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14 theSun | THURSDAY JULY 9 2009

INTERVIEWS VIEWS

Are nuclear weapons obsolete?


by Khor Eng Lee

A YEAR before the destruction of


Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the great
Danish theoretical physicist and
Nobel laureate Niels Bohr warned
both US President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt and British Prime Minister evil thing considered in any light.” nuclear weapons is that they are too find their nuclear strength of only at risk billions of people all over the
Winston Churchill that the nuclear In the majority annexe signed by powerful. They are capable of killing marginal importance in many of the world.
weapon might become “a perpetual the GAC chairman Robert Oppen- and destroying on an unimaginable crises and challenges they face.” Their landmark discovery has
menace to human society”. heimer (wartime director of the Los scale, and no convincing method Even when the US had the huge further undermined the military
In a memorandum drafted in Alamos laboratory, the scientific hub has yet been devised – or is ever to preponderance of nuclear might utility of nuclear weapons by having
mid-1944 in sweltering Washing- of the Manhattan project) and four be devised to block or neutralise a (more than 15 times the number starkly revealed how vulnerable our
ton, Bohr emphasised that the new other scientists and engineers, the nuclear attack. of Soviet warheads as well as a global civilisation is to the long-term
weapon would change the nature Super was described as a potential “Both superpowers have secure 10-fold advantage in explosive environmental impact of nuclear
of war, making it unwinnable for “weapon of genocide”. The five second strike capabilities, so neither megatonnage) in the early 1960s, war. In 1950 Bohr wrote on “the
anyone in a nuclear conflict. He had signatories recommended that it can attempt to destroy the other with this tremendous superiority “did not very necessity of a concerted effort
also correctly predicted the risks of “should not be produced ...” a very good chance of itself being translate into usable military power,” to forestall such ominous threats to
nuclear proliferation and the dangers The GAC had recommended destroyed in the process.” Robert McNamara (US secretary of civilisation.”
of a nuclear arms race. against pursuing “with high priority On the marginal value of the defence 1961-68) said in 1985 when In 1990 Sagan and Turco wrote:
Towards the very end of October the development of the super bomb.” nuclear weapons of mass destruc- interviewed by Michael Charlton of “Nuclear winter has alerted us to
1949, scientists in the General Advi- The committee had argued that a tion, Bidwell wrote: “They suffer BBC London. our common peril and our mutual
sory Committee (formed to provide Super (with an envisaged explosive from what might be called the However, he did not say that even dependence. Like the assault on the
technical guidance to the Atomic force of 10 megatons) would be a ‘sledgehammer syndrome’. Most then the Soviets had more than the protective ozone layer and global
Energy Commission which was weapon of mass destruction only, military challenges appear as nuts required number of nuclear weap- greenhouse warming, nuclear winter
established in late 1946) opposed the with no other apparent military use. far too small to be cracked with such ons to devastate the US in a full scale is a looming planet-wise catastrophe
development of a thermonuclear or Moreover, such a monster weap- overwhelming power. nuclear exchange. McNamara told that is within our power to avert.
hydrogen bomb known as the Super on would not improve the security “Nuclear means can be justified Charlton: “We believed then, as I Nuclear historian Richard Rhodes
among its advocates and supporters. of the US. Should the Soviets develop by references only to the rarest of believe today, that these warheads wrote in 1995 that nuclear weapons,
This was three years before the firing a H-bomb, it could be countered by ends, the need to block or deter a are not weapons; they have no mili- as instruments of destruction, “have
of the world’s first H-bomb known as a larger number of atomic bombs. direct attack to the survival of the tary purpose; they cannot be used in long been obsolete.”
“Mike 1” on November 1952. Oppenheimer subsequently testified: nation – a nuclear attack or a full- war. Half a century earlier, Bohr had
In the minority submission af- “It was therefore possible to argue blooded conventional invasion. (Here “They can only be used to deter hinted that such holocaustal weap-
fixed to the GAC report, the author also that you did not want it even if it may be added that such attacks of the other side’s initiation of a military ons should be abolished. Rhodes
I.I. Rabi (American experimental you could have it.” an apparently ultimate nature have strike; and if that’s the objective, a has written: “If the statesmen (of the
physicist and Nobel laureate) and Writing in 1978, the year when not occurred since the holocausts of limited number will accomplish it.” world) could be brought to under-
his co-signer Enrico Fermi (Italian the Soviets attained nuclear parity Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August According to the nuclear winter stand that the danger of such weap-
theoretical and experimental physi- with the US, Shelford Bidwell (British 1945.) theory discovered in 1982-83 by Carl ons would be common and mutual,
cist and Nobel laureate as well as field commander, military historian, “To their employment is attached Sagan and Richard Turco, even a might they not negotiate commonly
co-inventor of the nuclear reactor) and contemporary defence analyst) a particular horror, almost a sense of limited nuclear war may generate a and mutually to ban them?” Yes, they
described the Super-bomb as “an commented: “The trouble with taboo. So inhibited, the superpowers global climatic catastrophe, putting should ban all such weapons.

