When speaking about nonproliferation and disarmament, it’s usually assumed that the latter cuts the ice for nonproliferation. In fact, it’s part and parcel of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. In other words, large nuclear states are expected to demonstrate via substantive disarmament measures that it’s safe for smaller nuclear states to follow their lead in disarming. In the same vein, it becomes un-necessary for non-nuclear states to acquire or develop nuclear weapons.

But conservatives and even some realpolitik types, especially lately, seek to decouple nonproliferation from disarmament. That is, they believe that not only shouldn’t nonproliferation depend on disarmament, but that disarmament shouldn’t transpire until nonproliferation has been assured.

That’s not the only cart they put before a horse.

In A Survey of the Nuclear Weapons Landscape, Hudson Institute fellow Christopher Ford at New Paradigms Forum illustrates another such transposition. He asks:

. . . has the Cold War model of bilateral and numerically-focused arms control finally run its course? Does traditional arms control need to give way to a new era focusing more upon improved transparency and confidence-building relationships as a prerequisite for any potential further cuts? . . . That’s certainly a lot harder than just crunching numbers for a new treaty, but the time when disarmament could be regarded as being principally about numbers may be past.

In other words, he suggests disarmament may be contingent on the political climate, a position that conservatives can scarcely be faulted for adopting. It’s true, of course, that improved relations between states is the only enduring answer to arms control. In fact, in its idealism and faith in human nature to change, adhering to this position is kind of endearing on the part of conservatives.

At the same time, this approach reveals a conservative blind spot: inability to acknowledge that possession of nuclear-weapons program is a global emergency. The sheer existence of nuclear weapons is more of a threat than the dispositions of the states that possess them.

We’re talking about triage. As with land mines and cluster bombs, for example, nuclear weapons need to be taken out of the hands of mankind well before it sorts out its dark impulses, if it ever does.

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