John Isaacs vs. Baker Spring on Nuclear Reductions

See below for more information on the Council's work on nuclear reductions and how you can take action.



On February 16, 2010, Council Executive Director John Isaacs debated Baker Spring, a research fellow in national security policy at the Heritage Foundation, on the topic of nuclear reductions as part of a live debate series conducted by the Project on Nuclear Awareness (PONI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Isaacs and Spring debated the resolution,

“Further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal are in the national security interest of the United States.�

Isaacs (of course) affirmed this statement, while Springs negated it.

Introductions

John Isaacs started by lauding Baker Spring’s now twenty-year contribution to work at the Heritage Foundation. He suggested in light of recent snow storms, a new slogan that he would try to get Baker Spring to endorse: “more snow plows, fewer nukes� makes sensible policy in Washington, DC today.

Given the existence of 23,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, over 90% of them possessed by the U.S. and Russia, Isaacs argued that the world stands at the brink of a proliferation tipping point. He cited the bipartisan consensus – including statesmen Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, and former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger – for verifiable nuclear weapons reductions, a critical component of which is the successor to the START agreement, to prevent the spread or theft of the weapons. Isaacs also identified that nuclear weapons have no role to play in the war against terrorism or in areas of conflict where the U.S. is currently engaged, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his opening remarks, Baker Spring pointed out that over the past decade, nuclear issues have not been drawing the attention they deserve. He suggested that the important question about nuclear reductions should not be over the plausibility of further reductions, but rather over the timing of when those reductions should take place. He is not convinced that the pieces have been correctly put in place for the U.S. to undertake nuclear reductions within the appropriate strategic framework.

Spring agreed with Isaacs that the world is no longer shaped by the bipolar system of the Cold War, but said that is precisely why the U.S. should not make reductions in its arsenal. He argued that circumstances now require a nuclear posture that is geared towards stability. As nuclear proliferation is likely to increase, Baker suggested a future of nuclear multi-polarity may be possible. In today’s environment of nuclear multi-polarity, he argued that maintenance of the current U.S. arsenal and development of robust missile defenses would help to stabilize the international environment and prevent conflict.

Highlights from Q&A

Q: START has already expired. Does Baker want a new treaty or not?
Baker: The Moscow Treaty (commonly referred to as SORT) is still in effect, and verification elements should be added to it. The overall momentum has been for warhead numbers to come down, and there is no need to pursue the goal any more aggressively.

Q: Is there any circumstance in which Isaacs believes nuclear weapons should be used?
Isaacs: Nuclear weapons should only be used to deter nuclear attacks on the United States.Baker: Isn’t the deterrent then merely a “transparent bluff�?Isaacs: Whatever you call it, it’s been a very successful bluff since 1945.

Q: How can the U.S. keep a strong deterrent while making reductions?
Isaacs: President Obama has committed significant resources to ensure U.S. nuclear weapons are kept safe and effective. The independent scientific advisory group, JASON, has confirmed that U.S. nuclear weapons are safe, effective, and as useful as ever. We will continue to have the “most powerful nuclear force in the world.� I expect no one would want to trade our arsenal for Russia or China’s.

Conclusions

Baker summarized by saying he thought that it is not a good time to think about reductions now, not under current circumstances and under the current stated policies of the Obama administration, and not in the foreseeable future. He said that to be effective, nuclear weapons have to have political and military utility. Current force levels are essential for U.S. nuclear weapons to protect the U.S. and its allies. Too few people are thinking about these issues, and it would be a “fool’s errand� to reduce the arsenals at this point.

In concluding his remarks, Isaacs reiterated the new bipartisan consensus that during the Cold War, both the US and Russia developed far more nuclear weapons than they needed. He said that the “studies� Baker alluded to [that justified the maintenance of massive nuclear arsenals] smack of war games that justify huge, unnecessary expenditures on nuclear weapons and could result in the end of the human race. That is why there is now agreement among military leaders and policymakers to reduce nuclear arsenals. In the post 9/11 world, we can safely and securely reduce nuclear arsenals.

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For video and audio of this debate, visit PONI’s website.

For more on the Council’s work in support of a new agreement to reduce Russian and American nuclear weapons arsenals, click here to visit the START Resource Center from our sister organization and research center.

To find out how you can take action to Cut the Nuclear Threat, click here.