I’ve from time to time voiced this longing for the days of yore, when nuclear supremacy was a tossup between the US and the USSR. The fact that rational individuals controlled these nations and thus their Deluvian-like capabilities meant that nukes were unlikely to be used, and careful diplomacy and a robust (well, at least compared to today) intelligence network kept both sides more in the know about the other’s shenanigans than either would have the world know. So, the threat of World War III was effectively mitigated. Despite weak leadership from time to time, the US struggled to keep a step ahead of the USSR the USSR likewise struggled to stay on top. This race for nuclear supremacy was very expensive, and ultimately the USSR ran out of money. Sure they still had a lot of nukes, but the admittance that communism was not ultimately to extend throughout the world meant the US and USSR were no longer at odds. Thus, an end to the threat of nuclear war seemed upon us. The world rejoiced, for after decades on the cusp of world destruction, we could live in peace.
But something arose later that put the Cold War into perspective-the proliferation of nuclear arms in nations not blessed with rational men at their respective helms. Unstable minds, maddened with hysteria or fanaticism, who stood as despotic leaders of nations not among the world’s most respected, have determined to obtain nuclear arms to further their nefarious ends. Some have succeeded, like Kim Jong-Il of North Korea. Another,the deposed Saddam Hussein of Iraq, almost obtained such capability before his evil empire was destroyed by a rightfully concerned US. Others like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the perennial irritant Iran play diplomatic games as behind the scenes he presumably seeks to obtain nuclear arms.
Bottom line? We thought nukes were scary during the Cold War. But in reality Mutually Assured Destruction guaranteed they would not be fired, because only rational players US and USSR had real capability. Now, literal kamikazes have nukes. These maniacal leaders, such as Jong-Il of North Korea, almost as a rule shun diplomacy, making it impossible to analyze their true intent. This is a new challenge that we must race to come up to speed with. In the meantime, we have reason to be concerned. We must pray that Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Company continue to evolve their diplomatic strategy in anticipation of a broad range of contingencies. During the Cold War, we knew what to expect. Now anything is possible. And that is big, when the stakes are nuclear war.