Commentary Magazine


The Fab Four Speak

Yesterday, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn repeated their arguments for complete nuclear disarmament in the Wall Street Journal. “With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous,” they write.

In this judgment the Fab Four of geopolitics are undoubtedly correct. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union successfully deterred the other with mutual threats of annihilation. Today, we do not have a bipolar international system or even generally symmetric relations between ourselves and our adversaries. Dictators and autocrats seeking the ultimate weapon have big-power sponsors—China and Russia—and seem to believe they face weak and divided leaders in America and Europe. Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the West as to the nature of present nuclear threats or the means to deal with them. All this means that we cannot risk everything on the assumption that yesterday’s concepts of deterrence apply to today’s situation.

This argument is the intellectual foundation for the disarmament proposal made by Messrs. Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn. Yet it is, coincidentally, also the best reason for the use of force. In both North Korea and Iran we face nations led by hard men who might not be amenable to Western notions of persuasion or reason and may, in some circumstances, be unafraid of the prospect of massive death.

As Kim Jong Il, the generally unpredictable leader of North Korea once said, “If we lose, I will destroy the world.” And we all have read the millennial notions that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad propagates. When it comes to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, we should all listen to the wisdom of the oft-ridiculed Dan Quayle. “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history,” he once said.

How we deal with really weird leaders of very dangerous states will depend on the exigencies of the moment, of course. Yet when we consider our options, we should remember that we got into today’s perilous situation by adopting middle-of-the-road measures and accepting unpromising compromises. Therefore, enduring solutions may come only from the extremes of the political spectrum. Whatever one may think of the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn proposal, it is a suggestion that will take decades to implement. In the meantime, we may have to accept their assumptions and be willing to disarm rogues the old fashioned way—by force.