Michael KreponGeorge Kennan on the Bomb

Quote of the week:

To my mind, the nuclear bomb is the most useless weapon ever invented. It can be employed to no rational purpose. It is not even an effective defense against itself.” — George Kennan

George Kennan holds the distinction of being the only person to publicly and accurately predict both how the Soviet Union might dissolve and how the Russian Federation might spoil NATO’s expansion. He has also applied his keen powers of analysis to the Bomb and how it warps our thinking.

Here are excerpts from his address upon receiving the Albert Einstein Peace Prize on May 19, 1981:

So much has already been said. What is to be gained by reiteration? What good would it do? Look at the record. Over all these years the competition in the development of nuclear weaponry has proceeded steadily, relentlessly, without the faintest regard for all these warning voices. We have gone on piling weapon upon weapon, missile upon missile, new levels of destructiveness upon old ones. We have done this helplessly, almost involuntarily: like the victims of some sort of hypnotism, like men in a dream, like lemmings heading for the sea, like the children of Hamlin marching blindly along behind their Pied Piper. And the result is that today we have achieved, we and the Russians together, in the creation of these devices and their means of delivery, levels of redundancy of such grotesque dimensions as to defy rational understanding…

I question whether these devices are really weapons at all. A true weapon is at best something with which you endeavor to affect the behavior of another society by influencing the minds, the calculations, the intentions, of the men that control it; it is not something with which you destroy indiscriminately the lives, the substance, the hopes, the culture, the civilization, of another people…

Whoever does not understand that when it comes to nuclear weapons the whole concept of relative advantage is illusionary … is never going to guide us out of this increasingly dark and menacing forest of bewilderments into which we have wandered.

I can see no way out of this dilemma other than by a bold and sweeping departure — a departure that would cut surgically through the exaggerated anxieties, the self-engendered nightmares, and the sophisticated mathematics of destruction, in which we have all been entangled over these recent years, and would permit us to move, with courage and decision, to the heart of the problem.


  1. Aarond (History)

    The only problem with this logic is that it assumes that everyone who has weapons and nuclear weapons does not want war or destruction, when this was how most wars were fought until WW2. If there’s one thing that would quickly lead to war it’s commanders not understanding the effectiveness of the weapons at their disposal and causing a slaughter like WW1.

    Does any of us seriously think Trump has any idea what an “Intermediate” missile is? Or that China and Russia wouldn’t readily use such weapons on their own people if they thought they could benefit? This is exactly what arms control is designed to prevent.