Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The return of nukes

My reading pile is getting dominated by nuclear weapons. I've recently finished PD Smith's excellent Doomsday Men and my next nonfiction is Richard Rhodes' Arsenals of Folly, which is Rhodes third book on the development of nuclear weapons. After that I have Atomic Times, a memoir of military service at the H-bomb testing grounds on Eniwetok.

All of this would seem like history, which I wish were true. Nuclear weapons are creeping their way back into the world at a disturbing pace. While I think Graham Allison overstates the risk in his Nuclear Terrorism, the fact that countering potential terrorism is so low on the policy agenda is shocking. The fact that three (NK, Pakistan and India) new nuclear powers and potentially one more new one (Iran) are creating new risk of nuclear war gets surprisingly light attention. Any review of the history of the US-USSR nuclear stand-off will reveal that the world is lucky to have escaped without a war.

I fear the Iraq war with its false/failed (depending on your viewpoint) assessment of the Iraqi program has focused the attention away from the problems of nuclear weapons and towards parsing the motivation of those who would address nuclear weapons. The development of new weapons systems, now canceled, like the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, has not helped either. It's hard to support the norm that people shouldn't develop new nuclear weapons when you do the same yourself.

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