I came across a short piece by Retired Vice Admirial Jack Shanahan, in which he explains his position that "...there is no such thing as a 'usable' nuke and [we] shouldn't try to build any." I found it remarkable to be hearing this from a former Admiral of the Navy. I found his argument regarding the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to be particularly telling:
America signed the global Non-Proliferation Treaty with over a hundred other nations. The deal was simple: If you don't have nuclear weapons, you can't build them; in exchange, those of us who do will work to get rid of ours. How can we complain that countries like North Korea shouldn't build new nuclear weapons in violation of the treaty when the Bush Administration proposes doing the very same thing?
As the UN's Brief Background on this Treaty says,
The [Non-Poliferation Treaty] is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. [Emphasis added.]
[Updated 20 May 2003: see also the Los Angeles Times commentary, "A Nuclear Road of No Return," by Bruce Scheer.]
The link to Adm Shanahan's piece was sent to me in connection with an request from TrueMajority.org (founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's fame) asking me to fax Congress opposing these "mini-nukes," which I not only did, which I often do, but also forwarded the request to several friends, which I hardly ever do.
I was reminded of the book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, which I recently read. It won several awards: The 1988 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, the 1987 National Book Award for nonfiction and the 1987 National Book Critics Circle Award for general fiction. William J. Broad reviewed this book for the New York Times, and said, in part,
''The Making of the Atomic Bomb'' offers not only the best overview of the century's pivotal event, but a probing analysis of what it means for the future....
The book illuminates not only scientists and their insights but also the times they lived in, showing how these often eccentric individuals were shaped by the philosophies and atrocities that shook the first half of the 20th century. Happily, Mr. Rhodes avoids the sermons and apocalyptic overtones that often mar the subjects of nuclear arms and atomic creativity. Nor does he point accusatory fingers. Short on heroes and villains, his book is populated instead with complex figures in a compelling plot....
As I was reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb, I kept thinking, "I'm really enjoying this book, but what qualifies it for the Pulitzer Prize? It isn't that good!" I got to the end still having the same thoughts. "I can't believe people without my interest in nuclear physics would find this book to be worthy of the awards it received," I thought. "It's an excellent book, for me, but not for just anyone!"
Then I read the Epilogue. It was truly outstanding. I doubt that it would have struck me that way unless I had read the whole book. It puts the Bomb in broad historical context. It also puts nationalism, the nation-state and the possibility (or is it the necessity?) of supra-national government into the same context. Very, very powerful and thought-provoking. Mr Broad concludes:
In the book's epilogue, he points out that for the first time in history science in 1945 became a force strong enough to challenge the power and authority of the modern nation-state, itself an institution which has not been an unalloyed power for good....
In all this Mr. Rhodes sees a glimmer of hope. Even though an instrument of terror, science may one day prompt the birth of a supranational order. ''The preeminent transnational community in our culture is science,'' Mr. Rhodes writes. ''With the release of nuclear energy in the first half of the twentieth century that model commonwealth decisively challenged the power of the nation-state. The confrontation is ongoing and inextricably embedded in mortal risk, but it offers at least a distant prospect of felicity.
''The different country that still opens before us is Bohr's open world.''