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Major General discusses nuclear disarmament

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To say the modern world is dangerously complex would be a severe understatement, and the recognition of the true threat of nuclear weapons makes the issue critical to international security, Major General William F. Burns said Tuesday.

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Fourth Freedom Forum and the Notre Dame International Security Program hosted Major General William F. Burns to lecture on “Nuclear Disarmament, Terrorism and Global Security.” Burns, a retired Army general, has participated in many nuclear weapons discussions, including denuclearization negotiations with the former Soviet Union.

“I am convinced of two things,” he said. “First, the Cold War is over, and, second, it does not provide a model for the future of nuclear engagement.”

Burns served in the military for 34 years and has extensive experience commanding units with nuclear weapons. He has been advocating a global ban on nuclear weapons in many different forums since the 1980s.

Burns described negotiations as important for reducing nuclear arms. Discussions between Washington and Moscow began with limiting production of nuclear arsenals, progressed to reducing the number of weapons and have made significant steps toward disarmament by doing away with non-strategic nuclear weapons, he said.

“Justification for nuclear reduction in other countries lessens when the two major nuclear powers do not make adjustments,” said Burns.

Burns said decisions about nuclear weapons must be made with an eye toward international relations, and different issues arise today than appeared during the Cold War.
For example, the rise of terrorism is central to the current disarmament debate. The effectiveness of deterrence is lessened by the unconventional relationships between nations and rogue organizations. Deterrence is not as effective with terrorist organizations, Burns said.

“Is it possible to deter a non-territorial entity with the threat of nuclear retaliation?” he said.
Burns also considered the financial consequences of nuclear disarmament. Maintaining even a small nuclear deterrent is a costly task, he said, and is connected with issues beyond security.

The budgetary cost of maintaining a nuclear force is immense, and money is siphoned into these programs at the expense of both conventional weapons and humanitarian aid programs, Burns said.

Legislation is currently under discussion that would redirect money from nuclear weapons maintenance to aid programs addressing hunger and poverty, Burns said.

“Fundamentally, we need a new nuclear strategy to complement contemporary realities,” he said.

Asking questions about policies concerning nuclear weapons is essential, Burns said.
“Peace is not simply the absence of war,” Burns said. “It is the positive state in which elements of human nature are held in check to allow man to flourish.”

Nuclear disarmament may appear to be a lofty goal, but Burns emphasized that it is an attainable and necessary one.

“We should resume prayers for peace because it is perhaps the only solution in this troubled world,” Burns said. “These prayers are still needed today.”