Thursday, February 28, 2008

At the brink

...Paul Nitze, the principal author of the 1950 NSC report, intentionally exaggerated Soviet nuclear capacities and minimized those of the US in order to "bludgeon the mass mind of 'government'"—as Nitze's superior, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, admitted years later. Although the Soviet Union had lost at least 25 million people and half its industry in World War II, Nitze portrayed the USSR as a fanatical enemy that, within a few years, would threaten America with an estimated two hundred nuclear weapons. According to his report, the then American stockpile of 1,400 weapons would be insufficient to counter such a threat. Nitze's report came at a time when international events, including the Korean War, seemed to validate this dark vision. In response, Truman quadrupled the defense budget and began a strategic program that would increase the US nuclear arsenal to some 20,000 thermonuclear bombs by 1960 and 32,000 by 1966.

The threats [though exaggerated] were real, but the aggressive American buildup created new dangers without diminishing the Soviet problem. When Richard Nixon began his policy of d├ętente with the Soviets to reverse these trends, Nitze formed, with Albert Wohlsetter at the University of Chicago, the Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy. It was the first of several private organizations that recruited young graduate students, including Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, with the explicit aim of subverting any plans to reduce the nuclear arsenal. "In doing so," [Richard] Rhodes writes, Nitze "unleashed a team of sorcerer's apprentices whose trail of wreckage extends well into the present century."...

...As with Team B, the [2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq] was wrong in every single assertion. Saddam Hussein had abandoned his nuclear and chemical weapons programs in 1991 and his biological weapons program in 1994. The leader of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, concluded in January 2004 that the regime had been in a "death spiral," growing weaker, not stronger. For the US, the result of this rush to invade Iraq has been one of the most devastating declines in security, power, and prestige in American history...

...[Today,] for the first time since the initial efforts of the Truman administration in the 1940s, a movement to eliminate nuclear weapons has developed not from the political left but from the "realist" center of the security elite. This promises to give the cause of arms reduction a political plausibility and importance that previous efforts, including the broad-based Nuclear Freeze Movement of the 1980s, have lacked...
-- from The Greatest Threat to Us All by Joseph Cirincione (7 Feb).
...The US should put its concerns forward in negotiations with Iran—not necessarily to make a grand bargain, but as a way to begin seeking common ground. We should not seek a comprehensive agreement on all the issues that divide us, but instead agree to work toward enlarging areas of common interest and diminishing and containing the differences...

...This is a historic moment for US leadership. It should take the initiative and encourage Iran, a powerful nation of proud people and ancient culture, to become integrated into the world community. The US is the only nation that can take on this task directly and achieve the breakthroughs that will be necessary. The process is likely to be painful and difficult, but the reward may be a more stable and peaceful Middle East.
-- from A Solution for the US–Iran Nuclear Standoff by William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, Jim Walsh (20 Feb).

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