I believe significant changes to U.S. nuclear weapons policy and posture only occur when the President personally intervenes. This was also true of the U.S. decision to eliminate its biological weapons program in 1969. President Nixon demanded it.
Every specific case is different. I’m not sure that we can generalize and state that nuclear weapons make war less likely. That said, I am a supporter of stable deterrence for the U.S. and its Allies. In my view so-called tactical nuclear weapons weaken deterrence. Do we really want Putin to think that use of a “small” nuclear weapon would be met with a proportionate nuclear response?
Syria tried and failed to develop nuclear weapons. In 2007 the Israeli Defense Forces destroyed a nascent nuclear reactor under construction. Any renewed attempt would face a similar fate.
The Council on Strategic Risks just released a report on tactical nuclear weapons: https://councilonstrategicrisks.org/2023/08/01/ending-tactical-nuclear-weapons/
The INF Treaty and the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives were two historic examples of eliminating so-called tactical nuclear weapons. We need to build on these lessons and make capping and eliminating tactical nuclear weapons the highest arms control priority.
There are a few examples of states giving up nuclear weapons or the pursuit of them. South Africa gave them up. Sweden, Argentina, and Brazil gave up seeking them. I do believe that we can make serious steps towards the vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It will take determination, energy, and creativity to get us there. That is one reason I am so excited that so many young leaders have shown a renewed interest in nuclear weapons issues.
See my comments above on Iran. A tougher response to Putin’s attack on Georgia in 2008 and the illegal occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014 might have prevented Putin’s terrible decision to invade in 2022. We could have provide more military assistance and training to Ukraine after 2014. Perhaps we should have been more receptive to Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO membership aspirations in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
I’m highly confident Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. The U.S. and Israel have exquisite intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program, which has been a high priority for decades. Should Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei change his policy and pursue a nuclear weapon, we would know.
During my time in government I was involved in convincing the Israeli government not to launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. I was also involved in developing the military capabilities needed if Iran did opt for nuclear weapons, and these capabilities are now mature. The Iranian leadership understands well that pursuit of nuclear weapons would provoke an Israeli military strike.
The above said, Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the JCPOA to pursue a better deal was a stupid and reckless failure. Undoing that damage should be a high priority for our diplomats.
That’s part of the job - there are few easy policy decisions. I would give NATO and the Biden Administration high marks for lowering the risk of nuclear war AND supporting Ukraine and Taiwan. When Putin and his minions were making reckless and dangerous nuclear threats, we were calm and did not change our nuclear posture. This approach seems to be working.
Maybe I’ll try answering both questions at once, because the first one is too ridiculous to answer directly without being snotty. While some of my work during a thirty year public service career has received attention, it is very important to understand that anything we achieved was the result of teamwork. Indeed, one of the most satisfying aspects of public service is that it is a team sport. So my advice is don’t have personal ambition, but rather focus on mission ambition. Together we can accomplish big things to make the world a safer place. One of the aspects I love about the EA community is how supportive and kind people are to one another.
International organizations and treaties have a vital role in preventing BioWeapons development. We need to redouble our efforts to strengthen the BWC. There also needs to be stronger global governance to prevent accidents and misuse. Kazakhstan President Tokayev has proposed establishing and International Biosafety Agency. This and other similar concepts to strengthen biosecurity should be actively promoted.
We definitely need to do more on the security side of this equation.