Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth


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Nuclear proliferation is still very, very scary, as Joseph Cirincione explains in the most recent The New York Review of Books:

Jonathan Schell’s The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger picks up where Rhodes leaves off, examining the essential question: What are nuclear weapons for? Invented to counter Germany, dropped on Japan, deployed against the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons, Schell writes, lost any conceivable rational purpose after the end of the cold war. What nation, what threat now justifies thousands of them? Or any? After the cold war, Schell writes,

The number of nuclear weapons continued to drop, but the essential features of the mutual annihilation machine remained intact. The question of why the former Cold War rivals wanted nuclear weapons was forgotten, and their arsenals drifted into a kind of policy-free zone. Unsustained by Cold War rationales but not yet assigned any new ones, they seemed to exist for their own sakes, leaving a strong feeling that in the new era, missions would be sought for nuclear weapons rather than the other way around.

Why is this dangerous system persisting? Schell believes that the policies of the current administration are largely to blame:

The distance of Bush’s policies from previous American non-proliferation policy is hard to overstate. Every previous American president in the nuclear age had relied on peaceful means to stop proliferation…. Preventive war had on occasion been proposed by presidential advisers but was always rejected…. President Bush’s demotion of diplomacy and treaties across the board was as clear as his elevation of force. In decision after decision, his administration tore at the web of arms control treaties that had grown up over four decades.

Schell argues convincingly that plans by the Bush administration for new nuclear weapons and for new uses for these weapons—such as bunker-busting deep penetration bombs— swung nuclear policy sharply away from deterrence and in the direction of nuclear use. “The mission of nuclear weapons is no longer to produce stalemate with a peer,” Schell writes; “it is to fight and win wars against nations with little or no ability to respond.” As if to demonstrate Schell’s point, four of the Republican presidential candidates discussed using nuclear weapons against Iran in a CNN debate on June 5, 2007.

Republicans, of course, are pretty scary too.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 18, 2008 at 2:11 pm

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