The Great Equalizer Reflections on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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The United
States had a monopoly of nuclear weaponry only a few years before
other nations challenged it, but from 1949 until roughly the 1990s
deterrence theory worked — nations knew that if they used the awesome
bomb they were likely to be devastated in the riposte. Nuclear war
was not worth its horrendous risks. Today, by contrast, weapons
of mass destruction or precision and power are within the capacity
of dozens of nations either to produce or purchase. Every kind of
weapon is now available; deterrence theory is less and less relevant,
and the equations of military power that existed in the period after
World War Two no longer hold. This process began in Korea after
1950 and the Americans discovered that great space combined with
guerrilla warfare was more than a match for them in Vietnam. But
there has now been a qualitative leap in technology that makes inherited
conventional wisdom utterly obsolete.

Technology
is now moving much faster than the diplomatic and political resources
or will to control its inevitable consequences — not to mention
traditional strategic theories. Hezbollah has far better and more
lethal rockets than it had a few years ago, and the U. S. Army has
just released a report that light water reactors – which 25
nations, from Armenia to Slovenia as well as Spain, already have
and are not covered at all by existing arms control treaties — can
be used to obtain near weapons-grade plutonium easily and cheaply.*
Within a few years, many more countries than the present ten or
so — the U.S Army think Saudi Arabia and Egypt most likely –
will have nuclear bombs and far more destructive and accurate rockets
and missiles, not to mention the means to deliver them accurately.
Weapons-poor fighters will have far more sophisticated tactics as
well as far more lethal equipment, which makes the heavily equipped
and armed nations lose the advantages (as in Vietnam and Iraq) of
their overwhelming firepower. The battle between a few thousand
Hezbullah fighters and a massive, ultra-modern Israeli army proves
this. Among many things, the war in Lebanon is a window of the future,
and either the Israelis cease their policy of bluster and intimidation,
and finally accept the political prerequisites of peace with the
Arab world, or they too will eventually be devastated by cheaper
nuclear weapons in the hands of at least three Arab nations.

We live with
21st century technology and also with primitive political
attitudes, nationalisms of assorted sorts, cults of heroism and
irrationality, and the world will destroy itself unless it realistically
confronts the new technological equations. Israel must now confront
this reality, and if it does not develop the political skills —
and serious compromises — this new equation warrants then it will
be liquidated even as it ruins its enemies.

This is
the message of the conflicts in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon
— to use only the examples in today's papers. Walls are no longer
protection for the Israelis — one shoots over them. Their much-vaunted
tanks have proven highly vulnerable to new weapons, and these are
becoming more and more common. The U. S. war in Iraq is a military
disaster against the guerrillas — a half trillion dollars spent
there and in Afghanistan have left America on the verge of defeats
in both places, its "shock and awe" strategy has utterly
failed save to produce contracts for weapons makers — but also de
facto economic bankruptcy.

The
Bush Administration has managed to deeply alienate more of America's
nominal allies than any government in modern times. Its coalitions,
as Thomas Ricks shows in his wordy but utterly convincing and critical
book, Fiasco, are finished. Its sublime confidence and reliance
on the power of its awesome weaponry is a crucial cause of its failure,
although we cannot minimize its preemptory hubris and extreme nationalist
myopia.

But
if the challenges of producing a realistic concept of the world
that confronts the mounting dangers and limits of military technology
seriously are not resolved soon there is nothing more than wars
and mankind's eventual destruction to look forward to.

* Henry Sokolski,
ed., Taming the Next Set of Strategic Weapons Threats, Strategic
Studies Institute, June 2006, p. 86.

August
16, 2006

Gabriel
Kolko [send him mail]
is the author, among other works, of Century
of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914
, Another
Century of War?
, and Anatomy
of a War: Vietnam, the United States and the Modern Historical Experience
.
His latest book is The
Age of War
.

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