"The Case in Favor of U.S. Nuclear Weapons" by Robert G. Spulak, Jr., in Parameters (Spring 1997), U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, Pa. 17013–5238; "Retired Generals Re-Ignite Debate Over Abolition of Nuclear Weapons" by Craig Cerniello, in Arms Control Today (Nov.–Dec. 1996), 1726 M St. N.W., Ste. 201, Washington, D.C. 20036.
The siren song of nuclear disarmament seemed a dangerous one when the Cold War was on. But now that the Soviet threat has vanished, the idea of ridding the planet of nuclear weapons is attracting fresh support from an unlikely quarter: the military. Two eminent retired American generals—Lee Butler, former commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and Andrew Goodpaster, former supreme allied commander in Europe—were among more than 60 retired generals and admirals from 17 countries who recently urged the United States and other nuclear powers to move resolutely, step by step, toward complete nuclear disarmament.
"In the world environment now foreseen," declare Butler and Goodpaster, nuclear weapons "are not needed against non-nuclear opponents. Conventional capabilities can provide a sufficient deterrent and defense against conventional forces and in combination with defensive measures, against the threat of chemical or biological weapons." That being so, nuclear weapons are not needed except as "an option to respond in kind" to a nuclear threat or attack. The United States and Russia, Butler and Goodpaster say, should take the initiative in reducing their nuclear arsenals, thus "open[ing] the door" for negotiated reductions by all nuclear powers, and leading to a world permanently free of nuclear weapons.
That is a utopian fantasy, argues Spulak, a senior analyst at the Strategic Studies Center, Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nuclear weapons, or the knowledge of how to build them, will always exist, as will conflicts among nations. Nuclear weapons, he points out, serve not only to deter a nuclear attack or threat, but to reduce the risk of a conventional war between major powers. "Nuclear deterrence does not ensure peace, but, short of nuclear war, places a limit on the level of violence. In fact, among great powers the nuclear era has been a most peaceful time."
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, subtle U.S. nuclear threats may have deterred Iraq from using chemical weapons. America’s nuclear weapons also enhance its influence in the world, Spulak says. "Diplomacy is always performed against the backdrop of military capability."
Suggestions that the United States is not serious about maintaining its nuclear arsenal—and using it, if need be—can only undermine U.S.
influence and might well increase the risk of war, Spulak points out. The end of the Cold War has reduced the danger of Armageddon, he says, but it has not altered the grim realities of the nuclear age.