Friday, February 29, 2008

The Cold War - What Did We Win?

Joseph Cirincione reviews Richard Rhodes' "Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race" in the New York Review of Books.

I recommend the entire review but would highlight the sections on "threat inflation."
The exaggeration of foreign threats, however pernicious, is a tactic. The arms buildup it serves is the greater folly. "Threat inflation," Rhodes writes,

was crucial to maintaining the defense budgets of the Cold War.... Fear was part of the program, the psychological response to threat inflation that delivered reliable votes.

The cold war arms race was not, he argues, a natural condition of the US–Soviet rivalry. Those who claimed to act out of patriotism perpetuated the waste of billions of US tax dollars, squandered the possibility of achieving lasting nuclear security, and weakened America's global standing.

The $5.5 trillion spent on nuclear weapons—"enough to buy everything in the United States except for the land," noted Carl Sagan—was money not invested in domestic needs. Rhodes writes:

Far from victory in the Cold War, the superpower nuclear-arms race and the corresponding militarization of the American economy gave us ramshackle cities, broken bridges, failing schools, entrenched poverty, impeded life expectancy, and a menacing and secretive national-security state.

Circinione endorses Obama's plan for transforming nuclear policy but gives credit to Clinton as well.
Barack Obama has promised to lead a global campaign not just to reduce but to eliminate nuclear weapons. Obama has the most developed plan in the campaigns, based in part on work he has done with Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and a bill he has introduced with Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. In an October 2007 speech he endorsed a comprehensive plan to control and eliminate nuclear weapons around the world. According to the plan, the US would (1) secure during his first term as president all nuclear materials in the fifty countries that have them; (2) negotiate radical reductions in US and Russian nuclear stockpiles; (3) negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of fissile materials; (4) create an international nuclear fuel bank; (5) increase funding for the inspections and safeguards done by the IAEA; (6) seek a global ban on all intermediate-range missiles; and (7) lower the current alerts that keep thousands of nuclear warheads ready to launch within fifteen minutes, thus reducing the risk that the weapons would be used by accident or misperception.

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