Courtesy Reuters

Nuclear Weapons and the Gulf

In our life with nuclear danger, loaded as it is with uncertainty, there is occasional illumination in cases of crisis or conflict. The Gulf War was such a case, and there is a lot to be learned from it.

No nuclear weapons exploded in the Gulf War. In the most obvious sense they were not used, as indeed they have not been used since Nagasaki. This simple fact may be the most important one. Consider how great an event it would have been if tactical nuclear warheads had been exploded by anyone-say a dozen from the very large number that Americans could have used, or a few from the smaller set owned by the Israelis or even one by the command of Saddam Hussein. In three quite different ways such events would have changed both the future of the Middle East and the future of nuclear danger-and not for the better.

In that large sense the Gulf War has preserved the most hopeful single inheritance that we have from the first half-century of nuclear fission-the tradition of the nonuse of these weapons since 1945. The Gulf War has in fact reinforced that tradition, and in ways more remarkable than the simple fact that no nuclear weapon was exploded.

That weapons are not exploded does not of itself exhaust the more subtle question of whether they are used. Weapons-and not only nuclear weapons-can also play a role merely by their existence or possible existence. The very existence of the Roman legions was a powerful force for both the internal peace and the external safety of the empire. Somewhat more subtly the British, and later the Americans, developed a substantial strategy and practice based on the peacekeeping value of the fleet-in-being. It has been more difficult to develop a general theory of this sort for nuclear weapons: the weapon is so grossly destructive that it is-in a quite special way-implausible as an instrument of peacekeeping.

There is indeed a general tempering effect in the

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