There is, ultimately, going to be a post from me about the details of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review — but the details are probably not what is important. So, let me start with that.
What is important is that the NPR ledes with the notion that the priority goal is to prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
That, conceptually, is an important shift. There have always been two views of nuclear weapons: One view holds that nuclear weapons are just another munition, albeit larger, in a modern armory. Ours our good; theirs are bad. Another view, however, is that nuclear weapons represent a shared danger that ultimately compels us to cooperate even with our adversaries.
The Nuclear Posture Review places the deterrent value of nuclear weapons in this much larger context of confronting the shared danger posed by the existence of nuclear weapons, including nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. If I understand Josh correctly, this is what he intends to convey with the image of a tunnel dug from two ends.
Although I will focus on the nitty-gritty details in a bit, none of that will matter a year from now. I suspect we will look back at this period — the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, the signing of the Prague Treaty, the Nuclear Security Summit and the NPT Review conference — and say that this was a pivot point, the moment when we began talking about nuclear weapons on terms that are different from those of the Cold War. The implication of this conceptual shift isn’t fully realized in any of the documents.
But that is usually the case. Historical documents are always less impressive in the details than in memory. Try looking at NSDM 6, Nixon’s decision to seek ratification the NPT. You’ll be surprised at how tentatively he embraced the notion of nonproliferation. It is a turning point, nonetheless.
And, since we have a President whose rhetoric references the civil rights movement, it is important to remember that the Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves held in states in rebellion. The 2010 NPR is not nearly as important as the Emancipation Proclamation, obviously, but I still remember how odd I felt when I realized that the details of that document fell so far short of its historical importance.
So, the details are interesting, but I suspect that the important development is how our narrative about the role of nuclear weapons has changed — and for the better. That’s hard to see in the details, love them though I do.