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Key Issues Ethics Issues Joint Statement on Reduction of Nuclear Weapons

Joint Statement on Reduction of Nuclear Weapons Arsenals: Declining Utility, Continuing Risks
Generals Lee Butler & Andrew J. Goodpaster

As senior military officers, we have given close attention over many years to the role of nuclear weapons as well as the risks they involve.

With the end of the Cold War, these weapons are of sharply reduced utility, and there is much

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now to be gained by substantially reducing their numbers and lowering their alert status, meanwhile exploring the feasibility of their ultimate complete elimination.

The roles of nuclear weapons for purposes of security have been sharply narrowed in terms of the security of the United States. Now and in the future they basically provide an option to respond in kind to a nuclear threat or nuclear attack by others. In the world environment now foreseen, they are not needed against non-nuclear opponents.

Conventional capabilities can provide a sufficient deterrent and defense against conventional forces and in combination with defense measures, against the threat of chemical or biological weapons. As symbols of prestige and international standing, nuclear weapons are of markedly reduced importance.

At the same time, the dangers inherent in nuclear weapon have continued and in some ways increased. They include the risks of accidents and unauthorized launches--risks which, while small, nevertheless still exist. Seizures or thefts of weapons or weapons materials and threats or actual use by terrorists or domestic rebels, are of additional concern. Moreover, despite the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nuclear weapons could spread to additional nations, with risk of their use in crisis or war. And if they should spread, the risks of accidents and of unauthorized, inadvertent, or deliberate use will spread as well.

We believe the nations that possess these weapons should take the necessary steps to align their nuclear weapons policies and programs to match the diminished role and utility of these weapons, and the continuing risks they involve, joining in reducing their nuclear arsenals step by step to the lowest verifiable levels consistent with stable security, as rapidly as world conditions permit. Taking the lead, U.S. and Russian reductions can open the door for the negotiation of multilateral reduction capping all arsenals at very low levels. Added safety and an enhanced climate for negotiations would be achieved by removing nuclear weapons from alert status and placing the warheads in controlled storage. These arrangements should be applied to all nuclear weapons, discarding the distinction between tactical and strategic weapons, limiting nuclear warheads rather than launchers, and subjecting all weapons to inspection and verification measures.

The ultimate objective of phased reductions should be the complete elimination of nuclear weapons from all nations. No one can say today whether or when this final goal will prove feasible, but because the phased withdrawal and destruction of nuclear weapons from all countries' arsenals would take many years, probably decades, to accomplish, time will be available--for work on technical problems, for political progress in ameliorating the conflicts and political struggles that encourage countries to maintain or to acquire nuclear weapons, and for building confidence in the system of safeguards and verification measures established to support the elimination regime.

We believe the time for action is now, for the alternative of inaction could well carry a high price. For the task that lies ahead, there is need for initiatives by all who share our conviction as to the importance of this goal. Steady pursuit of a policy of cooperative, phased reductions with serious commitments to seek the elimination of all nuclear weapons is a path to a world free of nuclear dangers.