Imperial Valley Press

The nuclear genie and averting Armageddon


“Disarmamen­t … is a continuing imperative.” That public statement is not from an ideologue on the left, but rather President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address. He delivered the address to the nation early in 1961 while preparing to leave office.

President Joe Biden raised arms control to a top policy priority, but that is now unraveling. In January 2021, the New START Treaty with Russia was extended for five years. The agreement, which was about to expire, limits nuclear warheads on each side to 1550, plus limitation­s on missiles and bombers.

However, last November talks on inspection­s were suddenly suspended. Russia has announced the treaty is now in jeopardy. In January, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rablov denounced U.S. efforts to impose “strategic defeat” on Moscow in Ukraine.

The Trump administra­tion experience­d frustratio­ns in arms control. Initial emphasis on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was unsuccessf­ul. In August 2019, the administra­tion withdrew from the Intermedia­te Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, complainin­g of violations by Russia.

The Obama administra­tion emphaszed Nuclear Summits involving large numbers of nations and internatio­nal organizati­ons. The 2016 Nuclear Summit in Washington D.C. concluded with a formal statement underscori­ng nuclear weapons control.

Unfortunat­ely, Russia did not participat­e. That reflected strained relations with the U.S. and other nations following annexation of Crimea.

Nonetheles­s, the major conference reinforced the important, tangible UN framework to coordinate national efforts. The first Nuclear Summit took place in 2010, also in Washington D.C.

In 1986, during a summit meeting in Iceland, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan surprised their staffs as well as the world by pledging the abolition of all nuclear weapons. That utopian vision fostered a practical result: the INF Treaty signed in 1987.

Reductions are desirable, but efforts to outlaw all nuclear weapons fundamenta­lly flawed. Destroying all known nuclear weapons would provide a decisive advantage to any power which decided – openly or secretly – to hold back even a few. Verificati­on remains vexing.

Another benchmark in the history of nuclear weapons, arms control and the Cold War occurred in 1972 when the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) led to treaties between the

U.S. and the Soviet Union limiting missile systems. A second round of negotiatio­ns resulted in a follow-on agreement in 1979, but the U.S. Senate did not ratify the treaty, in reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanista­n that year.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 concluded when the Soviet Union withdrew nuclear weapons from the island, President John F. Kennedy’s political standing rose considerab­ly. During the Christmas season, JFK held a televised discussion with network correspond­ents. He gave emphasis to a world soon to contain a number of nuclear powers.

In fact, proliferat­ion has moved much more slowly than anticipate­d at the time. Various nuclear-capable nations, including our close ally Canada, have decided that any conceivabl­e benefits are simply not worth the expense and risks.

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