Do Nuclear Weapons Still Matter?

“It is obvious that nuclear weapons are incredibly important. Vast sums are spent on them, concerns about their spread—most recently, to North Korea and Iran—dominate headlines, and they could blow up the world in a flash. And yet. They haven’t been used since World War II. They are purchased, deployed, and discussed on separate tracks from the rest of the foreign policy agenda, and they are largely ignored by nonspecialists, with little apparent consequence,” writes Foreign Affairs Editor Gideon Rose in his introduction to the November/December lead package, which asks, “Do nuclear weapons truly matter, and if so, how and why?”

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Highlights from the cover package:

Nuclear Weapons Don’t Matter” by John Mueller

“The thinkers of the early nuclear age were mistaken in believing that the world had been made anew. In retrospect, they overestimated the importance of the nuclear revolution and the delicacy of the balance of terror.”

How Disarmament Fell Apart” by Nina Tannenwald

“Ever since the dawn of the nuclear age, the world has gradually developed a consensus that nuclear weapons are so destructive and abhorrent that it would be unacceptable to use them. . . . But the norms and institutions of nuclear restraint are unraveling.”

If You Want Peace, Prepare for Nuclear War” by Elbridge Colby

“Getting U.S. defense strategy right means getting nuclear strategy right. . . .Washington should step up its efforts to develop low-yield tactical nuclear weapons and associated strategies.”

When Dictators Get the Bomb” by Scott D. Sagan

“There is another reason to worry about nuclear weapons: the rise of personalist dictatorships in states that possess or could acquire the bomb.” Unlike other autocratic governments, “personalist dictators can make decisions on a whim, which creates a grave challenge to the concept of nuclear stability.”

Beijing’s Nuclear Option” by Caitlin Talmadge

“A war between the two countries [the United States and China] remains unlikely, but the prospect of a military confrontation—resulting, for example, from a Chinese campaign against Taiwan—no longer seems as implausible as it once did. And the odds of such a confrontation going nuclear are higher than most policymakers and analysists think.”

Moscow’s Nuclear Enigma” by Olga Oliker

“Those who fret about the Russian arsenal misread the Kremlin’s intentions and put forward the wrong solutions. The real danger is not a new and more aggres­sive Russian nuclear strategy; it is the Kremlin’s failure to communicate its goals.”

Additional highlights from the issue:

Confronting Iran by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo

“We do not seek war. But we must make painfully clear that escalation is a losing proposition for Iran. . . . At the rate that the Iranian economy is declining and protests are inten­sifying, it should be clear to the Iranian leadership that negotiations are the best way forward.”

The Committee to Save the World Order” by Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay

“The major allies of the United States can leverage their collective economic and military might to save the liberal world order. . . . This ‘G-9’ should have two imperatives: maintain the rules-based order in the hopes that Trump’s successor will reclaim Washington’s leadership role and lay the groundwork to make it politically possible for that to happen.”

How to Save Globalization” by Kenneth F. Scheve and Matthew J. Slaughter

The authors revisit their 2007 essay, “A New Deal for Globalization,” to argue, “The country needs to rethink the role of government in developing human capital and invest substantially in doing so. The goal must be to erect a lifelong ladder of opportunity . . . . saving globalization in a way that appeals to people from across the political spectrum.”

The Next Arab Uprising” by Marwan Muasher

“Without the revenue necessary to continue feeding bloated, inefficient systems, governments are struggling to hold up their end of the bargain. Their primary source of political legitimacy is slipping away.”

Venezuela’s Suicide” by Moisés Naím and Francisco Toro

“Hopelessness is driving more and more Venezuelans to fantasize about a Trump-led military intervention. . . . But this amounts to an ill-advised revenge fantasy, not a serious strategy.”

The Use and Misuse of Economic Statecraft by Jacob J. Lew and Richard Nephew

“Washington is increasingly using its economic power in aggressive and counterproductive ways, undermining its global position and thus its ability to act effectively in the future. Symptoms of the problem have been evident for years, but it has gotten markedly worse under the Trump administration.”

Generation Stress” by Sylvia Mathews Burwell

“It is supposed to be the time of their life—the halcyon days of college, when young adults grow, acquire knowledge, and learn new skills. But. . . . 39 percent [of college students] reported experiencing symp­toms of depression or anxiety.” Suggesting that stress may be higher and resiliency lower, Burwell argues that “universities must raise awareness of the problem through education inside and outside the academy; focus on prevention, detection, and treatment; and acknowledge the importance of community—all while recognizing that stress is a part of life.”

Old Money, New Order by Darren Walker

“As U.S. leadership of the global order falters, American foundations must blaze a new path. . . . For all the good that American philanthropies have done, they have also helped perpetuate a system that produces far too much inequality. Their task today is to contribute to the construction of a new, improved order, one that is more just and sustainable than its predecessor.”

Health Without Wealth” by Thomas Bollyky

“Today, improvements in health are driven more by targeted medical interventions and international aid than by general development. Without that development, the changes that now accompany declines in infectious diseases are potential sources of instability.”

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