Joseph Cirincione, currently the president of the Ploughshares Fund, is one of the leading anti-nuclear weapons campaigners in the United States. In early October he spoke to members of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, as well as to Jim Creskey, the editor of the Hill Times, to parliamentarians, and to scholars at the University of Ottawa. Here are some edited excerpts from his talks.
The most dangerous country on earth is Pakistan. This is due to a combination of risk factors: an unstable government, a continually collapsing economy, extremist groups operating inside the national territory, including the Taliban, Al Qaeda groups and ISIS groups, extremist ideologies prevalent in the military and intelligence apparatus—plus a large and growing nuclear arsenal. This is a recipe for disaster.
Pakistan also shares a border with a nuclear-armed India, against whom they have fought four wars since independence. It is just a matter of time before one of these border incidents explodes into another conventional war, and that is almost certain to escalate into a nuclear exchange. Both sides have adopted nuclear weapons as integral to their response to a conventional conflict. The Pakistanis make and deploy so-called “battlefield nuclear weapons” that can be fired over a short range. In a time of crisis, those weapons, which are in fairly secure depots under tight control, would be flushed into the field. They’d be brought under the control of battlefield commanders.
Such a crisis deployment could make these nuclear weapons vulnerable to terrorist seizure. It is hard for a terrorist group to break into a Pakistani storage depot unless they have insider help. But if you put warheads in transit, they become much more vulnerable. The true nightmare scenario is for a terrorist to cause a crisis, say, like the attack on Mumbai ten years ago, to which India responds, and the Pakistani military rushes nuclear weapons into the field. Terrorists then seize control of a handful of them, creating an unsolvable dilemma.
A terrorist group with two nuclear weapons can blackmail any country on earth. They can announce that they have positioned nuclear weapons in, say, Ottawa and Toronto. And if the government does not meet their demands, they say that they will destroy Ottawa. To show that they are serious, they blow up Toronto. What do you do in that scenario?
The other nightmare scenario is this: India, in response to this Pakistani threat, announces that they might use nuclear weapons first in a conventional war to knock out the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. While India nominally maintains a “no first use” policy, this has come under increased pressure in recent years.
Not only would nuclear war in Southeast Asia kill tens of millions and cause a global economic crisis, it would also threaten all of human civilization. Scientists have long known about the nuclear winter effect. In the 1980s Carl Sagan and others studied this, noting that in an exchange of arsenals between the US and the Soviet Union, you would get a nuclear winter. They thought it would take about 500 nuclear bombs. Now, we realize that the minimum number of weapons need to trigger this effect is substantially lower. Calculations using new climate change models estimate that 100 nuclear weapons exploding in the dense, urban centers of South Asia would put enough smoke and particulates in the atmosphere to cloud the earth for two or three years, lowering global temperatures by two or three degrees. That would kill a large portion of the food crops in the world. The resulting famine would kill over a billion people around the world. Through the very plausible use of nuclear weapons, a regional war that would initially kill tens of millions of South Asians could eventually kill billions with consequences that would threaten civilization itself.
That is why you must care about what is happening in Pakistan and India, even as we are dealing with other, more pressing crises.
Only ten months ago President Trump threatened Korea with “fire and fury.” We nearly went to war with Korea—a war that could quickly escalate into the use of nuclear weapons.
There had been numerous opportunities to come to a negotiated agreement with Pyongyang. It’s my view that the North Korean nuclear program was not resolved diplomatically primarily because of divisions on the American side, not the duplicity and intransigence of the North Korean side. True, there was duplicity and intransigence on the North Korean side, but we had several times come to an agreement that had frozen their plutonium program, for example, and had stopped their missile program. Both of those were stopped for eight years, starting in the 1990s. But we pulled out of the nuclear agreement when the George W. Bush administration came to power.
The Bush Administration realized its mistake in Bush’s second term and tried to renegotiate a deal under Condoleezza Rice. We actually had a deal but (and I’ve talked extensively to Christopher Hill, the ambassador who negotiated it) no sooner had they inked the deal than Dick Cheney and John Bolton put sanctions on a bank, Banco Delta Asia, that had the North Koreans’ leadership’s money—about $25 million. They froze those accounts.
The North Koreans signed the deal, walked out the door, found out that their bank accounts were frozen, and believed this was all part of a plot, a trick. They pulled out of the deal and would not restart negotiations until the assets were unfrozen.
