December 4, 2010

Former U.S. Ambassador Says Nukes No Longer Serve America’s Interests

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“We are entering a period where threatening unacceptable damage with nuclear weapons no longer seems like a rational foreign policy decision,” former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Burt ’69 said at a lecture Thursday titled “The New Geopolitics and Why Nuclear Weapons No Longer Serve U.S. Interests.”

The lecture — sponsored by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and the Caceres-Neuffer Foreign Affairs Society, among others — focused on the emergence of a new international system in which nuclear weapons could possibly be eliminated.

As the current U.S. Chair on the Global Zero campaign, which started in 2008, Burt helps lead an international effort to eliminate nuclear weapons. Burt began the lecture with a hopeful description of current interactions between nations, in which the key commodities are economics, technology and education.

“[In the past 20 years,] we have seen a steady transition to a different and new international system, a more open system, a more polycentric system with more points of power throughout the center,” Burt said. “One that is less based on military politics and more based on geo-economics.”

Previously, military power was the most important quality of a state in the international arena, Bert said. However, as globalization closes the gaps between countries, economic power is set to take center stage.

“Now, countries will be able to achieve their objectives without territorial acquisition because, in a globalized world economy, trade and economic investment will do the job,” Burt said.

However, Burt expressed concern regarding the “darker world” of rogue states, failing states and sub-state actors who are scrounging to establish nuclear status.

Due to the accessibility of nuclear technology, Burt warned that these “dark” countries, such as Iran, could be closer to attaining nuclear capabilities than the rest of the world knows.

“You don’t have to break the genetic code to figure out how to make a nuclear weapon. You can find plans on the Internet,” Burt said.

While the attainment of nuclear weapons by rogue nations is concerning, Burt emphasized that the issue could be resolved in the international system by eliminating the perceived legitimacy of using such weapons.

“Our goal should be to de-legitimize nuclear weapons in the same way that we have largely succeeded in de-legitimizing biological and chemical weapons,” Burt said.

As the lecture progressed, Burt stressed the necessity for the passage of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — which would reduce the number of deployed nuclear weapons for both Russia and the U.S. to 1,550 — that is waiting to be considered in Congress. Burt served as a chief negotiator on the first START treaty in 1989.

“If we can’t get this rather modest existing treaty ratified, then all bets are off about the ability to pursue this ambitious two-decade goal of nuclear elimination,” Burt said.

Chris Slijk ’12, who attended the lecture, said he shared Burt’s concerns.

“It is important that the U.S. exerts pressures to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slijk said.

In laying out his policy prescription, Burt added that the U.S. should follow up after the  New START treaty is ratified and attempt to decrease the weapon count to 1,000. After the count is reduced to 1,000, Burt said, the U.S. may be able to involve China in the nuclear decrease and possibly collaborate with India as well.

Burt’s lecture concluded with a question and answer session, during which he responded to the concerns of an audience member about a possible reemergence of nuclear weapons after their elimination.

“The only way that this [nuclear elimination] would work is with an enforcement mechanism. If somebody cheats, they are going to have to have a price to pay,” Burt said.

Nevertheless, he remained optimistic regarding America’s ability to detect any upcoming nuclear powers.

“Nobody has ever developed a nuclear weapon and deployed it without being discovered first,” Burt said.

Original Author: Kayla DeLeon