"The Forgotten Menace"
Op-Ed, Nature, volume 402
Author: Paul Doty, Director Emeritus, Center for Science and International Affairs; Mallinckrodt Professor of Biochemistry, Emeritus
The passage from one millennium to the next is a powerful stimulus to reflect on our most vital problems. Top of the list must be the legacy that this century bequeaths to the next and to the millennium beyond — the risk that the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War will bring an end to civilization.
While many informed people felt this threat during the Cold War, a sense of relief from imminent danger has been the hallmark of the first post-Cold War decade. As the concern over a global apocalypse has subsided it has been replaced by the threat of the use of one or a few weapons by accident, by terrorists or by ‘rogue’ nations. This refocusing is understandable: it follows from the natural human concern with the immediate and the difficulty in dealing with events that are unlikely but much more catastrophic.
Lost in this shift of focus is the tremendous change of scale that it brings about. The use of a few weapons could mean the destruction of a few cities. This is alarming against the background of no similar violence for decades. Clearly its prevention deserves attention. But the loss would be far below that suffered in the Second World War. Despite the anguish in affected regions, the physical damage could be repaired, the fabric of civilization would remain. How strikingly different would be the consequences of war among nuclear powers escalating to the use of most of their stockpiles of weapons.
- Full Text of "The Forgotten Menace" (129K PDF)
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