It’s easy to freeze assets like that but it took almost a year to unfreeze them, even when Condoleezza Rice went to the president and demanded that the Treasury Department reverse course. At the very end of its term, she and the Bush Administration tried once again to make a deal but could not pull it off.
A few years later the Obama Administration came close to a nuclear deal but that fell apart over the administration’s refusal to agree to satellite launches by the North Koreans. In hindsight, we should have taken the deal but the Obama Administration feared it would be attacked as too weak. Obama and his advisors were afraid that if they agreed to it, the deal would never hold. So they pulled the plug.
Today, North Korea may have enough material for somewhere between 20 and 35 nuclear weapons. Some estimate 60. It’s all based on assumptions about how much fissile material you believe North Korea requires to make a bomb and how much of that material it has produced.
Some estimate that it needs very little to make a bomb—say, two kilograms. That’s how; some estimates climb to 60 weapons. If you take a more conservative estimate, that they need something like four to six kilograms, that’s how you get to 20 to 35.
We now have a moment where there is an unprecedented level of diplomacy going on with North Korea. You can agree or disagree with the way Donald Trump has promoted this diplomacy, but you have to acknowledge that we have a new opening here that, if we execute it properly, might actually resolve the nuclear crisis. As Trump has said, he and Kim Jong-un exchanged letters and “fell in love.”
It is my belief (and this is a little unconventional) that President Trump, by flipping the script—by putting up front the diplomatic recognition that Korea had so long wanted from the United States, by putting up front the rewards that you normally position at the end of the process—may have stumbled into a winning formula. He may inadvertently have created the security conditions that would allow North Korea to constrain, reduce and ultimately give up its nuclear arsenal.
We have pundits on all sides claim that this process will fail. I don’t think we know yet whether it will or won’t, but our job is to test the proposition. In this short romance, the North Koreans have already pledged to stop testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
They’ve destroyed their nuclear test site. This is a good thing! They have a hydrogen bomb, there’s no question about that, but they have not perfected it. I’d like them to sign the Com pre hensive Test Ban Treaty, which would be another barrier to renewed testing and another demonstration of their commitment to stop testing.
North Korea does have a twice-tested long-range missile that can carry nuclear warheads to any spot in North America, whether it’s Ottawa or Mar-a-Lago. There is uncertainty, however, about how good a re-entry vehicle it has, or how solid the warhead is, so it’s good that they’ve stopped testing it. They’ve offered to dismantle one of their engine test sites.
So we’ve already achieved some concrete benefits. Can we lock those in and get the test freeze coupled with a production freeze?
In the historic Pyongyang summit between President Kim of North Korea and President Moon of South Korea, Kim said that he was willing to dismantle Yongbyon, the plutonium production site. It doesn’t produce all of their plutonium, but it does make a lot of it. My colleague Sig Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos Laboratories, said “This is a significant offer.” Can we get them to do this?
Kim Jong-un is not going to do any of this unless he gets something from President Trump. Kim says President Trump made promises at the Singapore summit, and this is true. The presidents agreed on four points—the first two were promises by Trump to end hostilities with North Korea and “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” We have not done that yet so Kim’s saying, “Look, it’s your turn. I’ve done some things to stop our programs. You do something now and let’s proceed in a step-by-step basis.”
What he wants in particular is to declare an end to the Korean War. The war never officially ended. There is just an armistice now. Kim wants a peace treaty. ,Just this Tuesday I saw South Korean President Moon Jae-in in New York at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. His position is that the US should take these steps, including a declaration of the end of the war. So, now, North and South Korea are working toward it.
The two Koreas, in my view, are driving the process the Korean Peninsula. Trump is the third most important actor—maybe fourth if we count China. But North and South Korea are going ahead. They would like US support but a very new dynamic is in place unlike anything we’ve seen before. It correlates with the decreased US role in the world. We have less influence, less legitimacy than in previous presidencies and you see other states moving to decide their own fates.
I believe that the president of the United States should declare an end to the Korean War. This is a reasonable step that doesn’t cost us anything. It doesn’t mean we’d have to pull troops out, or that we’d have to end the alliance with South Korea. It’s symbolic, but it’s still diplomatically important. It could give Kim Jong-un the prestige he seeks and a little of the security that he sought to get by acquiring nuclear weapons.
Why do people get nuclear weapons? For every country, the first two reasons are security and prestige. So if you want a country to give up these weapons, then you have to satisfy their security and prestige calculations.
