A very interesting book review over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists caught my eye this morning. In it, Tad Daley takes a look at the dawn of the nuclear disarmament movement as documented by Lawrence Wittner in his 2009 book Confronting the Bomb. Wittner takes as his jumping off point the little-known fact that "the ultimate aspiration of the disarmament crowd was not just to eliminate nuclear arsenals, but to create a federal republic of the world."
This concept was on the minds of Oppenheimer, Truman, and others partially as a practical means of anti-proliferation, and partially out of revulsion at the thought of another Hiroshima or Nagasaki. To ensure that the latter would never happen again, a political solution seemed attractive, akin to the peace reigning between states such as New York and New Jersey.
In the crucial paragraph of his review, Daley asks:
What kind of UN system might we design from scratch today? Is democratic federal world government desirable—or might the costs exceed the benefits? If desirable, will it ever be achievable? If not achievable, is there any alternative world order imaginable that might someday eliminate both war and standing militaries from the human condition? These sorts of questions—among foreign affairs professionals, peace activists, college students, columnists, blogosphere commentators, talk radio hosts, and television pundits—are conspicuous only by their complete absence from the contemporary policy debate.
These questions do seem a little out of joint in a world where right-wing activism in the United States has branded the UN's environmental Agenda 21 as a conspiracy theory to erode American sovereignty; where political scientists like Ian Bremmer are documenting a move toward coalitions of the willing and a geopolitics of every nation for itself; where Europe's experiment with federalism is going off the rails; and where prominent foreign policy journals publish articles on how an Iranian bomb would actually stabilize the Middle East.
Less and less it appears that our biggest challenges—peace, development, environment—will be solved by top-down power. More and more it seems that the horizontal transfer of good ideas will yield the most resilient results. As the late Elinor Ostrom wrote in relation to the Rio+20 process, "Decades of research demonstrate that a variety of overlapping policies at city, subnational, national, and international levels is more likely to succeed than are single, overarching binding agreements."
The movement for zero global nuclear weapons now depends upon emergent activism in all the nuclear powers. Without the will of the people demanding these things, it's hard to imagine how peace will prevail.