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Nuclear Weapons

A Shakespearean Take on Low-yield Nuclear Weapons

by Ambassador Tom Loftus

The U.S. recently added low-yield nuclear weapons to its submarine arsenal. It is the first new nuclear weapon in decades.  Our government argues this makes the world safer, but does it?

Take but degree away, — untune that string And hark, what discord follows…

Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida"

On Feb. 4, the Associated Press reported, "U.S. adds 'low yield' nuclear weapon to its submarine arsenal." The announcement of the deployment of this destabilizing weapon — the first new nuclear weapon in decades — was anticipated. It is a main reason the Doomsday Clock was moved closer to midnight — meaning the risk of nuclear war has increased. There were other reasons as well.

There are the current leaders of the nine nations with nuclear weapons — Netanyahu, Modi, Macron, Putin, Johnson, Xi, Kahn, Kim Jong-un, Trump — a somewhat fickle lot.

The U.S. and Russia have returned to the Cold War policy of Mutually Assured Destruction — MAD. It really never went away and at this juncture in nuclear war theory, it is more of an itinerary than a strategy. The promise we live by is that the weapons will never be used because if they were it would be the end of the world, and thus it would be mad to use them. This is the "mad" in MAD.  

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Two smaller boats dock against a submarine.

The Ohio-class, nuclear-equipped USS Georgia and two “submarine tender” boats. 

U.S. Navy

That they will never be used is the moral cover for the scientists, the engineers and the university researchers when they are paid to make the new. more sophisticated weapons. "The blind mechanics of disaster," as they are labeled in Stanley Kramer's 1959 anti-war film "On the Beach" — a must-see.

Think of North Korea invading South Korea. Pakistan invades India to take Kashmir. What could go wrong? Would the use of a low yield nuke be OK because we are assured it would not end the world? It is not MAD. This moral ambiguity would be championed by the war-makers and their boosters claiming the low yield bombs may serve some positive national purpose.

From the Pentagon statement: "This weapon demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can creditably and decisively respond to any scenario." George Orwell could not have said it better.

Don't fall for it.

"Take but degree away, — untune that string

And hark what discord follows:

Then everything includes itself in power —

Power into will, will into appetite,

And appetite, a universal wolf,

So doubly seconded with will and power,

Must make perforce a universal prey

And at last eat up himself."

 Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida"

This article first appeared in The Cap Times on February 17, 2020.

Tom Loftus of Sun Prairie is a former member of the UW Board of Regents and speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, and was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1990. He was ambassador to Norway from 1993 to 1998. From 1998 to 2005 he was the special adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization. Loftus is a board member of the Outrider Foundation.

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