Jeffrey Lewis5 Myths About the Bomb

If you check out today’s Washington Post outlook section, I have an opinion piece on five myths about the bomb.

After blogging about the lame myths to be dispelled in the forthcoming Administration white paper on nuclear posture, I thought I could do better.


  1. Robot Economist (History)

    Great piece Dr. J.

    The question I always find myself asking is about what the Verification, Compliance and Implementation Bureau would do in the Bush Administration’s imagined future. After START expires, the CWC will be the only treaty with serious verification activities — and hey, who cares about chemical weapons? Right?

  2. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    The problem is not nuclear and chemical and old fashioned bio weapons, but the new stuff like genetically modified bugs, psychological weapons made possible by real-time imaging of brain activity, etc. that are developed since the mid-80s.

    But then, the old pattern is that it takes a major conflict and the use of these means to put impetus behind corking them —- though on occasion, sometimes, it is possible to contain it when it is early before much is done in development and deployment.

    It needs a great leader with a real vision to revitalize the VCIB, perhaps in the next administration.

  3. Bruno Tertrais (History)

    Jeff, I think you have four good arguments and a very weak one. I think the Bush administration is entirely right to make the point that there is no evidence that US arms reductions matter to the nuclear programs of emerging countries. Witness the evolution of nuclear arsenals and programs of Israel, India, Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Pakistan between 1987 and 2007 – just as the US was reducing its arsenal. And note that your counterarguments refer to US non-proliferation gestures, not arms reductions as you announce in the title. (US arms reductions do matter to the other P5, but that’s a different issue – and a better point to make in fact.)

  4. Russ Wellen (History)

    What an important oped. Congrats on getting it in WaPo. I linked it to high-traffic OpEdNews under “Best WebOpEds.” And to Freezerbox under “Around the Web.”

  5. Drew (History)

    If I could expand on Bruno Tertrais’ comment and ask a question of ACW and the broader commentariat here: can anyone point out one or more well-done studies (article, book, etc.) that provide evidence of an instance of where U.S. arms reductions or forbearance in developing or fielding a particular arms capability had an impact on the decision-making of another country to show similar or related forebearance (either not developing, deploying, etc.) This is an argument that has long been bandied about, but I have yet to see good studies that really show a causal relationship (perhaps I’m missing them due to my own poor research).

  6. Yale Simkin (History)

    Primo essay, Jeff!

    I think that Bruno makes a good point.

    Our arms reduction is not the same as arms elimination.

    Proliferators would see our actions as lowering a bloated, redundant and expensive overbuild down to a lean and flexible deterrent force.

    Our actions justify other states to nuclear arm and build out to The Minimum Means of Reprisal

  7. Alex W. (History)

    Re: the making mistakes bit. I saw Charles Perrow give a talk at MIT awhile back about his new book. He was asked by an audience member why there appeared to be far fewer accidents in the world than would have been expected per Normal Accidents, and I thought his reply was interesting. He made a distinction between accidents and catastrophes — it’s easy to have a single accident, but it’s very difficult to have a catastrophe, where pretty much everything possible goes wrong at the same time. I thought it was an interesting distinction (and I did think that it somewhat qualified the argument in Normal Accidents in a major way that Perrow didn’t seem to want to acknowledge).

  8. NTV (History)

    I guess I dont see why #1 is a myth, The fact is that the US stockpile is at its smallest size since Eisenhower administration. That fact isnt arguable. I further dont see why we should judge the size against an earlier arbitrary date with a lower number of warheads. If the Bush team where to claim that the current size was comparable to that, then it would make some sense.
    As for the 5,000 – 6,000 warheads, I would think that the number of real no-kidding deliverables would be an important number, which would come in much lower.
    Also what exactly does “Cold War levels of alert” mean? Wasnt there some discussion on this topic here recently?

  9. Stephen Young (History)

    On Bruno/Drew’s point, the issue of reprocessing comes to mind. In the 1970s, the United States decided not to pursue reprocessing of spent fuel from nuclear reactors primarily because the technology creates direct weapons-usable material – plutonium. It actively discouraged other countries from pursuing this option.

    That leadership, combined with the simple fact that in economic and technical terms reprocessing is a loser, kept a host of countries from developing the technology. Today, only Japan, France and Russia have active reprocessing programs.

    Of course, this U.S. leadership has been abandoned by this administration in its ill-conceived Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, and now countries around the globe are expressing interest in pursuing either enrichment or reprocessing technologies or both. This, of course, is exactly the outcome that GNEP was intended to prevent, but it is not the first time this administration has misjudged the implications of its actions.

    Somebody should write this stuff up.