The potential perils of a world without nukes

Paul Raven @ 01-04-2009

nuclear fallout shelter signEven though we no longer live under the Cold War shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction (at least, not at the moment), there’s a whole lot of nuclear weapons sat around gathering dust, still just as lethal as they always were before.

I think many people would agree it’d be nice to be rid of nukes completely; the Obama administration seems keen on the idea, anyway, which – even if it’s just a symbolic political palm frond – is a reassuring change from the gung-ho realpolitik of the last decade.

But disarmament carries its own set of risks, as George Dvorsky points out:

There are a number of reasons for concern. A world without nukes could be far more unstable and prone to both smaller and global-scale conventional wars. And somewhat counter-intuitively, the process of relinquishment itself could increase the chance that nuclear weapons will be used. Moreover, we have to acknowledge the fact that even in a world free of nuclear weapons we will never completely escape the threat of their return.

[snip]

The absence of nuclear weapons would dramatically increase the likelihood of conventional wars re-emerging as military possibilities. And given the catastrophic power of today’s weapons, including the introduction of robotics and AI on the battlefield, the results could be devastating, even existential in scope.

So, while the damage inflicted by a restrained conventional war would be an order of magnitude lower than a nuclear war, the probably of a return to conventional wars would be significantly increased. This forces us to ask some difficult questions: Is nuclear disarmament worth it if the probability of conventional war becomes ten times greater? What about a hundred times greater?

And given that nuclear war is more of a deterrent than a tactical weapon, can such a calculation even be made? If nuclear disarmament spawns x conventional wars with y casualties, how could we measure those catastrophic losses against a nuclear war that’s not really supposed to happen in the first place? The value of nuclear weapons is not that they should be used, but that they should never be used.

It’s a tricky question; Dvorsky points out that he himself is very much in favour of disarmament, but the situation is not clear cut by any means. Idealism is shaky ground from which to argue against the destructive force of nuclear weapons. [image by brndnprkns]

Perhaps it will take some Watchmen-esque global existential threat to make the whole world put aside its differences at the same time as its nuclear arsenal… but the cynic in me suspects that the opposite would occur. After all, climate change hasn’t yet encouraged everyone to pull in the same political direction, has it?


Blinded by the laser light

Tom James @ 30-03-2009

green_laserIn what won’t be the last instances of laser-related “friendly fire” three US soldiers in Iraq have been hospitalised, and one has been blinded in one eye, by a green dazzling laser:

Since November 2008, a single unit in Iraq “has experienced 12 green-laser incidents involving 14 soldiers and varying degrees of injury. Three soldiers required medical evacuation out of Iraq and one soldier is now blind in one eye,” writes Sgt. Crystal Reidy

[from Wired][image from Wired]


ESSAY: JAMES MORROW on why he wrote Shambling Towards Hiroshima

Paul Raven @ 05-02-2009

James Morrow - Shambling Toward HiroshimaJames Morrow is a novelist with a reputation for satirising organised religion, but his new book Shambling Towards Hiroshima mashes up the original Godzilla movies with the nuclear attacks on Japan which ended the Second World War.

Given the opportunity to ask the man some questions, the first thing that leapt to my mind was to enquire as to why Morrow had decided to write about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and why he’d choose to mix in monster movies as a subtheme – despite the potential risk of being accused of irreverence or outright frivolity, or of resurrecting dead issues. It is Futurismic‘s very great privilege to play post to his response.

How I Shambled Towards Hiroshima

by James Morrow

Saint Thomas Aquinas famously remarked, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” The same principle applies to classic American and Japanese monster movies. To one who loves this sort of cinema, no explanation is necessary. To one who does not, no explanation is possible.

As a school-age kid living in a sterile Philadelphia suburb in the late fifties, the culture of old horror films spoke to me in much the same way that God speaks to the theistically inclined. Thanks to my parents’ crummy little black-and-white television, plus my subscription to Forrest J Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, I routinely enjoyed revelations from that wondrous and exotic celluloid realm. To see a chopped-up, truncated print of King Kong revived on late-afternoon TV was an authentically religious experience for me, and any broadcast of the 1956 Godzilla wasn’t far behind. Continue reading “ESSAY: JAMES MORROW on why he wrote Shambling Towards Hiroshima”


Fabricate your own military hardware

Paul Raven @ 03-02-2009

Fabrication technology – sometimes known as ‘rapid prototyping’ or 3D printing, among other names – is a real Pandora’s box. The benefits of being able to ‘print’ a solid object are manifold (reduced industrial wastage, low overheads and so on), but the technology doesn’t care what it is that you’re printing out, or who’s doing it… or what they’re doing it for.

This is a topic that Futurismic‘s own Sven Johnson has discussed here and elsewhere, but it’s rapidly moving from the realm of the theoretical into reality. For example, fabrication start-up Shapeways has a video of of a guy who has printed off a miniature remote controlled helicopter:

“So what?”, you might be thinking. But as Bruce Sterling points out:

… all that’s missing from the nightmare scenario is a tiny fabbed bomb and some fabbed GPS. Given those, the Israelis are in for hell on earth.

It’s still a relatively pricey way of doing things, but as the overheads drop the potential of 3d printing to put dangerous tools in the wrong hands rises in parallel with its ability to make our lives better. A rising tide floats all boats, after all.


Missing: one nuclear bomb

Tom James @ 11-11-2008

Following the crash of a chrome-dome B52 bomber near a Greenland air-base in 1963 one of the aircraft’s complement of four nuclear bombs could not be found amidst the wreckage:

…declassified documents obtained by the BBC under the US Freedom of Information Act, parts of which remain classified, reveal a much darker story, which has been confirmed by individuals involved in the clear-up and those who have had access to details since.

The documents make clear that within weeks of the incident, investigators piecing together the fragments realised that only three of the weapons could be accounted for.

As well as the fact they contained uranium and plutonium, the abandoned weapons parts were highly sensitive because of the way in which the design, shape and amount of uranium revealed classified elements of nuclear warhead design.

[story at the BBC, via Slashdot][image from TMWolf on flickr]


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