I laud Beatrice Fihn’s bold thinking and her work on abolishing nuclear weapons. I agree that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will positively affect the choices of even non-signatories, as is often the case with international regimes. My main critique is not novel; in a world where nuclear weapons are possible, I believe the United States needs them to protect against nuclear use and blackmail. Even if all countries signed and promised to adhere to the Treaty, I would still not advocate for the United States to give up all its nuclear weapons. Countries break their promises; China and Russia are no exceptions. So, while I think we should work toward global zero, I do not support achieving reaching this goal.
But this does not mean the United States should not rethink its nuclear policy entirely, as Ms. Fihn argues. Many emerging technologies have not are yet to be fully operationalized in the military sense, such as hypersonics and AI. These are areas where arms control and restrictive treaties could have a real impact. Chinese military officers have suggested to me that China would be open to such discussions precisely because it is easier not to do something than to reverse a capability once it is developed. What are some capabilities that everyone would be worse off if all the greatest militaries in the world developed and fielded them? We need to think ahead to create norms and regimes now to prevent the introduction of new technologies that could have a destabilizing impact. This is one way we can make the world a safer place, even if it still has nuclear weapons in it.