The problem is that the President’s policies have actually been undermined by the hawks in his administration. John Bolton doesn’t want to make a deal with North Korea. He believes in regime change—that you force countries to comply with US demands. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has seemed to believe that as well. He has gone to North Korea twice now and presented a plan that they have to give up 70 percent of their nuclear capability by 2021 before the US will do anything. That is completely unacceptable to the North Koreans. They will not give up their major bargaining card, which they see as the major guarantee of their security, in exchange for a promise and a handshake. They are insisting on the step-by-step process. Our job is to encourage the president and try to create a political space for him to take that next step. We are in the peculiar position of siding with a president whom we oppose on nine out of ten policies.
North Korea is the crisis that gets the most attention but the Iranian crisis is actually more serious. There we have a pure regime-change strategy from the top all the way down. And it’s clear from the major speeches you heard earlier this fall at the UN General Assembly by National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo. Bolton said that Iran would “have hell to pay” if they didn’t change their policy.
They have a list of twelve demands that Iran must comply with, basically calling for the complete abdication of the regime. They would have to change all their major policies and transform themselves into something they are not. This is Bolton and Pompeo trying to negotiate an unconditional surrender.
They are starting with economic pressure. They pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement—an agreement that reduced Iran’s nuclear program to a fraction of its size, constrained it, froze it for fifteen years and put it under an unprecedented inspection regime so we knew exactly what Iran would do with every single gram of uranium that came out of its mines. We knew what was going on in the program and now President Trump has pulled out of that, precipitating this current crisis, which may develop further when the US layers on new sanctions in November.
But sanctions are not placed on Iran. We, the United States, don’t do business with Iran. No, we place these sanctions on our friends and allies who buy Iran’s oil, their carpets, their pistachios, their investments—anything at all. Anyone trading with Iran will be sanctioned by the United States.
The Europeans are pushing back. I don’t think Canada is part of this effort. It’s mainly the Europeans, for whom the Iran agreement was a shining achievement. They started negotiating with Iran in 2003 and the US finally agreed to join the negotiations under President Obama. They are seeking to preserve the Iran anti-nuclear agreement, hoping to set up a very clever financing mechanism to protect companies that trade with Iran.
We’ll have to see how that works. Most big companies have so much more trade with the United States that they don’t want to risk that for the minor trade they have with Iran, so they are pulling out of the Iran market. Volkswagen is a prime example. Iran is the only country in the Middle East that makes cars. Iran has an industrial base that could fuel their economy for decades to come. That’s one of the things that the Trump-Bolton-Pompeo plan will try to strangle. The French oil and gas company, Total, which had a multi-billion dollar deal to develop Iranian oil fields, has also pulled out now. So, this is going to cause pain.
I met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this last Monday. I expected some angry rhetoric from him but he was calm and determined. He kept emphasizing the word “patience.” The Iranians are a country that’s been there for 3,000 years—one of the only true nations in the Middle East—and they think they can weather this particular crisis. They have no intention of meeting with President Trump. I know for a fact that Trump and Pompeo would like to meet with Rouhani and get a better deal, but Iran has calculated that it is not in their own interest to do this. Rouhani said, “You are holding a gun to our heads and now you tell us to sit down? You have to remove the threat, rejoin the JCPOA, and then we can talk.”
That’s not going to happen, so we are heading for a confrontation with Iran. I think this is the most dangerous crisis we face in the world. Earlier this fall John Bolton (illegally, in my view) announced a changed mission for the US troops in Syria. He said that US troops would not leave Syria until the Iranian forces left Syria.
We have about 2,000 troops in Syria, allegedly for the purpose of combatting ISIS and for helping the rebel groups that are trying to secure their territory. These American soldiers have not been fighting Assad’s forces, they have not been fighting Russian forces. They have been fighting what they call the “militants”—the mostly-defeated ISIS. Trump had talked about pulling them out, as ISIS has been largely defeated. But they are still there. In fact, they seem to be digging in.
Well, Bolton seems to be revealing the new policy, the new, expanded mission. We’re going to push Iran out. Really?
Iran has about 10,000 soldiers from its Revolutionary Guard there. They have helped prop up the Assad regime and its barbarous policies. Iran has not been the main prop to the regime (that would be Russia) but it is the nation that is the focus of Trump’s criticism. Syria is a humanitarian tragedy. But it hasn’t been the policy of the United States to fight Russian and Iranian troops. Now, Bolton is putting us a step closer to this.
