"Soon, Everybody Will Have Nukes"
1/15/2003

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Salt II, and the Long Cold-War of Mutual Deterrence
    This article, "Soon, Everybody Will Have Nukes", by syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, appeared in our local newspaper Sunday before last, and elaborates elegantly upon thoughts that I have also entertained. 
    The threat of nuclear Armageddon hung over my generation and my parents' generation as a Sword of Damocles, holding nuclear exchanges at bay. The US and the former USSR had enough weapons between them to, probably, induce a nuclear winter that would exterminate all, or virtually all of humanity. John Foster Dulles based his policy of containment and mutual deterrence upon this mutual abstention from the use of nuclear weapons. For 40 years, we lived within the "gunsights" of "city-busters" that could have blasted every Middlesex village and town (and, for all I know, may still be so targeted). Huntsville was in line for several multi-megaton hydrogen bombs. (I mapped out emergency evacuation routes and identified choke points, hoping that we would have 15 minutes warning.)
    The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties in the 70's gave the world some breathing space. It promised third-world nations protection against their neighbors. It meant that they didn't have to enter into a nuclear-missile race with their neighbors--something they could ill-afford to undertake.
    A key idea was that there was a gentlemen's agreement that we wouldn't use nuclear weapons except as a last resort---a vengeance weapon. And small wonder! There is no such thing as a clean nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons give off neutrons and gamma radiation in an uncontrolled, explosive way. Neutrons and gamma radiation render their surroundings radioactive, with levels of activity and half-lives that depend upon the types of radiation, and the types of materials that are exposed to it. This poisons the soil for generations, and gives rise to elevated levels of cancer later in life.
    It was only a few months after the Bush Administration took office that President Bush announced that he was withdrawing from the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. Later, he would announce that he wouldn't hesitate to use nuclear weapons against Iraq, and as "bunker-busters". Bunker-busters! Our ace in the hole! The show-stopper that formed our cornerstone in the long Cold War of mutual deterrence! 
    Now every nation on Earth is scrambling to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction to defend themselves against their neighbors, and other powers (French parliament approves massive military spending increase).
    If you were paranoid, you might think that the SALT II agreements never made any difference, anyway.