Courtesy Reuters

Can Nuclear Deterrence Last Out the Century?

We all turn away, however, from the thought that nuclear war may be as inescapable as death, and may end our lives and our society within this generation or the next. We plan and work every day for the twenty-first century-as parents educating our children, as young workers saving for retirement, as a nation that seeks to preserve its physical environment, its political traditions, its cultural heritage. For this larger horizon- encompassing for the younger generation simply the common expectation of a healthy life-we do in fact assume "nuclear immortality." We believe, or we act as if we believe, that thanks to a certain international order, the existing arsenals of nuclear weapons with their almost incomprehensible destructiveness will never be used.

Yet, this order is so constructed that it cannot move toward abolition of nuclear weapons. It demands, as the necessary condition for avoiding nuclear war, the very preservation of these arms, always ready to destroy entire nations.

This ever-present danger once caused great anguish among the informed public in Western countries and evoked a diffused anxiety everywhere. Since the mid-1960s, the concern of both the public and the specialists has become far less acute, even though Soviet strategic forces have grown dramatically. Since 1968, confidence has been encouraged by the prospect of agreement in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and, in May 1972, by the Moscow accords.

These initial agreements are designed, at least from the American perspective, first to preserve mutual deterrence as the strategic relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, and second, to stabilize it by curbing the build-up of nuclear forces. As seen by a majority of American government officials, congressional leaders and civilian experts, these two objectives should govern our strategic arms- control policy as well as our own force planning for the foreseeable future. Other objectives (such as protecting cities) are held to jeopardize deterrence, and massive arms reductions or general and complete disarmament are considered utopian as well as dangerous.

According

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