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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Edelman's Moral Quandaries (Pt. 4)--Dropping Nuclear Options

The concern over nuclear weaponry and nuclear power plants (or nuclear anything really) has been strong ever since we bombed Japan in WW2. As Edelman says:
Once upon a time, two countries were idiotic enough to play a high-stakes game of chess where the stakes were the survival of the human race. You don’t like my way of governing? Fine, then let’s blow the whole place to hell and you can’t govern any of it. Figuring out how to get rid of these weapons so that nobody has the power to scour the planet clean is one heck of a challenge. There’s no Cold War anymore, but the odds of a nuclear war breaking out in either the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent are still much too high for us to ignore. (Personally, I don’t think the threat is going anywhere until some theoretical point in the future when we’re living so much of our lives virtually that physical threats just don’t make sense anymore.)
Let's face it, nuclear 'anything' has been a source of concern not only in our society (U.S.A.), but in the world in general. Nuclear power plants were thought to be the wave of the future of energy production, and in some ways they are. But in order to get to that point we had to pay a terrible price, and that price was of our international security. Other countries paid the same price, such as Russia, who, when they were the U.S.S.R., tried desperately to beat the U.S. in a deadly arms race and eventually in a space race that, while enormously beneficial, created even more problems for the world at large. While the U.S. space program has and will be the marker of great discoveries on our planet, in our solar system, and in the universe, it has also helped develop new ways to destroy other people and was built, in some respects, with the intention of doing so. ICBMs are, by nature, useful only in destroying targets far away and while the technology that created them did eventually spark a very promising space program that continues to be of value today, it also showed the world that the U.S. wasn't playing games anymore. "We can hit you anyplace, anywhere, and any time." What happened to this idiotic arms race was that we all came to realize how dangerous the world had become and how stupid it would be for any nation, organization, or individual to drop a nuclear weapon of any kind on anyone else, especially someone who has the means to retaliate with the same firepower. If the U.S.S.R. had at any time bombed the U.S. or an ally, who knows if the world would still be here, or if any of us would be alive (this is, of course, assuming that the U.S.S.R. actually had the financial means to deliver a payload of nuclear weaponry to any location outside of their sphere of influence, which, historically speaking, may have been nearly impossible at the time of the Cold War).

