Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nuclear Peace

There was an ad and editorial over at a liberal site advocating that the Senate pass the new arms-limitation treaty. I don't know a thing about it. Apparently lots of important people, including military people, say it's just fine. I'm all for not paying for weapons we don't need, and getting rid of ones that are useless.

What struck me, however, was the organisation's unquestioned assumption that such treaties are significant forces for world peace. It's pretty easy to see how one could come to that conclusion at first look - we can all imagine missiles flying through the air and wiping out huge swaths of civilian populations in terrible ways.

But I think the record shows the opposite. Since 1945, there have been enormous swaths of killing by armies, but none of it has been nuclear. More significantly, very little of it has been one nation invading another - the overwhelming totals have been racked up by governments against their own citizens. And those are not going to be nuclear wars, because the government wants for itself the land and resources of the people they are killing. Wars with the US in them, which loom large in the exceptions to my rule, have tended to be America allying with one side of an internal conflict. The special cases of our current wars are an interesting discussion along these lines, but let us even grant for the moment that these are strictly one nation invading another. Even so, they are small potatoes compared to the widespread intertribal exterminations of the globe. They loom large to us because they involve us. But in quantity of death, they barely register on the graph.

Such reasoning seems insane to the nuclear freeze crowd, I know. I also grew up with political cartoons of a globe with missles bristling from two sides, one with Uncle Sam standing next to them, the other a bear. Movies were made about wars involving these weapons narrowly averted; people marched in the streets; the acronyms MAD and SALT were on everyone's lips for forty years; statistics were quoted that there were enough nukes to wipe us all out a gazillion times over.

But it just hasn't turned out as feared. The weapons are still there and if fired off, would destroy millions. But it may be that their mere existence has changed the game. Nations don't invade anymore - they kill their own instead. I can't say that's an improvement, but it is certainly not the predicted end.

And yet there remain organizations who believe that if we could only dismantle some percentage of them, we would be making the world a significantly safer place. I don't think so. The dangers for all of us lie elsewhere.

1 comment:

karrde said...

Classicists would speak of the sword of Damocles in describing the peril that the world stood in.

President Reagan referenced a Hollywood-esque image of an eternal stare-down between two gunslingers.

The balance lasted for nearly 50 years, and every other nation in the world oriented themselves with respect to that balance.

(There were five admitted members of the Nuclear Club, and one suspected member, in 1990. However, the biggest two members had Ballistic Missiles with nukes on them. Since then, a couple more nations have joined the Nuclear Club, and a third has attempted to join. A fourth has declared intention to join, and no one is sure when that fourth nation will find success.)

What scares me are the people who believe that the most powerful nation can remove its nuclear arsenal, and somehow influence the rest of the Nuclear Club to do the same...when we no longer have any bargaining chip to use against their nuclear weapons.

It boggles the mind. Have these people never heard of T. Roosevelt's admonition to speak softly and carry a big stick?