nuclear dread

A thought or two about the end of the Cold War and the end of the world.

Why is the nuclear dread gone? It shouldn’t be. The weapons needed to destroy civilization still exist, ready to launch on command. (The overkill factor is down, but so what?) They’re unlikely to be used just now because of the world situation, but that was true for most of the Cold War too. Recently the U.S. was self-destructive enough to invade Iraq and Russia was self-destructive enough to invade Georgia; it’s only a few more steps up the blunder scale to revive tensions worldwide, and don’t forget about China.

Try this exercise: List all the current threats you can think of to the existence of civilization, and rank them by likelihood. I rank global nuclear war as #1 by at least two orders of magnitude. Things like climate change or running out of oil may be massively disruptive and expensive, but they pose little direct threat to the existence of civilization; social structures and the world economy are flexible and can adapt. They do pose an indirect threat in that they may increase the likelihood of global nuclear war.

Original version, December 2008.
Updated and added here March 2010.