The Nuclear Threat
IMAGINE two boys in a closed garage, standing on a floor covered with gasoline. Each one holds a box of matches . . .
This well illustrates the situation existing today between the two superpowers. Both possess arsenals of fearsome nuclear weapons that if used would result in mutual destruction. Their missiles stand ominously ready to kill, the gyroscopes of their guidance systems spinning rapidly.
Thousands of these messengers of death hide beneath the ground in concrete silos. Hundreds more lurk within the hulls of submarines and yet more beneath the swept-back wings of jet planes. A frightened world wonders, What will happen if the weapons are ever used?
A four-star general answers. He says that a nuclear war would be “the greatest catastrophe in history by many orders of magnitude.” Adds a scientist: “There is a real danger of the extinction of humanity.”
An ancient Greek legend tells of a man named Damocles who was made to sit beneath a sword suspended by a single strand of hair. That sword could well represent nuclear weapons, and Damocles, all humanity. Remove the sword, some say, and Damocles will be secure. But is such a prospect likely? Developments in recent years have given hope to many:
March 1983: U.S. President Reagan proposes the Strategic Defense Initiative, scientific research designed to render nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete.”
January 1986: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev proposes to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the end of this century. He later states: “We are ready for talks not only on ending the arms race, but on the biggest possible arms reductions, up to general and complete disarmament.”
December 1987: Gorbachev and Reagan sign a treaty for missile reduction. According to a news report, “it is the first time since the dawn of the Atomic Age that the superpowers have agreed not just to restrain nuclear weapons but to eliminate entire systems.”
How likely is it, though, that these latest developments will ever result in a world without nuclear weapons? What obstacles stand in the way of success?