Sunday, August 30, 2009

Should We Just Learn To Love The Bomb?

That question is at the heart of an essay in this week’s issue of Newsweek. The conventional wisdom has been that the world would be much better off if there were no nuclear weapons, even the great ‘Cold Warrior’ Ronald Reagan himself worked towards the goal of a nuclear-free globe. In a few weeks, as heads of state gather for the general assembly of the United Nations, President Obama is expected to make his own push towards eliminating nukes. But should he?

According to Jonathan Tepperman in Newsweek, maybe not. And there are some interesting facts that back up this unconventional point of view. One is that nearly 65 years after the US detonated the first nuclear bomb, the much-feared mass proliferation of these weapons hasn’t occurred. Today there are fewer than a dozen nuclear-armed states, and several countries (Kazakhstan, Belarus, Canada and South Africa) have actually given up their nukes.

Fear of a nuclear war between two nuclear-armed states is another fear that drives the ban the bomb movement but, again, Tepperman argues, nuclear states seem less likely to go to war, because they know the horrible consequences a nuclear war would bring. He cites the example of India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since independence from Great Britain, but none since Pakistan got the bomb back in 1998, even after a brief conflict in the disputed Kashmir region in 1999 and Pakistan’s involvement in the terror attacks that rocked Mumbai last year.

Critics say that the world has just been exceptionally lucky in the nuclear era and that we’re putting a lot of faith in some sketchy leaders (Kim Jong-Il anyone?) not to go nuclear. But I think Tepperman makes some good points, and one problem I’ve had with the nuclear-free world campaign is that it’s just not going to happen. Russia’s not about to give up its nukes, nor China, and Israel (that won’t even admit it has them in the first place)? Forget it. And now a consensus seems to be building in the international community for “crippling sanctions” against Iran to make them give up their nuclear bomb project. But considering that we’re also still hoping to encourage pro-democracy, pro-western reformers within Iran (the folks who took to the streets in protest this summer), you have to wonder if sanctions that will wreck Iran’s already fragile economy is really the best idea right now. Especially when the alternative might not be all that bad.
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