Acclaimed strategist and Nobel Laureate in Economics Thomas Schelling gave a command performance at this American Strategy Program meeting I had the privilege to chair with Arms Control Wonk publisher and New America Foundation Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Director Jeffrey Lewis.
Schelling made a number of profound, important statements in this discussion in his straightforward, deliberative, carefully crafted comments.
He worries that when he travels the world and runs into nuclear weapons-focused strategists, he sees the British, the French, the Chinese, the Russians but not North Koreans and Iranians. He sees Pakistanis, Indians, and others. He said it is important for strategists with responsibility for thinking about acquiring such weapons to be inculcated with the experiences — negative and positive — of other nuclear weapons-experienced thinkers and managers.
Schelling said that for at least fifteen years, the U.S. performed abysmally in nuclear materials stewardship and lockdown. He thinks that Iran probably will achieve the capability of building a nuclear warhead and that achieving and stopping at a “latent potential” would be a better option than full weapons acquisition. I have written about this before at TWN as the ‘Japan option’.
Schelling did live up to the “thinking through the thinkable” title that we gave this event. He even discussed various options that terrorists had with regard to using a nuclear weapon if they acquired one. Some of his thinking is a bit scary — blackmail essentially against countries — but Schelling points out that such blackmail threats are better than bombs going off.
Schelling also critiqued the recently issued Nuclear Posture Review for deflating what John Foster Dulles once referred to as the “taboo” of using nuclear weapons.
Fascinating lecture from one of the world’s master strategic thinkers that no matter your view on Iran, Israel, or nuclear weapons is well worth listening to.
— Steve Clemons