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The Forum > Article Comments > Nuclear destruction: inevitable or avertable? > Comments

Nuclear destruction: inevitable or avertable? : Comments

By Tim Wright, published 28/3/2006

As the Doomsday clock ticks, we stand not at an impasse but at a juncture. You decide: is nuclear war inevitable or avertable?

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Good article, good question.
As someone who was either a child during the worst of the Cold War or not yet born, I cannot truly say whether there is a greater or lesser 'feeling' of impending nuclear war compared to the past.

However, one could argue that the pissing contest between the US & USSR is a safer scenario than large number of states with nukes with a far more complex matrix of agendas & pressures.
India & Pakistan came to a standoff only a few years ago (stopping my planned holidays to the area) Israel, who as mentioned, never signed a non-proliferation treaty uses the 'do they/don't they?' uncertainty to its advantage. Considering its use of traditional forces, there is no reason to believe it would not use nukes if pressed. North Korea is not exactly stable and would definitely use the threat of nuclear arms as a bargaining chip. Of course there are other states, and there will be more.
It is also arguable that the end of the cold war, and the US's subsequent belligerence is actually increasing & speeding up the proliferations of nuclear weapons. If a state was being seriously threatened, the leaders have the responsibility of creating the best defense possible. Nuclear weapons have proved to be the ultimate 'leveller'. Iran is a perfect case in point. The US is in a rush to stop the development of nukes in Iran, as once they are built, much of the US's strong-arming ability is negated.

Overall, there will be both good and extremely bad with proliferation. The 'norm' would probably be a global nuclear standoff where the peace is kept simply because there is always the 'nuclear option' to erase any agressor. Of course, with more players, there are more chances for one to 'blink' and the results will be catastrophic.

PS. Of course, all of this is at a state v state level. None of this will stop the Rwandan-style bloodshed that is too much a part of this world.

Posted by BAC, Tuesday, 28 March 2006 10:34:49 AM
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Although I agree with the sentiments of this article, Tim has made numerous factual errors which will inevitably be exploited by the proponents of nuclear energy.

In the climate of green-house gases and global warming, many are proposing the use of nuclear energy as the solution to our environmental woes. Under no circumstances should we accept that nuclear energy as a "short-term" solution. Storage of High Level Waste is unsafe at best, and no civilisation has lasted long enough to ensure that the 200,000+ years required for Actinide Immobilisation and neutron criticality event risks to subside, has ever existed. Rome only lasted a few hundred years.

The British did not detonate 21 devices in Australia. The figure is 12 and full details can be found at . Tim may be getting confused with further Hydrogen Bomb tests that the British did in Christmas Islands in the Pacific (not to be confused with the Australian territory in the Indian Ocean).

Further to this, over 600 "minor trials", what are now called "dirty bombs" were detonated. These were subcritical tests that spread plutonium and enriched uranium over limited areas.

The bombs dropped on Japan, unlike those of Maralinga/Monte Bello/Emu, did not cause a great legacy of plutonium and uranium contamination. Fat Man and Little Boy were detonated at high altitude of some 550-600 metres. The fireball never touching the ground caused little ionising radiation contamination. Most of the problems, still detectable today, are from a process call "Neutron Activation". Nevertheless, these bombs were small compared to the more advanced hydrogen bombs of today, which are in the order of 300-4000 times more powerful.

