Reduced Nukes–Nirvana or Increased Danger?

Again the idea of a reduction in the number and quality of nuclear weapons has been pushed to the fore by the recent announcement of the new guy that he will negotiate anew with the Russians over a mutual reduction in nuclear weapons.  That sounds like a really good idea in principle and on paper.  I mean who wants to get blown apart  with a force like a blast of TNT or zapped to a crisp like overdone bacon in the microwave?   We do need to proceed quite carefully however.  You don’t want to end up being the guy that brings a knife to a gun fight.  

So many today don’t appreciate the sense of dread and fear that loomed over the world for decades during the Cold War.  The thought of a nuclear missile flashing out of the sky suddenly or a flight of high altitude bombers was quite real.  I even recall in the early ’60’s when we had a  most stunning display from a meteor that fell in our area.  The flash and brillance of the disintergrating “falling star” was spectacular.  I was a witness that evening but sheer chance along with thousands of others.  I remember distinctly that the immediate thought that went through my mind was that the  Soviets had made a launch and I was watching the last thing I would see on this earth.  Within seconds I realized what it was but the instantaneous reaction was of nuclear attack.  That was the atmosphere of the times.

The Soviets made  threats of nuclear attack often enough and tensions were escalated and then abated during every conflict around the world where the Soviets or their puppets were facing off against any friend or even perceived friend of the West.  The Soviets made a point of displaying their prowess every May Day parade.  The most publicized event was the Cuban missile crisis but there were many others over those decades that didn’t receive the same notice–more than once we went to a higher alert over conflicts in the middle east involving Israel for example.   How many movies were made and how many books written about this topic from 1950 to about 1990?  “On the Beach” by N. Shute was probably the most famous.  It was a great story but terrible on the science. 

Recall that when the first nuclear explosion was tested at White Sands that the scientists were dealing with a known/unknown.  They knew the explosion would occur if the engineering was correct.  They even had a pretty good estimate of its power but the exact dimensions of it were speculative.   We advanced our knowledge of the nukes tremendously over the following years.  Several of those later experiments were even televized live in the early ’50’s.   I remember as a teenager getting up very early in the morning to watch the explosions on TV with the breathless voice of a commentator giving the blow by blow.   Radioactivity is very dangerous.  It can kill silently.  Just ask Madame Curie.  But it does not last foever from a nuclear bomb.  So many of the early commentators and protesters used terrible science to justify their opposition to nukes that myths arose in the public mind about what nukes do in fact.   We were told that the land under a nuclear attack would be a “dead zone” for centuries because of the half-life of the nuclear material.  Well you can go to White Sands today and you won’t die a few weeks later.  Same is true with Hiroshima.   In fact the bombs are made “cleaner” than every before.  That doesn’t make them safe or a warm fuzzy.  A nuclear war would be a mass destruction on a scale we can’t even  imagine.  But the world would not die.  Even in the targeted countries most people would survive.   They might not like what they see out their window but they would survive.  Many of the modern nukes are specially designed to accomplish specific missions.  Such as those for creating EMP’s, electro-magnetic pulse, emissions that would destroy all modern devices that use electricity or the electro-magnetic spectrum to function–computers, cars, and almost every conceivable piece of equipment used for a modern society.  Only those devices with special protection would survive and even then the protections are mostly guess work; we don’t know how effective they would be.

If we are to be involved in a nuclear disarming program it must have 100% fail safe verification programs.  We should not do it at all if it is only us and Russia.  The risks to the US are too high.  The French must take a seat at the table and join the program.  The Brits we can trust and they have a modest nuclear program, if any such program can be decribed as modest.   The French have been as active as we have over the decades developing their nuclear capabilities and it is quite formidable.   They conducted the last of the above ground testing in the West, in the far reaches of the South Pacific.   The Israelis are going to be a problem also.  Understandably they believe the nukes are their last line of defense against the
Arabs and Muslims who threaten to eliminate them on a regular basis.  If there is to be meaningful disarmament then they have to at least agree to strict conditions about the use of those weapons and verification. 

With regard to Iran and N. Korea we should enter into agreements with the other nuclear powers that make it clear to them that they are both No. 1 on our target lists.  They are going to develop those nukes.  To assume otherwise is naive.  A balance of terror is the realpolitik strategy with them.   If they every activate their weapons they should know that they won’t be able to launch because they will be struck first.  Yes, that would result in the deaths of millions of people.  But their launch would also result in the death of millions.  Sometimes you have to make hard choices in this world.  I would rather it be them than others around the world.  That action would produce very difficult and unpleasant consequences but so would a successful launch by either of those two.  I would rather deal with the results of our eliminating their weapons than their strikes on California, Israel, Japan or even Eastern Europe.  I think our allies would agree.  You can rest assured the French would.  There is no country on earth more attuned to the concept of realpolitik than the French.  That has been true at least since the days of Tallyrand if not earlier.

Let’s all hope for the safety of our progeny that we move carefully in any nuclear stand down agreement.  It can’t be unilateral or even bi-lateral with Russia.   Those other major powers have to be involved for it to truly promote a safer world.

The latest is that Government, Inc. is going to convert some of its debt into stock in GM.  Not surprising and means of course that the US will be not just the de facto owner of GM but de jure.  It also means that Ford will have to compete with Government, Inc. who will subsidize any losses to protect union jobs for how long?   As long as there are politicians seeking union votes.

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, history, military history, Politics

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