Nuclear Non Sequitur, Part One

Posted: November 29, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

There are a couple of cartoonish nuclear non sequiturs that have showed up recently in cyberspace. The first appears at the Boston Globe in the form of James Carroll’s op-ed Fallout from a US treaty failure. As is a Carroll tradition, his “argument” manages to assume what it says it’s going to prove.

The op-ed starts off with the lonely image of an Atlas-F (with a lot of white space all around it). That’s all fine except the Atlas-F was deactivated in 1965 and interestingly, didn’t go away because it was a part of any treaty. Atlas went away because a cheaper, faster, better system came along: Minuteman.  I’m sure there’s a lesson hidden in there somewhere…

I love Atlas (and Minuteman), but need to press onward towards “content,” where Carroll first makes an impassioned plea for the Senate ratification of New START and then adds:

…Kennedy launched arms control with the first test ban treaty, but also sparked a burst of missile escalation. Nixon capped that with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but opened the dangerous era of multiple warheads…

So let’s get this straight: Kennedy did a treaty but sparked nuclear escalation. Nixon did a treaty but opened a dangerous era. So the lesson is what: people are dangerous but treaties are good?

I’m not sure because Carroll soon tells us Reagan and Gorbachev did the world right with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and set the stage for 1991’s START. So dismiss Kennedy and Nixon (and their treaties?) and instead embrace Ronald Reagan, because treaties (but not people?) have become good. Very good, even. Especially the aforementioned New START, which must be ratified because:

Today it is said that nukes pose a lesser threat — the odd terrorist blowing up a mere city, or a brief local war, say, on the subcontinent of Asia. Armageddon no longer looms. But that is nonsense. Once nuclear weapons are accepted as normal armaments, their accumulation will skyrocket everywhere. Once the international covenant toward abolition is abandoned, dozens of nations will join the nuclear club. Inter-state war will be inevitably genocidal, and outbreaks of non-state mass violence will invariably launch irrational escalations. Once more, the self-extinction of the human species will be at issue.

While I have to agree that terrorists are odd, Carroll misses a few obvious points. First, no one’s been blown up with a nuclear weapon for quite some time. Next, when they were used, atomic bombs actually ended massive inter-state war. Finally, China, the UK, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are all nuclear. Iran, of course, is well on their way. So what will a bilateral treaty like New START do to affect the rest of the world?

Ignoring these inconvenient issues, Carroll again continues his assertion that New START must be ratified, or else. Or else what? Or else shaming will occur and Carroll will again throw down the specter of Ronald Reagan:

Reagan would be ashamed of Senate Republicans. He would be appalled by the ignorance of men and women who regard nuclear arms as just another occasion for partisan advantage. He would shake his head, that Reagan mystification: What don’t you understand about this treaty’s historic urgency? How crazy are you?

James Carroll doth protest too much, methinks. And if he does e-mail, it’s probably all in caps.


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