“Is Zero realistic, possible?” asks Ron Rosenbaum in his provocative new book How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (Simon & Schuster). After listing reasons why it may not be, he writes:

But the Zero advocates have answers. They concede that the moment of Zero won’t arrive instantaneously tomorrow. . . . But the most persuasive argument they make is a cultural one: that as the world moves toward Zero by means of sharper and sharper reductions, and works together each step of the way toward solving the problems of inspection and verification procedures, presumably including the development of advanced detection technology, this diminution of the role of nukes and concomitant cooperation will draw the world into a different mind-set.

As often happens, when gazing at a distant goal, not only those critical of it but those drawn to it find that the obstacles loom larger than interludes of smooth sailing. Few foresee that, in and of itself, facing hardship together might have a transformative effect on all concerned that facilitates the success of the enterprise.

Rosenbaum writes that former Cold warrior Richard Burt turned Zero advocate

. . . admits the final stage will be the hardest to conceive much less execute, but he argues that the cumulative trust-building effect of the arms reduction to near-Zero will encourage confidence in the final step across the final line.

Skeptical realists might be better off kept in the dark about the transformative powers of the collaborative process, at least in this case. Should they be privy to advance knowledge that they might wind up meeting disarmament advocates halfway, or further — as with Burt, their resistance fallen way like a molting carapace — they may not embark on the journey. After all, disarmament can be a very disarming experience.

Get more news like this, directly in your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter.