Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jonathan Schell: The Old and New Shapes of Nuclear Danger

The forthcoming issue of The Nation features a tremendous article by Jonathan Schell on nuclear abolition. Placing it in its current political context, he recounts the near breakthrough at Reykjavik and traces the idea’s development through to its current reemergence. (Note the shout out of Council for a Livable World, the Center’s sister organization, in the discussion of organizations working towards this goal.)

A few choice paragraphs:

With the end of the cold war, a new era of the nuclear age opened. At first it seemed that with the old restraining parity with the Soviet Union a thing of the past, the sole superpower could simply do anything it wanted. But harsher realities built into the very nature of the nuclear age soon began to reassert themselves. In the new laboratory of the new era, the educational process resumed. Once again a dialectic of pressures and counterpressures commenced. Once again the nuclear dilemma, having further matured (some fifty nations are now capable of building the bomb), was driven from hiding by political events. Once again, there were trials and errors. And once again, just as in the 1980s, an impasse appeared--the one we face today.

There are important differences, of course. The new era has brought a new set of nuclear dangers to the fore. In the cold war, the most salient lesson was that the bomb is equally destructive to all; in the post-cold war era, the inescapable lesson is that the bomb's technology is equally available to all competent producers, very likely including, one day not far off, terrorist groups. In the cold war, the driving force was the bilateral arms race; in the post-cold war era, it has been proliferation.

Nevertheless, the fundamental underlying lesson, built into the genetic code of the nuclear age and destined to last as long as that age does, is the same: nuclear weapons cannot be the source of advantage for any one nation or group of nations at the expense of the rest; they are a common danger and can be faced only by all together, through political and diplomatic means. Just as during the cold war the double standard inherent in the concept of American nuclear superiority could not be sustained, so today the double standard implicit in the two-class world of nuclear and nonnuclear powers is unsustainable. Just as the two Reykjavik leaders drew the lesson that only negotiation, not further buildups, could release the world from the common peril, so today we must give up the illusion that force can solve the proliferation problem and must turn to negotiation instead. Finally, just as the true solution to the cold war peril of annihilation could only be abolition, so it is today, because any other leaves the double standard intact, and the double standard is at the root of proliferation. Perhaps because this is the second time around, the lessons have been presented more quickly, for a critical moment of decision has already arrived.

Click here for the full article.

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