U.S.-Russian Nuclear Agreement: Good News and Bad News

According to an AP report, U.S. president Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev have reached an understanding to reduce their countries’ nuclear arsenals. Under treaties currently in force, each side is permitted to have as many as 2,200 warheads and 1,600 launch vehicles. The understanding, which would serve as guidance for negotiators formulating a new arms-control treaty, pushes the totals down to as few as 1,500 warheads and 500-1,100 launch vehicles on each side.

The good news is that reducing the number of such weapons helps to reduce the risks associated with them—still the most critical threat to humanity, notwithstanding the end of the Cold War twenty years ago.

The bad news is that even if the totals should ultimately be reduced to the ranges stipulated in the agreement, both sides will still have an absurdly large number of such weapons. It is fair to say that a nuclear exchange between these two countries that involved only a hundred large warheads on each side would wreak almost unimaginable death and destruction and extend its consequent horrors throughout the entire world, owing to the spread of radiation and the calamitous effects on the world economy.

What possible benefit warrants the continuing retention of such horrifying potential for global harm by either government? International communism is defunct as a serious threat to mankind. Even if its containment justified the maintenance of the gigantic U.S. nuclear arsenal during the Cold War—a highly debatable proposition in itself—no such justification now exists.

Obama and Medvedev have undertaken to move their governments in the right direction, but they need to move them much, much farther. Nothing short of scrapping these horrible, intrinsically indiscriminating weapons entirely will suffice to eliminate their terrible threat to mankind and other living creatures.

Robert Higgs is Retired Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Founding Editor of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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