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As the Soviet Union has steadily improved its strategic nuclear and other military forces in recent years, it has become increasingly clear to Americans that the United States is vulnerable in a sense that was never true before the advent of nuclear weapons.
On March 23, 1983, President Reagan delivered a televised speech to the nation in which he initiated a potentially radical departure in U.S. strategic policy. The President suggested that the policy of nuclear deterrence through the threat of strategic nuclear retaliation is inadequate, and called upon the vast American technological community to examine the potential for effective defense against ballistic missiles.
Toward the end of what almost immediately came to be called his "Star Wars" speech in March of 1983, President Reagan concluded an impassioned defense of his arms budget by proposing that American scientists begin research on a very advanced system that could protect the West from ballistic missile attack by the turn of the century or soon thereafter.
American policy toward the Soviet Union has been replete with examples of incoherence and inconsistency. Responding in part to Soviet moves and in part to the political competition inherent in our democratic politics, American attitudes have alternated between overemphasis and underemphasis on the threatening nature of the Soviet Union. The result has been inconsistent policy and missed opportunities.
Since Mao Zedong's death in 1976, and particularly since the rise of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, the post-Mao leaders of China have sought to develop a new strategy and new institutions for modernizing China. In the economy, they have sought a more decentralized, quasi-market socialist system better suited to Chinese conditions than the highly centralized, Soviet-type system they adopted in 1949. Perhaps the most significant step has been a de facto decollectivization of agriculture.
Once again, Nigeria is governed by the military. For the second time since Independence in 1960, a democratic constitution that was not working has been overthrown in a military coup. Like the first coup 18 years earlier, the action of the soldiers last December 31 has met with broad popular support. Yet it has been a stunning blow to those who had hoped to see democratic institutions prosper in this largest and most potentially powerful African nation, as a model for other African states.
Tropical rain forest, today everywhere threatened with accelerating destruction, if conserved could be one of humanity's greatest renewable resources. In 1982 it occupied nearly 12 million (11,610,350) square kilometers of the continuously warm, high-rainfall areas of the globe that lie between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Wherever it remains it forms a three-dimensional carpet, 40 meters or more thick, of intricately interwoven and interdependent individuals of several millions of species (including both plants and animals), and many life-forms--more than are found in any other terrestrial ecosystem. Its preservation is important for many reasons, but perhaps the maintenance of this genetic diversity is ultimately the most important, because it offers endless opportunities for mankind, and because it is irreplaceable.
Science is the most communal of human endeavors. The vast structures of physics and biology assembled in this century were put together piece by piece by countless people whose identity has by this time been forgotten. The major figures, whose names are stamped there perhaps forever, were gifted in being able to figure out where the key pieces would fit, but the pieces themselves came from other minds and hands. Albert Szent-Georgi once remarked: "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought."