Obama is right to seek reductions. But nukes are still fundamental to deterrence.
When Ronald Regan was president, he scheduled a weekly one-on-one meeting in the White House with Secretary of State George Shultz. Nobody else was present, so when Secretary Shultz returned to the State Department, four or five of us senior advisers were always eager for a debriefing on what had been discussed and decided.
On one of these occasions, Shultz returned to announce that Reagan had become committed to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. A startled Richard Burt, then assistant secretary for European affairs, blurted out: "He can't do that!" following up with the conviction that replacing the US nuclear deterrent with conventional weaponry and troops would be of astronomical cost.
Shultz stared at us with those pale, impassive blue eyes that had served him so well as a negotiator in private life and government. You guys "had better get on the ball," he said. The president meant it, he said, and we were to work toward it.
On his first trip to Europe as president, Barack Obama affirmed the US commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. Shultz, along with other formidable foreign-policy luminaries such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn, have previously expressed the same hope.