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How Many Nuclear Weapons Do We Need?

Thousands, Hundreds, or Zero?

On May 7th the New America Foundation’s Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative joined AAAS’s Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy for a discussion on the present and future role of nuclear weapons in U.S. and World security. The event featured Dr. Arnold Kanter, Principle and Founding Member of the Scowcroft Group, Dr. Morton Halperin, Director of U.S. Advocacy for the Open Society Institute, and Dr. Barry Blechman, co-founder of the Harry L. Stimson Center. Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative, moderated the event. An MP3 audio recording can be downloaded below, while video is available at right.

After a brief introduction, Dr. Kanter began by discussing the need for a new nuclear strategy in the U.S. Drs. Kanter, Lewis, and Halperin are part of a team drafting presidential guidance for the future of U.S. nuclear posture. The paper proposes many revisions in the current policy towards nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation treaties. One suggestion offered is that the U.S. and Russia, as the most heavily armed nuclear powers, should lead the way in disarmament. Dr. Kanter stated that the U.S. should offer security to other parties to prevent them from seeking their own nuclear weapons. He asserted that revising U.S. nuclear strategy would be a three part process beginning with unilateral action by the U.S., hopefully with Russia taking complementary measures. This would be followed by reciprocal responses from other nuclear parties. The final step would be far-reaching and binding measures on nuclear security.

Dr. Blechman responded by stating the need for a radical approach to revising nuclear strategy. He laid out a plan calling for elimination of all nuclear weapons in a twenty year time frame by working unilaterally and within international organizations. Dr. Blechman believes that the current dangers facing the U.S., including nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, require a radical approach rather than the incremental steps proposed by Dr. Kanter.

Dr. Halperin debated Dr. Blechman by claiming that the effort to eliminate nuclear weapons is often misplaced. He also stated that full elimination is an unrealistic goal. The debate should be reframed to answer the question: What kind of nuclear program should the U.S. have in a nuclear world? Dr. Halperin also stated that there are unilateral steps the U.S. can take to discourage proliferation abroad, such as reducing the military stockpile and vowing to cease further testing. The event concluded with a lively debate between the participants reflecting the complexity and broad range of opinions on the topic.

-Faith Smith, intern for the American Strategy Program


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Featured Speakers
  • Dr. Arnold Kanter
    Principal and Founding Member
    Scowcroft Group
  • Dr. Morton Halperin
    Director, US Advocacy
    Open Society Institute
  • Dr. Barry Blechman
    Henry L. Stimson Center


  • Dr. Jeffrey Lewis
    Director, Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative, New America Foundation
    Publisher, www.ArmsControlWonk.com

Event Time and Location

Wednesday, May 7, 2008 - 3:30pm - 5:00pm
New America Foundation
1899 L Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036