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The Sky is Falling - on John Bolton

John Bolton has made a cottage industry out of trying to scare people about nuclear weapons. Contrary to the subtitle of Dr. Strangelove - "how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb" - Bolton's motto seems to be "why you need to start worrying and embrace the bomb." He reiterates this point at every opportunity, most recently in a piece published in the Washington Examiner. But does he really believe that the Obama administration's modest but essential first steps towards reducing global nuclear arsenals are putting us in grave danger? I seriously doubt it.

Bolton believes in maintaining the status quo, a world in which the United States and Russia possess 95% of the world's arsenal of 20,000-plus nuclear weapons and it's not worth even trying to use diplomacy to reduce those arsenals, much less those of other nuclear powers. In his most recent piece, he even appears to dismiss President Obama's pledge to secure "all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists." What's Bolton's logic here? Do we need to leave loose nukes and unsecured bomb-making materials lying around to show we're tough? Or is he just so intent on opposing anything that the Obama administration is for that he will oppose even the most effective policies available for reducing the nuclear danger?

What are Bolton's alternatives to diplomacy? Bombing Iran? He has implied as much, even though the effects of such an action would most likely be to undermine the Iranian opposition, accelerate Tehran's efforts to seek a nuclear weapon, and sow further chaos in a region that can ill afford it. Invading North Korea? Even he doesn't seem willing to go that far over the top.

Instead of quaking in our boots at the prospect of nuclear arms cuts, as Bolton would like us to do, we need to look at the real security benefits of a multi-faceted approach to achieving substantial reductions. These steps should include a new nuclear arms reduction agreement (START), followed shortly thereafter by negotiations for even deeper cuts in U.S. and Russian arsenals; a global ban on all nuclear weapons tests (the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty); accelerated investments in securing all nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials; increased investments in the inspection capabilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); a concerted effort to solve the Kashmir problem and improve relations between India and Pakistan to the point that each nation will feel secure in reducing its nuclear arsenal; and a renewed global effort to get Iran and North Korea to curb and then reverse their nuclear weapons programs. Some of these steps are obviously harder - much harder - than others. But each of them is valuable in its own right, and we can't afford not to pursue them.

It's important to remember that there has been considerable success in reducing nuclear weapons over the past two decades. Since the end of the Cold War, more than twice as many countries have abandoned nuclear weapons or bomb-making programs as have initiated them. Total nuclear weapons stockpiles are down by over two-thirds since their peak in the mid-1960s. And programs like the Nunn-Lugar program - which invests in dismantling and securing Russian nuclear bombs and nuclear materials - have made impressive strides. There is no reason why we can't build on these successes to accomplish further reductions in nuclear weapons, making the world a far safer place in the process. We just need to make sure people don't buy into the scare talk of John Bolton and his cohorts.

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William Hartung

William Hartung

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books, 2011). He is the co-editor of Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War (Paradigm Press, 2008).


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