A bull story in July The Obama effect can be negative


by Mary Dejevsky the ancestral right of Jews
WHEN July comes I while waiting for dawn to to this land? That might
remember this story: I break before the first bull BARACK OBAMA has seem a detail, it seemed so
fell in love with Santiago. I would be let loose on the taken to the road, or rather to me, but what was seen as
met him during my lower streets. the skies, again: Moscow, a key omission had raised
secondary school when By the time the morn- the G8 summit in Italy, a huge suspicions. Surely,
he was communicating ing bell rang everyone final leg in Ghana. And people said, with a Jewish
with me in Malay. Years was only half sober. We once again, the transforma- chief of staff and a Jewish
later our relationship straggled our way to tive power of this president speech-writer, Obama must
developed and I came to the street, mingling in is much in evidence. From have made the omission in-
know him better. This time the crowd watching the something akin to a pariah tentionally. In so doing, they
he spoke English. There bulls running and chasing state when George Bush left said, he had played into the
is something fascinating Rais Whine whomever was in front of office, the US now luxuriates hands of those disputing
about this Cuban fisher- them. I was not allowed in global approval. What a Israel’s right to exist.
man. It was through him by Hishamuddin Rais to run in front of the bulls difference one election and From this emerged the
that I became very keen because I was a foreigner. one individual can make. sense of a more distant, less
on Hemingway – not that sexy Margaux This is exclusively a Spanish affair. To But there are exceptions sympathetic US administra-
Hemingway – but Ernest, her plumpy them non-Spaniards are not macho to the general euphoria, tion. They saw it as one that
bearded grandfather. enough to handle the bulls. though the dissenters have did not fully understand
Sometime in the 80’s – as my middle The street led to a huge stadium kept a low profile. For the Israel’s predicament and
age crisis crept in – I decided to follow where these bulls would end up in truth is that Obama’s early might, in pushing harder for
in Hemingway’s footsteps. By accident I the open field attacking anyone who initiatives have left some concessions on settlements
sat in the same train coach with a pretty dared to come near. It was only a game countries profoundly un- built in occupied territory,
lass, Carmen. What a clichéd Spanish – human versus bulls. Obviously it was settled. Iran is one obvious forfeit a peace agreement
name – like Bizet’s Carmen. She was exciting seeing a bull charging a macho example: how far did the just when it seemed pos-
en route to her university next to my young Spanish bloke. The crowd were return of a kinder gentler sible.
home in a small Belgian town. I had no roaring “ole”. With red wine and a spliff America cause Iranians to There are other ways of
clue that one day she would lead me anything that moved on that morning question years of orthodoxy looking at this. Without per-
into the world of Hemingway. could be humorous. about the Great Satan and suading Arab countries that
That summer I decided to take my Right in front of the stadium is a vote accordingly? President he understands the plight
first trip to Spain – maybe it was for huge bust of Hemingway. It was here Ahmadinejad once seemed of the Palestinians, Obama
Hemingway. Or was it for my tester- in Pamplona that Hemingway wrote loth to reject Obama’s risks making no progress
one? I am slightly blurred now. I was The Sun Also Rises. It was during the overtures, but now finds Is he alienating old allies? at all. “Unbreakable” is a
told it was in the Basque country that Running of The Bull that Jakes Barnes himself on the wrong side pretty strong word to use of
Hemingway wrote some of his finest and Lady Ashley fell in and out of love. of events. the region generally, they House. In his speech last the US commitment to Is-
short stories and novels. That “macho I too had Jake’s feeling. Then there is what the remain sceptical. month in Cairo, tailored rael, while pushing Israel’s
