Michael KreponThe Establishment, R.I.P., and Next Gen Arms Control

Verse of the week:

“Back and forth, back and forth
goes the tock, tock, tock
of the orange, bland, ambassadorial
face of the moon
on the grandfather clock

All autumn, the chafe and jar
of nuclear war;
we have talked our extinction to death
I swim like a minnow
Behind my studio window

— Robert Lowell, “Fall, 1961”

The Establishment that created the United Nations, constructed NATO, and built a global economic system around the almighty dollar did arms control on the side. These extraordinary accomplishments have been recast or are being cast aside without anything better for replacement. The United Nations bears thin remembrance to its designers original intent. NATO had been expanded beyond recognition and without coherent intent. The dollar is drowning in debt. And the wheels are coming off the U.S.-Russian “arms control” enterprise. There’s one wheel left — the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and it may not have much more mileage.

The Trump/Pompeo/Bolton troika does not have the skills to negotiate something far more complex and ambitious than New START. “Big” deals are the shiny packaging for no deals. Their ‘my way or the highway’ approach compounds nuclear dangers. They believe in the power of subtraction. Trump’s withdrawal from the Arms Trade Treaty at a National Rifle Association conclave is, for now, a new low. Picking up the pieces left by Trump, Bush 43, and Putin will require heroic efforts.

The Establishment won’t be around to help. Actuarial tables have turned. Very few of those who accomplished the extraordinary achievements that reduced nuclear dangers during and immediately after the Cold War are around to defend their handiwork. We have just lost another architect, Richard Lugar. Along with Sam Nunn, now a prophetic voice in our midst, Lugar rose to the challenge of the Soviet Union’s demise by shepherded legislation to prevent “loose nukes” and fissile material from becoming mushroom clouds. No congressional initiative in our field has been more far-sighted and successful.

After World War II, elders in the Republican Party, as in the Democratic Party, chose constructive multilateralism.  Multilateralism was good for America and America was good for multilateralism.  The Republican Party has now reverted to its former “America First” self in the 1920s and 1930s.  Lugar was defeated in a primary campaign in 2012 by a Tea Party savant. He lost by 22 percentage points.

The Establishment that negotiated foundational treaties to control and reduce superpower arsenals and to dramatically limit proliferation dissolved along with the Soviet Union. Repairing the damage done by Vulcans and deconstructionists will take decades of hard labor. Success in reducing nuclear dangers requires bipartisan support. This will be very hard to come by. It will be even harder if we fail to come up with new approaches to control and reduce nuclear arsenals and to backstop nonproliferation.

Lasting success requires new commitment, energy and talent in our field. The Establishment made room for new talent that wasn’t wellborn and well-bread — depending on gender, skin color and religious affiliation. Now it is possible to strengthen our ranks by drawing from America in full. Academia and nongovernmental organizations have benefitted greatly from Stanton and Scoville fellowships. Capitol Hill has always been a place where young talent can be seasoned. If Democrats can figure out how to defeat Donald Trump rather than reprise the nomination of George McGovern to challenge Richard Nixon, then mired in Watergate and Vietnam, talent can once again flow to the executive branch. But other bottlenecks remain. There are very few NGOs toiling in these vineyards. There could be more rising talent in our ranks if funders are willing to cover new slots with reasonable indirect costs as well as modest salaries.

The success of those who have been granted the gift of meaningful work has been earned as well as enabled. We have benefitted from mentors, and part of our job description is to pass it forward. Luck clearly is a part of career advancement, but I believe that the model of success that worked for us is replicable to anyone with talent and drive. In my experience, good fortune flows to those who show initiative. If you feel stuck where you are, my advice is to ask how you can sharpen the skills needed to advance. Opportunities are out there, and people can help you find them.

The Establishment isn’t a barrier any more. Nor is it a barrier to those with poor judgment. This has been a problem for arms control, but it’s also an opportunity for rebuilders.

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