Mike the Mad Biologist

Jonathan Schell has recently written a superb book about the history of the nuclear age, The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger. What Schell does is expose a lot of the hidden assumption underlying the discussion surrounding nuclear disarmament and nuclear proliferation (which as he notes are intertwined). Here’s a small taste:

In short, even in a world without nuclear weapons, deterrence would, precisely because the bomb in the mind would still be present, remain in effect. In that respect, the persisting know-how would be as much a source of reassurance as it would be of danger in a world without nuclear weapons.

Perhaps that is what the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, a nuclear abolitionist, was hinting at when he told the scientist Victor Weisskopf, who worked on the Manhattan Project, that “every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution.” If, in the sixty years of the nuclear age, no great nuclear power has won a war by making nuclear threats against even tiny, weak adversaries, then how could a nuclear monopoly by a small country enable it to coerce and bully the whole world? The danger cannot be wholly discounted, but it is surely greatly exaggerated. A world at zero would not be a heaven on Earth, but neither would it be the one painted by today’s terror-ridden nuclear strategic theory.

He also reminds us that every ‘proliferator’ develops nuclear weapons to defend against someone else’s bomb (or the specter that they might have a bomb). It’s a very good read.

Comments

  1. #1 Markk
    December 16, 2007

    Why the big deal about whether specific weapons exist? All you are talking about is how long it would take to ready a nuclear weapon. Now it is seconds. Even if all “bombs” were dismantled, for the big nuclear powers it would be days at most. Really going forward technologically as nuclear fission medical and power utilities become worldwide, almost every country will be within months of creating a bomb. This will certainly be true by our grandchildren’s time. So what are you gaining worrying about this specific issue? Seems a waste of time to me. Get used to it – we will ALWAYS – as long as humanity is at our current tech level have the almost immediate threat of weapons of mass destruction.

  2. #2 6EQUJ5
    December 16, 2007

    Any of the many nations now hating the US could strike a huge blow without bothering to develop nuclear weapons. With enough cash they can have someone buy a warhead for them, install a remote device, arm the bomb, and send it on a freighter bound for New York Harbor. A mere megaton would collapse enough skyscrapers that they would provide enough fuel to burn Manhattan Island to the ground.

    That’s one of the problems with nuclear proliferation: they can be used by anybody against anyone.

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