Reagan-Era Officials Seek Nuclear-Free World

Using the 25 th anniversary of the historic Reykjavik Summit where Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev almost reached an agreement to completely eliminate their nation’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, a global disarmament group is launching a campaign to begin multilateral talks that would do away with all of the world’s nuclear weapons by 2030.

 Beginning Tuesday, Global Zero, an arms control group, is hosting a  commemoration of the Reykjavik Summit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.  The event will include a gathering of a hundred prominent political, military and business leaders — including former secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker — who will  call for the first multilateral arms talks aimed at full nuclear disarmament.     

 On Oct. 12, 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev emerged from a white frame house on the outskirts of Iceland’s capital looking glum after the collapse of talks that had come tantalizingly close to reaching an agreement that would have done away with each country’s nuclear stockpile within a decade.

 In the years since the Reykjavik Summit the United States and Russia have significantly reduced their nuclear weapons inventories through subsequent nuclear arms reduction agreements.  However, nuclear weapons proliferation has increased as well, as India, Pakistan and North Korea have joined the nuclear weapons club.

 Matt Brown and Bruce Blair, the co-founders of Global Zero, believe a new round of U.S. and Russian nuclear disarmament talks could jump-start a process that could lead other nuclear weapons countries to agree to the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons by 2030.

 ”Our approach, our belief, is that the U.S. and Russia clearly need to lead. We still have 90 percent of the world’s weapons,” Blair told ABC News.  He and Brown believe both countries should initially reduce their stockpiles to 1,000 weapons each, a level which might trigger China to join arms reduction talks.  

 After that they envision a “critical mass” of the rest of the world’s nuclear weapons powers like India, the United Kingdom and France joining the process in effect creating a “domino effect” that would create international pressure for any remaining “outliers” to get involved in the process.        

 Brown says part of what is motivating support for Global Zero’s push for global disarmament  is “we want to prevent a second nuclear age,” particularly in South Asia and the Middle East.  “We really feel that we are approaching a fork in the road” and that if multilateral talks aren’t started soon, “we’ll just stumble into further proliferation,” he said.  It is the fear of nuclear proliferation to non-state actors that Blair believes could push Israel to join the process as well.  Israel has not formally declared it possesses nuclear weapons, though it is widely assumed to do so.     

 Both Brown and Blair believe that reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles to zero would lead to the first universal verification programs which would only increase the international resolve in preventing countries like Iran and North Korea from pressing forward with nuclear weapons programs.   ”We can never get on that path unless we bring all parties to the table.”

 In an interview with the Associated Press this weekend George Shultz said, “I think that the objective of getting control of nuclear weapons is really important, and I think that it’s important to keep the momentum going.”  He also said skeptics who say that global disarmament is impossible “are wrong.”

 In addition to reminiscing about the missed  opportunity at Reykjavik, Brown believes Shultz and other members of Reagan’s national security team will provide insights into ” what it really is going to take in a hard-nosed practical way to get a process started to zero… to try again what Reagan and Gorbachev almost pulled off in Reykjavik.”

 A process Brown and Blair believe has been made easier by the practical results of US-Russian disarmament, but tougher by the greater number of countries that now possess nuclear weapons.