culture” came from this Latin tempera- When I looked at those bulls in the former US vice-president, A return to nuclear primarily to a Muslim audi- prime minister, Benjamin
ment. stadium, at first I thought it was fun to Dick Cheney, called “new arms talks and cuts in ence, Obama clearly took Netanyahu, hard on the set-
I arrived two days before the 7th see them charging. There was joy and Europe”. Poles ejected their warheads, as agreed with pains not to alienate Israel. tlements might, perversely,
of July – a very important date in the excitement but when the real matador hard-line conservative gov- much fanfare yesterday in He described bilateral rela- help him to bring round
Basque calendar. The Running of the came I thought I had enough of it. I ernment in time to realign Moscow, reminds them of tions as “an unbreakable his even more conservative
Bulls or the festival of Saint Fermin could not stomach it any longer. The themselves with the new the years when they were bond”, and traced the jus- coalition partners.
begins in the early hours of that date. macho culture was never part of me. I realism of the Obama White mere pawns in a bigger tification for Israel’s exist- It can also be argued
It was a mixture of pre-Christian ritual, was not brought up to celebrate blood House. Other governments, game, and the so-called su- ence to the experience of that the greatest obstacles
historical celebration, selling and buying and pain. though, either side of the perpowers negotiated over the Holocaust. to agreement at present lie
of bulls and cows; but mostly a summer As the bull fell I could feel how Bar- European Union’s eastern their heads. Obama was Care and continuity in beyond either US or Israeli
time to get drunk with plenty of Rioja. low and Chambers jolted strung on the border, are not adjusting canny in selecting familiar his speech there may have control: the weakness and
I was the only Malaysian in the rope in Pudu jail. Since that day I’ve not well to a less ideological arms control territory to been, but this is not how divisions on the Palestinian
crowd and became the centre of at- been to any bullfights. But every time and less interventionist tempt a prickly Russia to re- his words were heard. In side, and the uncertainty
traction in each bar I went in. Suddenly July comes I remember my story. Washington. engage. But the signals such many conversations in about Iran, which has sent
Malaysia became the conversation I think my temperament is closer to Many are (discreetly) a rapprochement sends to Israel last week, I found a everyone back to review
of the day. The Spanish were well Santiago. Just imagine, after 84 days in unhappy with Obama’s East and Central Europe, new concern, not just about their assumptions. But dis-
informed of our draconian drug law. the sea that Cuban fisherman caught determination to press the while equally familiar, are Obama’s intentions, but trust is something Obama
Then I realised, while we were sipping nothing. He must be a loser as even “reset button” with Russia. less welcome. more fundamentally about will have to address, in
our red wine, Kevin Barlow and Brian his young apprentice Manolin was not Moscow’s gain, they fear, The chilliest winds of all, his loyalties. The misgiv- Israel, as in Eastern Eu-
Chambers were hung on the gallows allowed to accompany him anymore to will be their loss. However though, are being felt in one ings spanned the political rope. Rebuilding relations
on that same July 7. the sea. Yes, like Santiago who lost his loudly US and other EU of the last places anyone spectrum, and one point with inherited foes may be
Then a young bloke next to my table marlin, I too lost my Carmen. But that diplomats deny this, and might expect: in Israel, long was raised time and again. hard, but doing so without
was rolling and passing round a joint. It is only human. I think it is time we also insist that a warmer US- one of the staunchest of US Why had Obama justi- alienating old allies will
was bizarre but it was all in good fun celebrate losers. Russia relationship will allies, almost regardless of fied Israel’s existence by be harder still. – The Inde-
cast its benevolent glow on who occupies the White the Holocaust, rather than pendent