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The New Nuclear Risk

BERLIN – Humans love to suppress abstract dangers. They react only after they get their fingers burned. In handling nuclear risks, however, we can hardly get away with such childlike behavior.

To begin with, the old system of nuclear deterrence, which has survived particularly in the United States and Russia since the Cold War’s end, still involves lots of risks and dangers. While the international public largely ignores this fact, the risks remain.  

To be sure, in the 1990’s the US and Russia reduced their nuclear arsenals from 65,000 to approximately 26,000 weapons. But this number is still almost unimaginable and beyond any rational level needed for deterrence. Moreover, there are another 1,000 nuclear weapons in the hands of other nuclear states.

A second cause for worry is that the world is poised to enter a new nuclear age that threatens to be even more dangerous and expensive than the Cold War era of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Indeed, the outlines of this new nuclear age are already visible: