Global security depends on smarter control, not elimination.
During his trip to Europe last week, President Obama announced that the US will host a global meeting this year to address the threat of nuclear weapons. The president called for reinvigorated international institutions to combat the prospect of nuclear terrorism and reverse nuclear weapons proliferation. He agreed to new negotiations with Russia to reduce both countries' nuclear arsenals.
These efforts should be made. However, Mr. Obama also announced that the US must "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." This is a goal that will undermine global nuclear security.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but a successful policy on international nuclear weapons security must strive to support stable possession and effective stewardship of nuclear technology. Only by stabilizing nuclear capabilities, not by eliminating them, will the world be safe from the threat of nuclear weapon use.
The only time in history atomic weapons were used in warfare was when only one country possessed them in very small numbers. Stability since then through deterrence has rested on assured mutual destruction. A world with no nuclear weapons creates an unstable environment in which the first country to redeploy even one gains an extraordinary advantage.
In a future crisis, even if no country has secretly maintained an arsenal, the rush to redevelop a weapon would be intense and the war that would break out to preempt that capacity from happening could escalate rapidly. In 2003, in Iraq, we saw the mistakes that can be made in engaging in preventive war. We must remember that the knowledge and the physics of nuclear weapons are established; we cannot eliminate that.