The main conclusion of the report — that employment of nuclear weapons by the US would be of little use against a widely distributed opponent but disaster if copied by the opponent — still stands. Since such weapons are excellent for obliterating cities and their occupants, they have undoubted appeal to terrorist organizations whose restraint (if such existed) would certainly be quashed if the US made use of such devices. And our heralded missile defense system, even if it worked, which it will not, will not stop a terrorist delivered bomb. That would not come on board a missile. It would arrive in a suitcase, by train, car, truck, or motorboat.
Worldwide stewardship of nuclear weapons is waning. The nuclear club is expanding. The breakup of the USSR with its huge stocks and the decline in support for their personnel is alarming. Even in our own well-guarded Los Alamos Lab, the gates were porous enough for a compact disc with the latest bomb designs to slip outside. Analysis of debris from a recent Asian air test showed this ghastly lapse led to this unfortunate example of a Chinese copy. It is hardly reassuring that weapons grade material does not fit on a compact disc.
I find the Bush penchant for announcing major policy initiatives without thought of the response extraordinary. Backtracking on internal matters, except, of course, on abolishing taxes is popular and frequent but for international affairs the results can be appalling. We declare we will go it alone in bending the bad guys to our will, but then discover with surprise, that we need bases and support from regions that are now singularly cool to our approaches. We threaten North Korea, a founding member of the Axis of Evil and a country with real nuclear capability, but when it snarls back we roll over. In Iraq we seem intent on war, no doubt with massive civilian casualties, and confident of the happy outcome for the region and all its varied members as well as us. History is littered with the debacles that follow invasions begun without thought of their possible outcomes. It appears that history is off the reading list for our country’s policy makers.
I am not sanguine about the immediate future.
Photo by Steven E. Gross
|BiographyCourtenay Wright, a member of the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago from 1949 to the present, is an experimental particle physicist. His research conducted at Chicago, Fermilab, and Los Alamos concerned pion and muon low energy physics; high energy muon proton inelastic scattering; very rare decays of muons; and accelerator design. Wright was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on October 16, 1923. He received his BA from the University of British Columbia in April 1943, then served with the Royal Navy from April 1943 until December 1945. He was radar officer aboard HMS Apollo, the headquarters ship for the Normandy Invasion. Following the war he did his graduate study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his PhD in nuclear physics in 1949. He is now married to Sara Paretsky and has three sons.