And Now For Something Completely Different

Like I mentioned in a previous post, I’m doing Very Serious Wonky Blogging over at Arms Control Wonk now; I’ll do some of that here from time to time as well, but I also figured this blog would be a good place for some of the less serious stuff, and even some “meta” discussions. So, here goes: something different, still involving nukes, but with a dash of pop culture.

I’ve been on a Stephen King binge lately. Since I spend all day reading national security/arms control pieces, my nightly brain break is reading fiction. I just finished King’s Desperation, which was pretty good, and had that post-apocalyptic setting that some of his better books do. It wasn’t as good as The Stand in that respect, but it was still a good read.

Anyway, it has a larger dose of religion in it than some of his other books. It works really well with the story, regardless of whether or not you’re agnostic, atheist, or religious; it just works well with the general supernatural feel of things.

So, out of curiosity, I did a Google search on “Stephen King” and “religion”, which yielded a fascinating interview he did right before the 2008 election. King doesn’t hide his politics; he’s a Democrat, and mentioned in the interview that he and his family thought Sarah Palin was “Greg Stillson as a woman”. (Stillson is the bad guy in The Dead Zone — please watch this clip from the movie adaptation to get an idea of what I mean by “bad guy”.)

But there was one particularly chilling and noteworthy part of the interview that I’d like to share. The interviewer’s question is in boldface; King’s reply follows:

A personal question about the apocalypse. If you had to handicap which major catastrophe will take down human civilization in your lifetime, where would you put your money?

Nuclear weapons. No doubt about it. There are days when I get up and say, I cannot believe, I cannot fucking believe that it’s been more than 50 years since one of those things got popped on an actual population. There are too many out there. One will get away, or someone will make one from spare parts and put it in a knapsack or blow it in Bombay or New York or San Francisco.

Now, the nuke geeks will all get technical about whether or not you can get “spare parts” and build a bomb or put it in a knapsack, etc., but that’s not really the point, is it? The point is the bigger picture, which is that the world is a far more complex place now than it was during the Cold War, with more players in the nuke game, if you will. This is a post-9/11, A. Q. Khan world. Deterrence still plays a role, among (supposedly sane) state actors, but what about non-state actors who don’t really care if they live or die in an act of nuclear terrorism?

That is what we have to worry about.

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  1. Posted September 18, 2010 at 13:24 | Permalink

    Yep, a chilling answer for sure. I do agree that it seems as if we have been very lucky. It sure seems a great deal easier than many assume TO get one.

  2. Posted September 18, 2010 at 16:51 | Permalink

    Let me first say, as a nuke geek, that I think it’s highly unlikely that a non-state group could build or acquire a nuclear weapon. That qualifies what follows. I don’t have much patience with the panicky “terrorists could get nukes” arguments that are far too prevalent.

    There are indeed more players in the game, and what makes for deterrence is a good question. Nuclear annihilation is pretty deterring, and it probably will keep Iran, for example, pretty much in line for some years to come, nukes or not. The United States also has overwhelming conventional force, which is also a deterrent.

    The deterrent we understood during the Cold War was basically a two-player game, which is much easier to analyze than multiplayer games. But a lot of today’s faceoffs are two-player: Iran-Israel, India-Pakistan, India-China, Russia-neighbor (none of whom have nukes, but some of whom are in NATO), North Korea-whomever. Some of these, particularly the India-Pakistan-China tangle, might be considered more than two-player.

    It seems to me that that last is the most dangerous situation. Pakistan is unstable, and Afghanistan complicates things. China, fortunately, seems more interested in making money than in making war, but might feel compelled to enter a serious disagreement between Pakistan and India.

    Israel-Iran-US is another multiplayer situation, but my current guess is that nobody’s going to attack Iran. And Iran doesn’t have nukes and, if it wants them, won’t have them for some time, so it’s not going to be using them on anyone.

    I think that today’s complicated situation hasn’t really been analyzed in terms of deterrence. Most of what I see that uses that word is simply dragging it in with its Cold War meaning, now pretty much obsolete.

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