The government was Russia’s. So it shouldn’t be derided entirely. But its importance shouldn’t be exaggerated either. After all, Washington and Moscow are not currently in any world historical conflict—at least not one likely to lead to a nuclear standoff. There were several of these during the Cold War. But I conclude in retrospect that they were mostly bluffs. This is even true of the Soviet threats to Israel in 1956, 1967, and 1973. It is probably true about John F. Kennedy’s warnings to Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, as well. In any case, neither Russia nor America have ideologically based (let alone idealistically based) foreign policies that might impel one or the other to pull the trigger.
It’s hard to find an analogy to this much-touted agreement. But one that comes to mind is a group of cruppy people who smoke three packs of cigarettes a day and then bind themselves to reduce their intake to two. Whatever will happen will happen. But, in the small circle of nuclear-armed countries, nothing will happen either way.
This is not the world of the sixties and seventies, when the dottily impassioned swore that, within X years, the world would end in fire and many rational folk believed them. Of course, they also believed in the certainty of the “nuclear winter” proclaimed by Carl Sagan.
What I actually worry about is that the rational nuclear weapons possessors will stop upgrading their own arsenals while signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Iran, Syria, et al) will do what they can to violate it. Pakistan, not an NPT signatory, has been the most criminal violator of its spirit. There is, then, the relatively new phenomenon of cross-state jihad movements, and they are bound to seek nuclear leverage whatever the U.S. and Russia do. This is an undertaking through which Russia will maintain some statistical advantages, and America will have—or so President Obama seems to think—the exemplary glory of surrendering both quantitative and symbolic rankings.
Keith B. Payne argued these points on Thursday in an essay for the Wall Street Journal. Shockingly up-front, they are. But also convincing.
Due to the disastrous outcome of 15 months of American overtures to Tehran, no one has anything to celebrate about nuclear weapons these days. Writing in Contentions today, Jennifer Rubin raises the ugly and altogether believable suggestion that the Obami never were truly committed to a harsh sanctions regime against Iran. In any case, the retreat of their rhetoric to a cool “que sera, sera” policy on Tehran nukes is a betrayal of nearly everyone in the region and beyond.
But don’t underestimate the ingenuity of Washington. Perhaps when the international conference on nuclear weapons opens this month in the capital, the U.S. will put up Israel’s nuclear defense capability in exchange for a pledge from Iran not to bomb anybody.