence building measures," or
"nuclear weapon free-zones." Significantly, and on
this point President Obama and Secretary Kerry should take careful
note: If these foundations are constructed thoughtfully in Jerusalem,
they could best assure that there will never be another Hiroshima
in the Middle East.