There is something in our make-up that makes us dislike the incumbent or “the man” or anyone else who is in a dominant, authoritative position; we are much more likely to root for the underdog than the favorite (whom we generally view as arrogant, overbearing and well, not nice). As an employee of a corporation that was the subject of a government investigation of behavior due to noteworthy market success, I know this all too well.
While the United States government actively pursues those commercial entities that might or do have a monopolistic position, it has exactly the opposite view when it comes to its role as a nation among others on this planet. In the latter, it relishes being the superpower. Oddly, Americans are surprised when citizens of the “lesser” nations vilify them and perceive America (and Americans) to be an arrogant bully.
I was listening to Warren Olney of NPR’s To the Point talk about nuclear disarmament, America’s stand, possible strategies, etc., and got to thinking: why does the USA care about any other nation’s nuclear arsenal? The Nuclear Nations are America, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel; does anyone really believe that any of these nations intends to nuke the US? If so, to what end? If there was an "end," how would a treaty of any kind prevent them from doing it? Even if they had signed a treaty, what real assurance does anyone have that they are doing what they said they would (especially if we believe they’re bent enough to want to nuke someone)??
For those nations that aren’t officially in the “gang” but might have weapons (many think Iran falls into this camp), not only is a treaty meaningless, but no intervention has worked so far. If one of them were to nuke anyone else, the risk of profound socioeconomic retribution from the rest of the world would be enough for "thinking" leaders to re-think. For non-thinking leaders, well - they are really terrorists and not sovereign leaders, and that's a whole other kettle of fish. With the end of the Cold War and Détente, I don't believe a government screwed up enough to use the bomb would view the threat of nuclear retaliation as a real deterrent; and most of these nations, as NATO and the Warsaw Pact found, would view the cost of creating and maintaining a nuclear arsenal prohibitive.
Some argue that we should ban nuclear weapons altogether, that no nation should have these weapons. I think that’s naïve – there’s no way to enforce it (just look at how difficult it is to assess (forget control) Iran’s nuclear posture), nor is there a realistic expectation that mere words and signed documents will result in disarmament – if that were possible, then the armistice following The War to End All Wars would have, and the last century would have seen ZERO demonstrations of military force.
A new "we can now kill each other less" treaty between the US and Russia was just signed; besides a strong statement of improved relations (a good thing) between the two countries, there's no real change that I can see. Does it, as President Obama said take us closer to global nuclear disarmament? I suppose, but not in a way that will ever actually get us there.
Historically, the most successful approach to eliminating a class of weapon has been to invent a better, more effective replacement. The Neutron Bomb was one attempt (lots more radiation but less physical damage), but it didn't do so well. The Strategic Defense Initiative was another attempt, but let's face it - every time someone claims they've "secured" a thing, people will take up the challenge to prove them wrong, and even the threat of SDI sparked innovation in warhead delivery vehicles.
It seems to me that most "productive" replacement for nukes is biological weapons - they create no physical damage, but could result in pandemic-proportioned human havoc. These weapons of mass destruction flaunt any current definition of preventative security (consider a suicide "bomber" who is infected with a dormant but highly contagious virus, and invisible even after they've put their shoes back on, shown security their laptop battery and verified that they only have little bottles of liquid in the one plastic bag). But once on the plane or upon arrival, the contagion wakes up and bad stuff happens. How would you detect or prevent this?
I ask you - would you prefer this or nuclear weapons? Clearly the latter is better-understood and more defensible, but I'd sure as hell start thinking about measures to protect us from the former!
So what ought America do about all this? I think the first step is to stop being a self-declared superpower and stop being a unilateral, self-righteous voice in global policy. Take the bull's eye off your back (or front) as it were. It is true that any nation can be a victim of terrorist acts, but why willingly put yourself in their cross hairs?
America is like the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys of geopolitics. Both have rabid fans ("their" people), but everyone else (by far the majority) just plain hates their guts. I'd want to be more like the friendly and benign Minnesota Twins or Green Bay Packers; or in geopolitical terms more like Bermuda or Canada or Finland - strong countries to be sure; independent, successful, but not vilified and never does one see their people or leaders burned in effigy by screaming hordes on CNN...
American interests are not served when America is a bully - more often than not, these actions (immediately or eventually) result in more harm, more risk, and more wasted money and energy. About the only example I can think of where America's military created a positive outcome is Japan following World War II - ironically an act that ended with the Enola Gay dropping Little Boy on Hiroshima. Compared to pre-WWII, the US and Japan are friendly and mutually supportive states. I don't recall any American military intervention that has led to net improved relationships other than this one?
America Green Bay Packers-style would unilaterally reduce nuclear arms (just to save money and reduce military complexity) to a handful or even nothing; it would stop calling other countries out and instead work with developing countries to build friends and form sustainable economic relationships; it would reduce the number of off-shore bases; it would not worry so much about being a world presence (or enforcer) and instead focus on being a world citizen.
This could result in taking the air out of other, angry sails that today are powered by a shared dislike of America vs. any higher purpose. In effect, the most powerful defense for America is to be less offensive.