60 years later

Hiroshima, afterwards, and the “atomic dome”

The 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an appropriate time to review the status of nuclear weapons in the world.

It’s okay, it’s quite bad, and it’s unbelievably insane.

It’s okay, in that not everything the Bush administration is doing is incredibly stupid and or insane.

In particular, the Bush administration decision to lower the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is a good thing. At least, it’s okay.

But clearly it does not recognize the fundamental change represented by the end of the Cold War.

At its peak, the global nuclear arsenal was around 65,000 weapons, or so say my friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Now, it is probably somewhat under 20,000, and will probably continue to decline gradually in the years to come.

More than 90% of those weapons are in the hands of the United States and Russia.

In other words, the size of the arsenal has dropped, but the paradigm has not changed. The United States still retains enough nuclear weapons to liquidate most of the entire globe and, for good measure, probably initiate a nuclear winter. So does Russia.

That is insane.

Globally, it’s also okay, in that compared to everything that could have happened, human history has not (yet) ended in nuclear annihilation, and the number of countries maintaining nuclear weapons is far less than most analysts predicted in the 1960s.

The bad part is everything else.

Starting with the Nuclear Posture Review, from calls for more usable nuclear weapons, to seeking to build an enormous new facility to produce new pits for nuclear warheads, to reducing the time it would take to resume nuclear testing.

And don’t even get me started on the nonproliferation policies.

Okay, just one: the Administration’s official North Korea policy for the entire first term was “we can’t talk to you.”

Sometimes, just to show flexibility, this was alternated with a policy that said “give us all our demands, dismantling and dumping your entire nuclear program, and then we can talk to you.”

I promise something more wonky for my next post.


  1. jay denari (History)

    Hi, Stephen,

    Yep, the Bushites’ attitude toward nukes is simply amazing. They argue they’re reducing stockpiles, but the DOE report “Recommendations for the Nuclear Complex of the Future” notes they are 20+ years behind schedule even with the current plans, never mind any acceleration. And with the effort to build a new centralized construction, maintenance, testing, and (allegedly) demolition system, I doubt it will get any more efficient anytime soon.

    Have you seen the report? It’s laden with “cost-benefit” talk that conspicuously avoids any mention of the costs of actually USING them as designed. The whole report treats warheads as if they were built to be stored for 20 years then dismantled, rather than as devices intended to kill millions. That is insane, and we need to call them on it.

    I wrote about it here and would welcome your comments.