The Real Danger of Global Nuclear War – World War 3
This article is written by Professor Martin E. Hellman (Stanford University).
Technology has given us powers that were traditionally reserved for gods: raising the dead, creating new life forms, and destroying the world. As the Mid East, Rwanda, and Enron demonstrate, humanity’s social progress is far from god-like. This chasm between our technological development, on the one hand, and our social development, on the other, has created a recipe for disaster that demands urgent attention if the human race is to survive.
This truth escaped me during the early years of my career, when I focused on developing technology without much concern for the consequences. But, during the 1980’s, a sequence of events forced me to face these issues and, from 1982-88, working with the Beyond War Foundation was central to my life. In that time, the nuclear threat was the most visible symptom of the chasm demanding our attention, and was therefore the best vehicle for engaging people in a way that might then extend to other, pressing issues.
As I worked with Beyond War in an effort to defuse the nuclear threat, we came to the startling conclusion that any long-term solution required going beyond nuclear arms control, beyond even the seemingly Utopian goal of complete nuclear disarmament, to what we came to call “a world beyond war.” War would be a thing of the past, looked on with the same puzzlement and repugnance with which we now view human slavery.
With that preface, here is an overly succinct summary of the reasoning:
- As long as nuclear nations fear conventional war, they will never eliminate their nuclear arsenals. During the Cold War, the US was unwilling to agree to a “no first use” policy when faced with what appeared to be an overwhelming Soviet advantage in conventional weaponry and manpower. Today, the tables are reversed, and the Russians have retracted their support for such a policy.
- As proliferate to ever more nations, the nuclear equation becomes more complex and dangerous. Non-nuclear nations that fear confrontation with stronger powers will be strongly motivated to develop nuclear arsenals.
- The most likely trigger for a nuclear war is a small war or confrontation that spirals out of control, with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis being a prime example. Just as World War I was sparked by a terrorist act in a third world hot spot, big wars often start from small acts of violence. Every small war is therefore like pulling the trigger in a global version of Russian roulette. Playing this game once is dangerous, but engaging in it continually leads to certain death.
- Ending war is impossible in the current environment, but can become possible via a process of change. Ending slavery was impossible in the America of 1787, when it was written into our Constitution, but became a reality within eighty years through a process involving a sequence of steps. The later steps would have been laughed at as impossible in 1787, but became possible in the changed environment produced by earlier steps. Today’s rapid means of communication might hopefully shorten the process considerably.
- During the process of change, we must simultaneously hold to the long range vision while dealing with the realities of a very dangerous world. Unilateral disarmament is not the answer, but unilateral initiative is essential.
In the 1970’s, when Soviet-American relations had temporarily warmed, we were fortunate to have developed strong friendships with a number of Russian information theorists we had met through international symposia and exchange programs. In some cases, these friendships had led to honest political dialog, free of national rhetoric and propaganda. If we could bring this experience to more Americans, we hoped Americans would stop asking “What about the Russians?” and start asking “What about us? What can we do?”
The inevitability of a nuclear war is one of the reasons why we preparing.
The largest nuclear bomb ever tested.. October 30, 1961… The Tsar Bomb.. Soviet era 50 megaton = 50 millions tons of TNT. Total destruction – 15 mile radius.. 3rd degree burns – 64 mile radius .. visible 600 miles away. Original design was to be 100 megaton – – “According to the Center for Defense Information, there are approximately 30,000 intact nuclear warheads worldwide.. All but about 200 are retained by the United States and Russia”
Documentary film, a true depiction of the threat of nuclear war. The consequences thermonuclear war. And Obama’s deployment of a major portion of the U.S. thermonuclear capabilities in multiple theaters threatening both Russia and China.
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