Douglas J Feith and Abram N Shulsky: The Dangerous Illusion of 'Nuclear Zero'

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[Mr. Feith, a former under secretary of defense for policy, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" (Harper, 2008). Mr. Shulsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and was director of strategic arms control policy at the Department of Defense from 1982 to 1985.]

Moving toward "nuclear zero" is a signature theme of this administration. President Barack Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons is certainly grand. The problem is that our current policies lack coherence and rest on other-worldly assumptions.

Consider the administration's recently released Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). One of the conditions that would permit the United States and others to give up their nuclear weapons "without risking greater international instability and insecurity" is "the resolution of regional disputes that can motivate rival states to acquire and maintain nuclear weapons." Another condition is not only "verification methods and technologies capable of detecting violations of disarmament obligations," but also "enforcement measures strong and credible enough to deter such violations."

The first condition would require ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, settling the Korean War, resolving Kashmir and the other India-Pakistan disputes, and defusing Iran's tensions with its neighbors and with the U.S. It also means solving any other significant conflicts that might arise.

Verification would be tough, but even if technology could solve the problem, the question remains: What kind of "enforcement measures" do those who drafted the NPR imagine?

As of now, the U.N. Security Council is the only conceivable policing agency and its record is weak. What, for example, did the Security Council do when Iraq violated the Geneva Convention on poison gas in the 1980s, or when North Korea recently violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? There simply are no good grounds for relying on the Security Council's will to enforce treaties.

U.S. efforts to organize sanctions in response to Iran's illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons have been exercises in frustration. The Security Council deal announced on Tuesday falls far short of the "crippling sanctions" the administration had once intended. This experience undermines the credibility of any threat of enforcement measures—even against a state not allied with a veto-wielding Security Council member. And if China, Russia or an ally of either were someday to cheat on the ban, enforcement would be precluded by veto.

Is some kind of "world executive" envisioned to implement, or at least authorize, enforcement measures over objections from major powers? If so, it's hard to see how the U.S. or any other great power would relinquish its sovereign rights to independent action and self-defense.

"Strong enough" enforcement would have to include military measures. Is the idea here a U.N. military force that could fight large wars, as some diplomats proposed when the U.N. Charter was negotiated in the late 1940s? Or would military enforcement be the duty of the strongest state, presumably the U.S.? Only an arrangement verging on world government—an entity that could deploy overwhelming military power against a violator without interference by other powers—could possibly fill the bill...

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