Open letter to Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine
I am unreservedly delighted that Secretary Clinton picked Senator Kaine and assume that all is on track for both of you to assume high office in January.
However I did take note of Secretary Clinton’s reference in the third debate to the four minutes a leader would be allowed before having to decide how to respond to information that a nuclear attack was under way. The context of course was the unassailable fact of Mr. Trump’s lack of fitness were he to find himself in the same position.
But the question that haunts me and many others is what it might mean for even the most disciplined and experienced leader to have to undergo the stress and consequence of those four minutes.
It seems to me that the system of deterrence that has evolved among the nine existing nuclear powers, the system we all rely upon for our security, is becoming ever more unworkable. Granting that the system may have helped to prevent a third world war over the past half century, what is its future? Even taking into account our own extraordinarily expensive efforts to refine our weapons systems to both increase their flexibility and render them more immune to failure, the inherent nature of a “balance of terror” can only increase paranoia among all parties. In the missile crisis of 1962 we dodged a bullet. Add in the increasing complexity of the electronics attached to the weapons and the possible infection of such electronics from without. Add further the political third rail—because it suggests weakness—of telling constituents, of whatever nation, the truth about the actual insecurity of such systems of deterrence. Disaster down the road is inevitable unless there is a fundamental change of direction.
Mr. Putin may be a bad hombre, but he is subject to the same irrefutable logic, as are the heads of India or Pakistan or China, Israel, or even North Korea, or anyone else with command responsibility for these hideously destructive weapons.
We are at a fateful moment similar to when Lincoln took the risk of abolishing slavery. I’m aware of just how much political capital would have to be risked in taking leadership and educating not just our own nation but the world to the need for Gorbachev-type new thinking, and for sponsoring an ongoing international conference leading to a gradual, reciprocal, total abolition of nuclear weapons, along with increased regulation and sequestration of nuclear materials. It pleases me that old hands such as Dr. Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn and George Shultz are already actively advocating for this goal. One key to success is surely education, building worldwide agreement around such issues as the dangers of human or computer misinterpretation of electronic information, the insanity of launch-on-warning, and the potential for nuclear winter as a result of the detonation of a relatively small number of warheads. It could take a generation, but mere commitment to the process would ease tensions on a small planet waiting breathlessly for someone to take the lead on this issue.
And after all I am only suggesting that we fulfill our solemn obligations as signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.
Real international security will come, I hope and believe,
• from small, even merely symbolic, confidence-building measures
• from heart-to-heart relationships among leaders who share hopes for their grandchildren
• from proven nonviolent processes for the resolution of conflict
• from consistent adherence to a growing body of international law
• from collaboration on issues of common concern to all members of our global village
• from an escalating repurposing of precious resources away from wars without clear outcome toward meeting humanitarian needs in the urgent context of climate instability.
All this can be done without compromising the security of the United States, especially given our overwhelming superiority in conventional military strength, and in fact such initiatives and changes in thought and action will increase that security.
Respectfully and with all good wishes for the years ahead,