The United States and Russia are in the midst of a nuclear arms deal that should result in both sides reducing the number of nukes they/we keep armed and ready. It's called the New Start pact and it's for the most part a response to Iran's program. Obama and Russian president Dmitri Medvedev choose to ignore some of the other problems each country has with the other and focus on the need of both to back up their talk about arms control.
This is undeniably a good thing. Taken from a recent article, here is the gist of the treaty:
“...each side within seven years would be barred from deploying more than 1,550 strategic warheads or 700 launchers. Because of counting rules and past reductions, neither side would have to eliminate large numbers of weapons to meet the new limits. But the treaty re-establishes an inspection regime that lapsed in December and could serve as a foundation for deeper reductions later.”
If the United States and Russia can work towards backing down our nuclear arsenals, that means that we are further along the back to being truly civilized and safe. Safe? you ask. Yes, safe.
From what I can find, current treaties allow for 2,200 warheads. And I looked and looked for a specific number, or good estimate, of how many warheads it would take to destroy the planet, or at least destroy enough of it that none of us would really care about the question any more, and couldn't find a good answer. Google failed me. Some numbers went between one hundred and one thousand, and one website, who took it very literally and did all the math said just over one million two hundred thousand.
Either way, the real answer to the previous question, “How many nukes will it take?” is very simple.
One nuke launched from any country towards any other country will precipitate a nuclear war. There is no denying this. If Russia, Pakistan, or anyone else decided they needed to make us glow in the dark, we would respond in kind. It would seem the only course of action. We must retaliate. Of course, we would then launch ours, someone else would get spooked and launch theirs and, well, the survivors get to find out which movie/video game got the post-holocaust look just right.
As a living person, this is unacceptable. I personally don't think the United States will ever again launch an attack on another country using a weapon of mass destruction (FYI: I broke a finger not making a 'frat boy cowboy' or 'gun-totin' Alaskan bimbo' joke here). Japan taught us enough about the power of those bombs, and I think it taught the rest of the world as well. You only have to act crazy, or desperate, like that once before people start believing the hype. And we aren't going to get into whether or not dropping those bombs was necessary at all. But, if we take what I believe to be true, that we will never again attack another country through nuclear means, then that means all those warheads, those 2,200+ warheads, are reactive. I say reactive because I think defensive would be a misnomer. They wouldn't be defending anything. They would be fighting back. It's not a block, its a punch.
So, assuming I've assumed correctly and we are slightly closer to civilized than we were in 1945, we have 2,200+ nuclear weapons waiting in case someone else attacks us so that we can attack them back. Does that seem a little extreme to anyone else? I've no doubt that's plenty enough to get the job done, not including what would be flying towards us.
The best way to deal with issues like this is to ignore it. What does it matter if I worry about this or not? And, really, it doesn't. But I think we should consider it. Why do we have such a massive stockpile of these super-heavy weapons? I may be a white-flag waving, lilly-livered, peacenik, civilian, but I just don't understand. What does it prove? That we're scary? Pretty sure everyone knows that already. We have the big guns, but we don't want to use them. Because we know, like Dr. Seuss teaches us in the Butter Battle Book, the other side has some pretty nasty shit too.
I shall now take a deep breath and step over the abyss I've been inching towards for 10 paragraphs. Why not get rid of all our nuclear weapons? Lay them all down. Make it public. Put it on CSPAN, BBC, Al Jazeera, and Youtube. Come one, come all. Watch the United States, the most powerful military on the planet, take its biggest weapon off of the table for good. Because we have decided, as a world leader, that we will never find the need to use one of these monsters. We will lead by example. We don't want you to have nukes, we don't want you to be afraid of our nukes and therefor stockpile your own, so we are removing the fear-inducing element.
Does this leave us helpless? I should hope not. I would venture to guess we have plenty of other assorted nastiness scattered about that losing our most destructive weapon would not equal neutering our armed forces. We've managed pretty well since 1945 without pushing and red buttons. The threat of that red button would be gone, however, leading us to question/fear number two. What's to stop someone who still has a nuclear bomb from attacking us now that we have none? The same this that's stopping them now: Nothing. In this day and age, when India and Pakistan are packing radioactive heat, the United States no longer has the biggest stick. We just have more sticks. They don't attack for the same reason we don't. Namely: nobody wants that. Except maybe fear/question number three: Terrorists. The concern that a terrorist organization gets a hold of a nuclear weapon and detonates it within American borders. But what if they do? Terrorists are not state-sponsored and nuclear weapons are notorious for their lack of precision and subtlety. We gonna drop a nuke on a cave in the desert? Or would we send in some SEALS to bring us back heads?
I realize this is Fantasyland thinking. I don't know when, if ever, we as a country, as a planet, as a species, will be secure enough with ourselves to let our more extreme forms of doom-bringing fall by the wayside. I do think that Obama and Medvedev have taken a strong first step in the right direction. Here's hoping the next leaders keep taking the next steps.
(I used the all knowing Google and tried to pick the reliable websites with no peer-editing.)