To add to the tensions, Iran just launched its own missile strikes into Syria that hit ISIS targets, claiming retribution for the attack on the Iranian military parade this year. In another twist, the Iranians claim that while it was ISIS who orchestrated the attack, they were backed somehow by America, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—without any evidence of that being true.
John Bolton seems to be taking a page from the Iraq playbook; he is trying to link a regime it wants to overthrow with the war on terrorism. You can see where the dotted lines lead. You also run a grave risk that one side or the other will miscalculate. That could be the spark that sets off a conflict in the region that would spiral out of control. Some people in region and in the American government want to escalate a fight. They look at the demonstrations in Iran believe that the government is highly unpopular and on the edge of collapse. They think a simple, sharp blow—a bloody nose—would force it back into the geopolitical box it had been in for decades until the US removed its natural balancer in the region, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
We removed that barrier. We allowed the Iranian influence to expand, whether justified or not. We created chaos in the region. And now we’re trying to pin the chaos in the region on Iran—and only Iran, ignoring all the other factors in the area. Very convenient from the US point of view, but completely wrong and could lead to complete disaster.
I don’t think that Donald Trump himself wants a war with Iran but the main worry we have here is that the increased pressure, increased rhetoric, increased threat and the close proximity of US troops to Iranian forces or Iranian-backed militias in Syria could lead to an exchange of some kind. The Revolutionary Guard, which wants to pick a fight with us (it regularly harasses US ships in the Persian Gulf) might come too close one day. We could see an exchange of fire with US troops or a capture of US forces by Iranian forces, for example. That could escalate into a battle, which then may escalate into a war. This is the great risk.
And the scariest part of this is that if the nuclear deal completely collapses, with Iran pulling out and re-starting its uranium enrichment program, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East will become a very real possibility. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said that “if Iran gets the bomb, we will get the bomb.” Let’s not test him on this.
These regional crises are part of a larger, frightening new reality: a new nuclear arms race. Every single nuclear-armed country in the world is building new nuclear weapons. Some are replacing older weapons that are at the end of their operational lives. The United States is producing a whole new generation of bombers, missiles and submarines; its program is estimated to cost almost $1.7 trillion over the next 20 to 25 years. Other nuclear nations are also “modernizing”—that’s the word they use—while India and Pakistan are expanding their arsenals. China is also slightly expanding. China has just under 300 nuclear warheads. India and Pakistan have about 150 each.
Only the US and Russia measure their nuclear weapons in the thousands—approximately 6,500 each. Why so many? Because of the insane, outdated targeting strategies of both nations. A great source on this is a new report by Bruce Blair, the founder of Global Zero: “An Alternative Nuclear Posture.” He and his co-authors take apart the administration’s nuclear posture, which came out earlier this year. The stated purpose for US nuclear weapons is deterrence, but Blair’s analysis reveals the true purpose—a nuclear war-fighting posture.
Their report considers what would it look like if we reduced the arsenals down to just the number of weapons actually required for deterrence. If we just want to deter somebody from attacking us with nuclear weapons, how many would you need? He says hundreds. Not zero. Politicians are reluctant to embrace complete elimination. But if you can get the arsenals down to hundreds, and still have everybody feel safe, that is a major step forward.
To show the absurdity of still having thousands, Blair examines the war plans, the targeting. He says that for Russia alone, the US war planners have established 975 aim points. The map fills up real fast if you try to put 975 dots on a map of Russia! And for every dot you could be looking at, US nuclear doctrine calls for redundancy in targeting, preferably with warheads coming from different types of delivery vehicle.
It’s a ridiculous number of nuclear weapons, and way more than needed to deter Russia. You could probably just target a bank vault in Zurich and hold at risk what Moscow holds dear (not that I’m advocating nuking Switzerland). It’s just not that hard to deter people from attacking you; even the prospect of a handful of key cities going up in flames should produce more than enough of a deterrent effect. But there’s no chance in the near future of the United States recognizing this and cutting our arsenal down from thousands of warheads to mere hundreds.