As in the cold war, any state that resorts to nuclear, or other WMD does so knowing the risk that retaliation will certainly result in their complete and total destruction. The principle of MAD still holds strong.
Posted by Narcissist, Tuesday, 28 March 2006 11:17:27 AM
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I believe that we are closer to nuclear war today than we have been for 60 years. The dropping of the bombs on Japan, which saved the lives of the prisoners of war and millions of other soldiers and civilians on both sides, because it allowed Japan to surrender (for the first time in its history) without excessive loss of face, ushered in the nuclear era in which we still live. It should be remembered that even after Nagasaki, the Japanese cabinet was equally divided on surrender, and it was decided to surrender by Hirohito's casting vote. That is why I think it was right that he was not tried as a war criminal. Throughout the cold war east and west had one basic thing in common that was so fundamental no-one realised it - neither side wanted to die. This led to nuclear stalemate and the eventual peaceful end to the cold war. So not only did the bomb end ww2, it preserved the peace for 45 years. The problem with North Korea today is not critical, because they don't want to die either. However with Iran and other countries in the Middle East, they say they are quite happy to die. The crisis could come later this year if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities. If Iran were to reply with an attack on Israel using WMD, there could be a full nuclear response on Iran by the US. President Bush may well give Iran a nuclear warning soon, along the lines of the one given to the USSR by Kennedy. All this will depend on how things play out when Iran is referred to the Security Council. It could be an interesting year.
Posted by plerdsus, Tuesday, 28 March 2006 11:23:45 AM
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Whether we hear about it or not, we will always be on the cusp.

They will never use it, it is a mine is bigger than yours mentality, and it is used as a tool to get respect and feel powerful, just like a gun is on a person.

If it happens we are all gone, but if it has not happenned by now one could assume there is less chance of it happennig in the future, as day by day the world gets smaller, information is shared and people interact with eachother on a world scale far more than in cold war days, and the world is getting more sympathetic with less Themos every day.

The nuclear age has matured, it will always be there, but if a terrorist gets hold of one and uses it, we may end up in a holy war.
Posted by Realist, Tuesday, 28 March 2006 12:44:59 PM
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Tim might want to take a look at a column posted on OLO some time ago – here’s the link.

I think we are now safe from the kind of nuclear holocaust that threatened us during the Cold war. However, I think that the risk that small numbers of these weapons might be used has increased since the fall of the Berlin Wall. States like India, Pakistan, China – and a future Iran if the mad mullahs there have their way – need no longer fear triggering a global catastrophe if they use these weapons.

There is also the risk that terrorists might gain access to nuclear weapons. I don’t think they have as yet (Al Qaeda would certainly have used one if they had one to use) but the security of the still large global arsenal is certainly an issue. We also need to consider the risk of an adverse regime change in nuclear-armed states. What if Pakistan’s Musharaff were overthrown by lunatic fundamentalists? The regime would then have control of a developed nuclear weapons arsenal, complete with means of delivery. Doesn’t bear thinking about.

It would be best if there were no nukes at all, but this is fantasyland stuff. There is no way, as history shows, to suppress scientific discoveries once made – and certainly the physics and technology of nukes. You can learn from the Net almost everything you need to know to build a basic fission bomb. The difficulties are in obtaining the fissile material (U-235 at 95% purity or Plutonium-239 at similar purity levels) and in the extremely precise engineering and technology required to build a workable and deliverable bomb. But the essential knowledge is there. However, it takes the resources of a state to construct one and it’s not something that’s easy to conceal.

We have to learn to live with these weapons. Some fool may well use one or two them one day, and that will be an atrocious thing. But we are no longer at risk of blowing up the world.
Posted by Mhoram, Tuesday, 28 March 2006 7:59:30 PM
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i believe the threat is still there and real. The United States of America possess enough nuclear weapons to bomb the whole world 3x over. ( may not be accurate but you get the picture)
The Russians also posseess ample supply of nuclear weapons obtained from its previous owner Soviet Union.
Russia is in a state of chaos. Corruption is so obvious in parts of that goverment, just 1 high ranking russian official slipped in by terrorist organization can be enough to launch a nuclear missle from russia to USA, and after that the USA will retaliate with nuclearm missles firing back! then after that Countries like Europe will join the fray, and then mabye CHina taking the chance of USA looking the other way will attempt to take over asia, possibly with nuclear weapons!
Its castrophic! Chaotic! but its real and looming closer..
Posted by Artermis, Tuesday, 28 March 2006 9:40:04 PM
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