    This, I'm sure, sounds like a purely negative argument on the part of nuclear creations, but there are some very good benefits of what was a frightening time in the world. Nuclear power, despite its faults, is efficient and, generally speaking, easy to use. Chernobyl and other such incidents were not markers of a failed network of power facilities, but an indicator of how stupid human beings can be when they try to mess with things they don't yet understand (this is not a bash on Russia, as there were events in other locations where nuclear facilities became an issue, including the U.S., but Chernobyl is a prime example that everyone knows about). But there are benefits to the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear plants often use a large man made canal as a natural coolant. Such plants rarely, if ever, pollute these canals, but because the water is warmed up by the heat of the reactor, it provides a wonderful environment for a lot of little critters that otherwise would be hard pressed to find homes due to human expansion. This is prevalent in Florida where human encroachment has displaced a lot of gators and such.
    The downside of power plants, obviously, is nuclear waste and the risk of leaks and explosions. That's not to say we can't find a use for nuclear energy. There is a use, at the moment, but the inevitable is that we are going to have to go with better sources that don't have a downside (i.e. solar, wind, currents, etc.). Edelman is right that we have to wean ourselves off of this notion of keeping nuclear facilities and weaponry for protection or out of necessity.
Of course, nuclear power plants aren't Edelman's primary concern. He's concerned with nuclear weaponry, and I have to agree with him on that. First off, there are huge consequences with the use of nuclear weapons: massive destruction, nuclear fallout, nuclear winter, radiation, and severe environmental consequences when wind blows radioactive particles around. We can't use nuclear weapons without screwing things up. There's no magic radiation-eating machine. This means that when we use a nuclear weapon on a target, nobody can live there again for a very long time. There aren't any people living in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, unless something has changed that I don't know about, although people were living around the area where Chernobyl is for quite some time before being evacuated.
    Second, nuclear weapons create fear and clearly we live in a time when such weapons may or may not be used. There are concerns that extremist groups may use nuclear weapons (suitcase bombs) on U.S. cities, and I'm not naive enough to say that such things are impossible. They are possible. That's the problem. Nuclear disarmament is a must for EVERYONE, not just the U.S. It is idiotic for any nation to claim that the U.S. should be the one nation to disarm simply because we have used the weapons before (and when you take this idea you have to consider the conditions of that use). The problem with disarmament is that everybody lies. The U.S. might claim it has disarmed and so might Russia, but both nations are going to know the other is lying and will hang on to a few, or a huge portion of them. The U.N., in all its glory, is a failed experiment, no matter how we look at it.
    What authority does the U.N., which should be exerting some pressure to see disarmament and heavier use of sanctions on nations that refuse to follow the rules, have over nations it refuses to govern? It has none, and that's the problem. The U.N. is a collection of people unwilling to act. The U.S. and England do far more than most any other nation and even when good is done by those countries they are ridiculed. Few people look at the consequences of no-action (Kuwait, for example). To disarm we need a standard across all fronts where all nations agree to follow the same rule. The U.N. will not work so long as nations within it are enemies or on very loose terms of friendship. The U.S. and Russia might be playing the friendly game right now, but there's no shortage of distrust between our nations and it is both the fault of the U.S. and Russian governments for keeping such ideals prevalent. Russia, unfortunately, is stupid enough to do something impulsive, as it has been doing in regards to English airspace. Whether they're stupid enough to drop the bomb is very unlikely, but given their impulsiveness in the past it is not outside of the realm of possibilities. I simply would like to see more cooperation between allies and recent actions from the U.S. have harmed such relations.
    These are concerns we have to face as a species. What are we willing to sacrifice to achieve some form of peace across the Earth? Granted, peace is basically impossible as there are always going to be nations that hate one another or groups that refuse to adhere to whatever laws may be put into place (yes, sometimes dissenters are actually good). But why can't peace be reached among nations that would actually benefit from one another? England made peace with the U.S. and the end result was a relatively long-lived peaceful relationship of trade and what you might call 'national friendship'. Our histories are not filled with fluffy bunnies, yet somehow our two nations managed to set that aside. Japan, too, is another nation whose history with the U.S. is nothing short of violent, yet they are a huge economic ally and a friend, even if we don't always agree. So why couldn't a similar relationships be created with Russia or even some nations of the Middle East?
    The point of this is that in order for any nation to actually legitimately consider complete nuclear disarmament, there has to be a real valuable reason to do so. No nation that already has the ability is going to give it up so long as anyone else has the ability too. They're not stupid enough to think that nuclear weapons can't be used as leverage. How do we do this? I have no idea. We just have to. Perhaps one solution is for everyone to come up with non-radiation-yielding weaponry similar to what Russia recently detonated, which was the most powerful fuel-to-air non-radiation weapon ever set off. This isn't an ideal solution and, in fact, this won't even work. Why? Well, radiation does more damage, so the only reason you wouldn't use a non-radiation-yielding weapon over a nuclear weapon is if you really have no desire to hang out there. If you're invading you might reconsider, but if you just hate the other country enough, why both wasting a perfectly good fuel-to-air bomb when you can just screw over your enemy? The only viable solution is worldwide disarmament. The politics of that, of course, are mind-boggingly complicated. There is bound to be a solution, but it would not be viable in the next five years, or even in the next ten or twenty. Problems with disarmament from the U.S. side are numerous:
  • Russia isn't going to disarm any more than we are.
  • Terrorist organizations ARE trying to get their hands on them and probably have them, which gives little incentive for our government to dispose of weapons they feel they may need, for whatever reason (which might not make any sense to us since using nuclear weapons is really rather stupid).
  • Our government isn't going to disarm all of them if it has to tell people how many we actually have, which means it might be difficult to determine if our government actually did disarm all of them.
  • The U.S. is constantly feeling threatened by other nations and fear, by nature, constitutes protection by extreme measures (extreme translates to hanging on to the bigger guns)
  • Fear, again, comes into questions in regards to countries like India and China who are both rapidly industrializing. China, especially, is going through significant political and technological changes that give it the ability to knock out satellites, which we rely on in this country for practically all communications. My concern on this is why we don't have redundant communications devices in military vehicles/ships (such as keeping one of every major form of communication on board from radio to satellite, just in case). This isn't to say that China or India is actually a threat, but it is a concern. More on China some other day.
  • Exposure of U.S. nuclear practices equals bad exposure and criticism across the board. Yes, I have no doubts that we have performed illegal activities with nuclear testing.

    That's just a few, though. There are many more issues about nuclear disarmament for the U.S. I'm not saying we shouldn't disarm here. I'm simply saying it won't be easy. It's naive to think anyone can simply ask everybody to disarm completely overnight. We have to relieve political and social pressures in the Middle East and anywhere that they exist between all nations. Is that possible? Perhaps. This would require the celebration of differences rather than arguing about them (Palestine and Israel, for example, or perhaps all relations between Israel and Arabic countries, but more on that another day as well). We do have to consider disarming. It's just a matter of how. I foresee that the nuclear issue will become a bigger concern in the future, especially when the U.S. and other nations feel pressure from China and India, two nations that are rapidly growing and challenging economic supremacy.
    So, who's willing to start talking first? Who's willing to make necessary changes to find some measure of peace in a rapidly advancing technological Earth?

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  1. The thing that scares me the most, is that I can see our nuclear powerplant right out of my dorm-room window.

  2. Yup and environmental groups want to make sure that plant can't run the way it's meant to to keep your energy costs down...we need solutions ASAP in this country...nuclear power was meant to provide cheap power for everyone...but it never got the chance to flower and now we have to find other solutions, but nobody is willing to fork out the dough to do it people :P