John Bolton's Nuclear Fantasy

John Bolton told Jon Stewart he wanted America to be the only nation with nuclear weapons. Stewart is the comedian, but this policy is the joke.

On The Daily Show July 29, former Bush official John Bolton -- one of the few people in history not to win Senate confirmation as ambassador to the United Nations -- told host Jon Stewart:

There is not that much difference between me and the people who want a world where no government has nuclear weapons. I only want one government to have nuclear weapons.

This fantasy world would be funny if he were not serious. This is, in fact, the extremist vision that Bolton and other neoconservatives and nuclear ideologues promoted as part of the Bush doctrine. The idea is that we alone or we and our allies would keep large arsenals of nuclear weapons; we would stop any hostile states from acquiring them. We would stop any other power from rising to challenge US hegemony.

History does not work that way. America held a nuclear monopoly for exactly 4 years. We exploded the first atomic bomb in the world in July 1945. The Soviet Union followed with their first in August 1949. We exploded the world's first hydrogen bomb in November 1952. The Soviets followed with their first in August 1953.

This is not just a U.S.-Soviet race. When India openly tested nuclear weapons in May 1998, Pakistan matched them test-for-test a few weeks later.

This is how proliferation spreads. Rivals racing to match rivals. It is a dangerous fantasy to believe that our military actions have no bearing on the reactions of others. If we brandish nuclear weapons, if we extol their value, if we insist that these city-destroying bombs are central to our national security, if we threaten other nations with their use, we must expect that other nations will move to defend themselves, or to match our global nuclear power with compensating regional nuclear power.

John Bolton had eight years to test his theories. He failed. The Bush Doctrine he helped develop held that nuclear weapons don't kill people, hostile regimes do. Instead of trying to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons, we would eliminate regimes. The Iraq War was the first implementation of this strategy.

Bolton and others claimed that the war was intended not just to remove an urgent nuclear threat but to deter others. When Bolton was asked in mid-2003 what lesson other nations should draw from the Iraq War, he replied, "Take a number." The message was clear: abandon your programs or face overthrow.

The strategy backfired. Both Iran and North Korea -- two countries that, unlike Iraq, actually had nuclear programs -- accelerated their efforts. Both made more progress in nuclear programs in the past six years than they had in the previous 12.

As I document in an article last year for Arms Control Today on the ten failures of the Bush Doctrine:

Iran's nuclear program accelerated. Iran went from nuclear research and experiments to the ability to produce industrial quantities of enriched uranium, from a few test machines to 4,000 working centrifuges. The United States failed to develop a coherent plan for stopping the program. Most of the construction and development of Iranian nuclear facilities occurred after 2000, including the opening of plants to produce uranium gas, the first successful operation of a centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium, and the construction of a vast facility to house over 50,000 centrifuges. The administration stood aside and even thwarted European efforts to negotiate an end to the program, refusing until this year to even meet with senior Iranian officials about the program. Former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns now says, "I served as the Bush administration's point person on Iran for three years but was never permitted to meet an Iranian." The United States has also failed to contain Iran's regional ambitions. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska says, "America's refusal to recognize Iran's status as a legitimate power does not decrease Iran's influence, but rather increases it."

North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb and expanded its weapons program. Pyongyang went from enough material for perhaps two weapons to enough for up to 12. Since 2002, North Korea ended the freeze on its plutonium program, claimed to have reprocessed the plutonium into weapons, withdrew from the NPT, and detonated a nuclear device. North Korea may have also traded nuclear technology to Syria and continued transfers of missile technology to Damascus as well as Pakistan and Iran. The inability of the administration to organize a consistent approach to North Korea caused the process to collapse repeatedly and the internal struggles jeopardized vital national security interests.

Although conservative newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal continue to fawn over Bolton, he is no longer jeopardizing U.S. national security with unnecessary wars, at least from a position of power. Instead the Obama administration is developing a national security doctrine passed on partnership, universal adherence to international law, and joint security.

President Barack Obama summarized his approach in Washington this week in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building to a group of visiting Chinese officials:

Make no mistake: The more nations acquire these weapons, the more likely it is that they will be used. Neither America nor China has an interest in a terrorist acquiring a bomb, or a nuclear arms race breaking out in East Asia. That is why we must continue our collaboration to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and make it clear to North Korea that the path to security and respect can be traveled if they meet their obligations. And that is why we must also be united in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and urging the Islamic Republic to live up to its international obligations.

This is not about singling out any one nation -- it is about the responsibility of all nations. Together, we must cooperate to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world, which will be a focus of our Global Nuclear Summit next year. And together, we must strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by renewing its basic bargain: countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. A balance of terror cannot hold. In the 21st century, a strong and global regime is the only basis for security from the world's deadliest weapons.

This is no joke. This is making America safer.