Dear President Obama,
Receive my warmest congratulations, and those of millions of others around the country and the world, for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. Truly, you have brought hope for a new, less cynical politics on a global scale.
I want to suggest that you use this award as leverage to advance two strategic initiatives that have the potential both to advance the best interests of the United States and to fundamentally transform the world. You have already given us cause to believe that you are deeply committed to these two initiatives: Arab-Israeli peace, and nuclear disarmament.
Islamic fundamentalism and its associated terrorist impulses are fed primarily by the persistent impasse between Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms, both now imbued with strong religious content. While Israel does have legitimate security concerns, its manifest intent to occupy Palestinian land indefinitely without granting Palestinians equal rights constitutes a wound that will not heal, not only for Palestinians but also for most Arabs and other Muslims. You could use the status and clout of this prize to demand that the hard-liners on both sides accept a two-state solution approximating the 1967 borders. The peace plan proposed a few years ago by the Saudis and the Arab League is actually quite reasonable, in that it offers Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a peace settlement recognizing an independent Palestine.
Pushing through to such a settlement is strategically important because it would change the entire chemistry of the Arab and Muslim worlds. It would, at a stroke, pull the rug from the feet of Al Qaeda and other radical Islamist movements, and thereby reduce the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to insignificance. Absent such a settlement, the outcome in Iraq is uncertain, and that of Afghanistan, bleak.
The second strategic initiative is less immediately dramatic, but no less vital: achieving nuclear disarmament. Ever since the United States first developed and used nuclear weapons, we have relied on a policy of nonproliferation, coupled with nuclear deterrence, to minimize the risk of nuclear war. Deterrence manifestly worked in our long confrontation with the Soviet Union, but is of little relevance to us today, when the main threat of nuclear attack comes from stateless terrorists. And the reason that threat is serious is that nonproliferation has not worked. Nuclear weapons are now, or may soon be, in the hands of those who might sympathize with such terrorists, and who might pass nuclear arms along. Nuclear weapons are in fact of no use to us anymore, if they ever were: they are only a threat to us.
Fundamentally, nonproliferation hasn’t worked because we, the first to develop such weapons, have never offered to get rid of them, while we have demanded that other states forswear developing them. That didn’t work with the Soviets, the Chinese, the British, the French, the Indians, the Pakistanis, or the Israelis, and it isn’t working with the North Koreans or the Iranians.
You should use the clout and credibility from the prize to convene serious, multiparty negotiations aimed at verifiably eliminating nuclear weapons from all arsenals, backed up with cooperative intelligence-gathering to ensure that non-state actors do not acquire or independently develop such weapons.
Achieving a world free of nuclear weapons is of obvious strategic importance in terms of our own security and that of others around the world. But it also has an additional strategic significance: without nuclear weapons, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea, are no longer worth worrying about. It is true that some interests in Pakistan and Iran might be inclined to support terrorist groups, but if we also secure the Arab-Israeli peace settlement, we will have sucked the air from that threat as well.
Proceeding with these two strategic initiatives will not only justify the confidence of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, it will deeply transform the dynamics of international affairs in the twenty-first century.
Counterinsurgency can, at best, hold the enemy at bay as long as we are willing to commit our resources and lives to the mission. It is a recipe for a quagmire.
*Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Bucknell University
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