The world has changed since that massive lightning flash at Los Alamos just under eighty years ago. It took many frightening decades, but it might be timely to declare that the world is a safer place today. Ironically, the saviour is that very feared culprit, which menaced universally, unanswerably: nuclear armaments.
There was a time when a few countries ruled the roost and scared the life out of neighbours and adversaries. Today, the era of the exclusive nuclear club is over, with several new entrants into the invincible mass destruction crowd. They are known, while there are a couple more, who are suspected of having the bomb, but are coy about admitting what they have, or how many, or how much striking power they have at hand.
On occasion, it seems as if everybody of note has a bomb or two lying about and primed for action. It is more accurate to say, a couple of hundred or so of these destructive things serve as the ultimate deterrent to enemies, as to what could happen (to them) should they get ambitious. They are so many of these monstrosities around, that nobody is sure authoritatively, as to how many this or that country possesses. It is enough to say that each proud owner is rather clever in obscuring what is the final number in their stockpile. Closely guarded secrets they are. Better to keep the bellicose guessing and worried. Restraint prevails.
One version of today’s guessing games is best represented by North Korea out there in the Manchurian Peninsula. Consecutive head of states have exhibited unnerving imitations of Richard Nixon and his mad man pretenses. As a primer, that would a leader, who is erratic and explosive, and the worst kind of decision maker to have near nuclear buttons. The Iranians have proven to be no slouch themselves in keeping enemies off balance. All of this has contributed heavily to holding mightier opponents and sworn foes in a state of disequilibrium and check. Madness-pretended or real-in its own perverse way has assisted in keeping the nuclear armed in states of wariness and uneasy peace.
Similarly, the nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan, geographically within kissing distance, as well as blood foes, have functioned as restraining hands on hastiness and any unilateral sneak attack by one or the other. Another reality making that combustible neighbourhood safer must be the jarring consideration that even limited nuclear conflict-a delicately balanced tactical consideration would involve 125 million plus dead. Radioactive fallout and other downstream consequences are not even considered. That is an unimaginable and harrowing number of bodies at one count, and likely from the retaliatory strikes in eyeball to eyeball and arm’s length conflict. It would be too late for a red line and hot line slowdown, once started. It would be all out, maximum warfare with no listeners and no clear-headedness around, only mounting casualties.
Currently, Saudi Arabia seeks to talk with archenemy Iran, despite the sensitive blows that struck its oil sector, and the ensuing loss of face. The endless, vicious cycle of revenge and vendettas over there appears to be petering into the pale. As said before, speculations intensify, since nobody knows accurately what Iran has and how much is ready for deployment. That is what lends to safety and sensibility, with nothing following since Nagasaki back in 1945. Thus, the colossal USA is held in check by the same Iran while the Saudis reach for peaceful solutions. The nuclear gambit of the Iranians; the Israel factor; and that whole bit of the friend of my enemy is my enemy converts bombs into plowshares. As a neutralizing strategy it has worked wonders: people hold back, back down, and downplay hostile intentions. Even hawks begin to speak a different language; might not be quite Christlike or Gandhian as yet. But there is drawing closer to those ideals of eluding the unthinkable: all-out nuclear conflict with the resulting cataclysms just about assured.
Before, there was Mutually Assured Destruction; then the sobriety of containment emerged in a shaky vigilant truce of sorts. Détente and arms limitation lasted while they did. Now safety and security come from having a trusted stockpile handy. Everyone is pacified.
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