Neither Putin nor Trump have any interest whatsoever in nuclear reductions. This is a major break from the past. We saw US and Russian nuclear arsenals decline from just under 70,000 in the mid-eighties down to a total just under 14,000 today. It’s been down, down, down—largely as a result of nuclear arms control between the United States and the Soviet Union and then Russia, but also because of the decision of other countries to constrain their nuclear programs or avoid them all together. So disarmament and nonproliferation have gone hand in hand in the last thirty or forty years.
This decline has now stopped. This is the danger point. Nobody is reducing. We’re at an inflection point. Do we let the new arms race take off? Once arms races start, history shows it is extremely difficult to stop them. So, now is the time to stop this dynamic before it gets rolling. There are small steps we can take, like getting the United States and Russia to extend the New START treaty, which expires in 2021. There is some indication we might get that before Trump departs from office, but we don’t know.
But nuclear reduction talks? A distant prospect.
The new trend is toward “usable” nuclear weapons. Russia, for example, seems to have a policy to use nuclear weapons first in a conventional conflict. They call this “escalate to de-escalate.” The idea seems to be that using a nuclear weapon first in a conventional conflict with NATO forces would signal the seriousness of the conflict and would therefore get the other side to back down.
The US is also developing new weapons for exactly the same purpose. Even as we criticize the Russian doctrine, we’re developing our own first-use doctrine. We see it in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which expands the missions for US nuclear weapons in response to a wider range of threats, including cyber attacks.
The new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile is particularly disturbing. We have a fleet of Trident submarines. These are strategic weapons, which we would use in a global thermonuclear war. The Pentagon has now accepted a proposal to take some of the missiles on each sub and fit them with a “little” bomb—a low-yield nuclear weapon that could be used in a limited war. The idea is to lower the threshold for use, to have a smaller weapon that military commanders and the civilian authorities would be more willing to use first in a conventional battle.
It’s pretty easy to do this. In every big bomb, there’s a little bomb. The hydrogen bombs that are currently on the Trident contain a fuel of hydrogen isotopes—mainly deuterium and lithium—and they are compressed, fused, by an atomic bomb that provides the heat, radiation, and pressure to recreate the conditions that exist inside the sun, where hydrogen fuses into helium, releasing an enormous amount of energy.
So, if you just want the little bomb to go off, you can simply take the hydrogen fuel out and you’re left with a Hiroshima-sized atomic bomb or smaller. This could be done within the next two years, given funding, making it the only new nuclear weapon that will become available to Trump during this first term.
But how would the Russians determine whether they are being attacked with a little bomb or a big bomb? The American nuclear hawks don’t answer that. This particular weapon has caused such concern that there is a consensus of Democrats in Congress to stop this weapon. This is one weapon around which everybody on the sane side of the nuclear policy table agrees: “No, we should not build this.”
Putin is not an innocent bystander in this regard. He is racing ahead with his own fleet of new nuclear weapons. The capability of those weapons is grossly exaggerated. I don’t believe he has a nuclear-powered cruise missile that could be launched from Russia, cross the oceans, and hit the United States. That doesn’t work. We’ve seen the tests; they crash. I don’t believe he has a nuclear-powered underwater torpedo that could hit the US and cause a nuclear tsunami, drowning our port cities with radioactive waste. I don’t believe that works. But he’s working on it and claiming that they are both feasible and imminent.
One of our advisors, former Secretary of Defence Bill Perry, said that the risk of nuclear use is greater now than it was during almost any point in the Cold War. This is a person who saw the Cuban Missile Crisis. But now, we have a new moment, a chance to change the policy, to reduce these dangers. We may have some success in moderating the current Trump policy. We have to prepare for a larger policy opening with the elections of 2020, when another president may be elected. We can do both—moderate current policy and prepare the ground for a new policy—if the Democrats take over the House of Representatives and gain some control over the nuclear weapons budget.
If the House goes Democratic, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee will be Adam Smith, representing part of Washington State. When asked what he thought about the new low-yield bomb, Smith said he is intractably opposed to it, and all the Democrats on the committee feel the same way. They would kill the funding for this if they could.
In fact, Smith has introduced a piece of legislation to declare that the US policy on nuclear weapons will be no-first-use—no matter whether it’s a little bomb or a big bomb.
And there’s another bill by Ted Lieu from California and Ed Markey that would require any president to receive congressional authorization before launching a nuclear first strike. So when the House changes hands, the stage is set for some dramatic confrontations over US nuclear policy.
