TEHRAN – The vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says that nuclear weapons can’t be used necessarily as a deterrence strategy as the U.S. and the Soviet Union, despite possessing nuclear bombs, have been attacked and also lost wars.
“The U.S. and Russia have both suffered attacks and have even lost wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan) though they have nuclear weapons,” George Perkovich tells the Tehran Times.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday ratifying the extension of New START, a key arms control treaty with the United States, a week before it was due to expire.
In fact, new U.S. President Joe Biden, by extending the New START Treaty with Moscow for another five years, signaled a measure of sanity.
But some observers say more must be done by the U.S. to reassure Americans and the world at large that rationality is returning to the United States’ nuclear policies.
“First, Americans must recognize how disproportionate the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals are to the rest of the world and try to move with Russia to reduce them,” says Perkovich, the author of Proportionate Deterrence: A Model Nuclear Posture Review, wrote in an article for Defense One.
Perkovich also refutes a claim by Donald Trump that the JCPOA was a catastrophe, calling his remarks “nonsense”.
The following is the text of the interview:
Q: Given the examples of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, do you think possessing nuclear weapons is a successful deterrence strategy to prevent war?
A: the U.S. and Russia have both suffered attacks and have even lost wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan) though they have nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan, too, have had conflict since they tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Nuclear weapons may deter massive-scale war, but because of that, they may encourage lower-level conflict. Leaders or militants may feel they can get away with lower-levels of violence or subversion because the victim will not want to fight back intensely for fear of leading to nuclear war.
Q: Other than the United Kingdom, the seven other nuclear-armed countries do not bother to say whether international law applies to their nuclear conduct. What is the practical solution to make other countries accountable?
A: A beginning is for states that are party to the NPT to ask France, Russia and China about this. India and Pakistan and Israel are not part of the NPT, but they could be asked in UN General Assembly forums. It is difficult for civil society organizations to work on these issues in these countries – especially in Russia, China, Israel, and Pakistan – but social media and other forms of communication could be used to ask their officials questions about this.
Q: Is it acceptable that only a few countries have nuclear weapons and prevent others from possessing such arms?
A: It is certainly problematic, and this is why the NPT calls for movement toward nuclear disarmament. This is why more must be done to motivate the states that rely on nuclear weapons to reduce and eliminate them. But it is difficult to see how it would be saner and just if more countries acquired nuclear weapons.
Q: Is there any international mechanism to establish a nuclear-free world or zones, or the world must rely on agreements between nuclear-armed countries?
A: There are several nuclear-weapon free zones around the world – for example in Latin America, Africa, the South Pacific, ASEAN, Central Asia, Antarctica, and Outer Space. For the regions in which nuclear weapons are deployed, I believe the states involved will have to negotiate step-by-step arrangements to disarm and to verify and enforce these arrangements.
Q: Who determines the strategy of armed conflict in the United States? The president or Congress or the deep state? Who has control over the nuclear bomb button?
A: Thus far, the president has the sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. There is some debate in Congress about changing that, and requiring at least one other senior official to concur. But there is much that is involved in making nuclear policy that is decided by several departments of government and Congress.
Q: Do you agree with former American president Donald Trump who described the JCPOA as a catastrophe? Did the deal undermine peace in West Asia?
A: No. This statement was nonsense. The JCPOA reduced the risk of conflict over Iran’s nuclear activities.