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Questions for David Cortright about Towards Nuclear Zero

August 9, 2010

JV: My one time Washington colleague David Cortright and his co-author Raimo Vayrynen have just written a new book.  David is the Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and Chair of the Board of the Fourth Freedom Forum in Goshen, Indiana.  Raimo Vayrynen is Professor of Government and International Studies and Director, Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

David Cortright (left) and Raimo Vayrynen

David Cortright (left) and Raimo Vayrynen authors of Towards Nuclear Zero

David, you and Raimo Vayrynen have just written Towards Nuclear Zero.  You know, the Cold War, with its nuclear arms race, has been over since the Berlin Wall was pushed down and the Soviet Union collapsed twenty years ago.    Why are you writing about moving towards nuclear zero all this time later?

DC:  The nuclear danger has not gone away, it has merely changed. The threat of global annihilation has diminished, but the threat of bombs going off somewhere is arguably greater now than during the Cold War. Nuclear proliferation dangers are great, and can only be resolved in the context of a global effort to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

JV:  What took you to this peace work? What’s your motivation?

DC:  Serving in the army during Vietnam turned me into a peace activist. I entered the army as a ‘draft-induced volunteer’ in 1968 and quickly came to realize that the war was unjust and immoral. As a Catholic I had no tradition or understanding of conscientious objection, but I had to speak out, so I joined the GI peace movement. I wrote about that experience and the larger GI movement in my book, Soldiers in Revolt, issued originally in 1975 and republished in 2005. That experience of speaking out for peace as an active duty soldier set me on a path of working against war, and I have not veered from it since.

JV:  We have a similar background.  During the U.S. war in Vietnam, I was in a mechanized cavalry outfit that was ordered to Vietnam and I refused to go with them.  I’ve been doing peacework ever since then.  But that’s a topic for another time.  Back to Towards Nuclear Zero, do you think that most people in the U.S. believe that nuclear disarmament has been accomplished or do you think most people believe that nuclear weapons are a necessity for U.S. security?DC:  Most people don’t think of nuclear weapons nowadays. Very few people actually favor the development of nuclear weapons and many support disarmament. But it is not high on the priority list because the danger of holocaust has diminished and there are so many other urgent concerns such as climate change.

JV:  For whom did you write Towards Nuclear Zero, that is, who is your audience?

DC:  The book is published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the world’s most prestigious security studies center. It is part of their Adelphi series. We wrote for this publisher because we wanted to show the Institute’s generally conservative and pro-military constituency that nuclear disarmament is a sound policy, one that is in the best security interests of the United States and other nations.

JV:  If the U.S. government is going to help the world move toward nuclear zero, what’s more important: informing people or mobilizing people?  That is, do the public opinion polls tell us that the public has yet to be convinced that nuclear weapons are a threat rather than a pathway to security, or does the polling indicate that majorities are already convinced that national security depends on nuclear disarmament but that majority isn’t activated?

DC:  People generally support disarmament, but there is little public action. Mobilization of concern is the main priority.

JV:  Two films just came out, “Countdown to Zero” and “Nuclear Tipping Point.”  My wife Beth and I went to the premier screenings of each film.  After we saw, in “Nuclear Tipping Point,” the icons of the center and right of center foreign policy establishment call for complete and general nuclear disarmament – I’m talking about Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Colin Powell, and Sam Nunn – I told Beth I thought we’d won the argument for nuclear disarmament.  If so, then why isn’t our government at zero already?

DC:  We have won the argument, as evidenced by the fact that Obama has declared on several occasions his support for ‘a world without nuclear weapons.’ That we still have so many weapons reflects the power of the military/nuclear establishment and the depth of the ‘nuclear myth’ (a belief that these weapons make us secure).

JV:  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is still fiddling with the New START treaty.  It’s a question whether the full Senate will ratify it.  If someone has limited time, what does she or he do? Read your book or call her or his Senators?

DC:  Calls and letters to Senators are crucial, but it is also important to write letters to the local newspapers, call into talk shows, and organize events at Senator offices and events to urge a yes vote on ratification.

JV:  Are you doing a book tour around the country to bring attention to Towards Nuclear Zero?  Where will you be speaking?

DC:  I don’t have an official book tour but am available for speaking events and book signings. Contact me at

JV:  David, thank  you for taking my questions about  your new book Towards Nuclear Zero and for your life long commitment to building peace through peaceful means.  Readers should ask their bookstores for Towards Nuclear ZeroFormer Secretary of Defense William Perry describes Towards Nuclear Zero as “A valuable contribution that shows how nations can be more secure in a world without nuclear weapons and charts specific policies that can lead in that direction.”

For more information on _Towards Nuclear Zero please_ follow the link below:

Towards Nuclear Zero is available for purchase directly from the publisher at the following URL:

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