However, in the US Congress there’s something called the “ICBM Caucus.” It’s made up of those senators from states where there are ICBM bases or strategic bomber bases: Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Louisiana. That totals about 12 senators, Democrats and Republicans. They told President Obama that they would not support the New START treaty if it cut the number of ICBMs. Instead of having a treaty that went down to 1,000 strategic deployed warheads, we had one that went down to 1,550. President Obama needed the votes. You need 67 votes to pass a treaty. If you have 12 senators saying no right away, you’re not exactly beginning with a running start.
What’s frustrating is that, with all this resistance to downsizing the nuclear arsenal, these bases only provide a relatively small amount of employment. For example, for Montana’s ICBM base accounts for about 2,000 jobs. That tells you something about what you have to do to change nuclear policy. It’s not just having an agreement with Moscow. It means you’re going to have to find a way to keep the base, provide an alternative revenue stream, but change the mission. You do that and you get the senators’ votes.
I don’t know whether Bernie Sanders is going to run for president again, but he’s begun putting out the elements of his preferred national security policy and a good part of that will be focused on nuclear weapons. You can bet that other people are doing this too, whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Hillebrand or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker or Governor Inslee from Washington State or John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, who is thinking of challenging Trump. The Ploughshares Fund supports policies, not presidents. We’re bipartisan. We’re working with both sides of the aisle on developing alternative policies. Now’s the time to do this.
I was on the Obama national security team in 2007 and 2008; that’s what we were doing at approximately this time in the campaign. We put together the most ambitious, most credible, most realistic nuclear policy that any candidate has carried into the White House. Obama made a strong run at implementing it, but he fell short.
Let’s learn from that experience. Let’s go further, let’s go faster; let’s make some real changes—some that a president can do by decree, but most require the support of the Congress and, of course, the American people. We will have to make sure we fill the key staff positions with people who believe in a new nuclear policy, not ones who are going to sabotage it, which is one of the reasons Obama failed.
America has dominated world affairs for seventy years and I think it’s about time to shift the balance. It’s a good thing to have a little more equality in this alliance.
My neo-con friends preach a gospel of “benign hegemony,” arguing that the US should be unconstrained, that the international treaties that impose limitations on America should be shoved aside because America will do what’s best for America and that will be best for the world. You see a perverted version of this in the sovereignty doctrine that Trump’s now pronouncing. If anything can show the fallacy of that argument, it is the possibility that this unfettered US policy could wreak havoc on the world—that it is possible for the US to be a hegemon that is not benign.
Se we want to build up a system of international laws, international institutions, that restrain all countries without exception. I do not believe in American exceptionalism. We’re still a major power in the world. This change is not going to happen quickly but we’ve got to be pushing it forward. Other countries are developing strategies. The European Union is the best example but look at what President Moon is doing. He wants US support but he’s not waiting for it.
US politicians, when they are developing their security policies, always have to consider “What do the allies think?” They want a position that will be supported by allied leaders. That’s when the allies can play a large role.
I would like to see allies visiting all the American presidential candidates and speaking publicly about their opinions. If you don’t like what the US is doing on the Iran deal, for example, let it be known. You saw this happening last week at the UN. The president wanted to have a UN Security Council meeting focused on denouncing Iran, but his own aides had to tell him, “If you do that, you will be isolated. Of the 15 people around the table, there will be one that agrees with you and that’s you.”
The alliance has always avoided airing their disagreement in public because they don’t want to help Russia. And Russia is a real threat. It is seeking to divide the alliance, but we have to get over this notion that pre venting divisions within the alliance means robotic adherence to the US position.
Never underestimate the power of example and moral leadership. We saw a previous Prime Minister Trudeau mobilize world public opinion about nuclear policy in the ’80s. Pierre Trudeau’s Canada was the first nuclear weapons state to voluntarily give up nuclear weapons. Canada had effective control of about 450 US-supplied nuclear weapons. Deciding that it wasn’t in Canada’s interest to have these weapons and it wasn’t in the world’s interest, he gave them up. He led the way.
His son could lead from that example, particularly at a time when you have a president of the United States who doesn’t see himself as the leader of the Western world. He sees his closest allies as economic rivals. We are coming to a time when European leaders and maybe Canadian leaders can no longer rely on the United States for leadership. It is worth considering the kind of popular support that Mr. Trudeau might experience if he were to become more assertive. I think this is a winning political issue for most politicians in most countries around the world.
Joseph Cirincione is President of the Ploughshares Fund, San Francisco.