We arrived 18 years ago in a situation in which the first nuclear nation is largely unchallenged. This has led to aggressive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not the use of nukes. In fact, nuclear powers have time and again lost brutal wars to smaller states without making use of nuclear bombs. It is highly unlikely that a small state developing a nuclear bomb in a nuke-free world would be able to bend other states to its will. And nukes are no weapons at all against non-state terrorists with box cutters. So why don't the nuclear powers disarm?
"If a person gets lung cancer, a doctor may prescribe a harsh regimen of chemotherapy to prevent the disease's spread and save the patient's life. The patient may reject the recommendation, but then must expect metastasis and all its consequences. The diagnostician's advice regarding nuclear danger today must be of the same kind. Do you want to stop the spread of nuclear weapons? Then prepare yourself to get rid of your own. But perhaps you want to hold onto your bombs? All right, but then get ready for proliferation. Get ready for new cold wars - or hot. And get ready for nuclear explosions in your cities."
Schell recounts how tragically close Reagan and Gorbachev came to complete nuclear disarmament. The point at which the negotiations fell apart was Reagan's unwillingness to disarm without creating a missile defense system, and Gorbachev's refusal to believe that Reagan would share such a system with the Soviet Union. Had Gorbachev realized that such a system would fail, he might have conceded the meaningless bargaining chip and disarmed the two largest nuclear states.
Now the clear purpose of so-called "missile defense" systems is aggressive war from space. And the goal of non-proliferation rhetoric is to provide excuses for launching aggressive wars with conventional (or perhaps even nuclear) weapons. But the whole idea of using military force to block proliferation is very new. It may also be short-lived, having shown itself to be both fraudulent and a failure on its own terms.
Schell imagines a nuclear-free world, but cannot imagine influencing the national conversation by supporting a candidate, like Dennis Kucinich, who agrees with him.
Schell does place some hope, as do I, in the possibility that a movement to end global warming will grow to include a movement to eliminate nuclear weapons. The two movements would seem to be perfect allies, as it would be quite a shame to save the world from one of the two dangers we face and lose it to the other.