Towards Total Disarmament

Towards Total Disarmament

According to UN statistics, the nations of the world are spending about $90 billion annually in preparation for the kind of thermonuclear war which would destroy civilization and perhaps mankind— this in a world where 70 per cent of its people live on the border line between hunger and starvation. The logical reaction to these facts should be universal and controlled disarmament. We ought not to trust ourselves with such dangerous and costly toys. On the most optimistic estimate there can be no victors in the old fashioned sense in any large thermonuclear war.

This logic of universal disarmament has made some progress in the desire of men and of nations. It has been supported categorically in statements by President Eisenhower of the U.S., and Dictator Khrushchev of the USSR. Nevertheless in what may be called politically sophisticated circles, there is little or no hope of disarmament. Oskar Morgenstern who has written what seems to me the ablest single book on The Question of National Defense (in military terms) is sorrowfully sure that our protection must lie in the possession by both sides of “invulnerability of retaliatory power.” At the end of his argument that such power must rest primarily on “an oceanic system” in which submarines will be the principal bases for the use of missiles of the Polaris type, he concludes that “the probability of thermonuclear war’s occurring appear to be significantly larger than the probability of its not occurring.” He dismisses without extensive discussion any possibility of effective disarmament.

Former president James Conant of Harvard in a recent address made a plea that we awake to the realization that our only hope of safety lay in much greater military expenditure to the end that the Russians might know that if they could destroy half of our “complexes” in one attack we could in retaliation destroy three-quarters of theirs.

While most Americans insist that they renounce any advocacy of preventive war, one can hear talk of such war under its new name, “preemptive”, if circumstances arise in which we believe that we might prevent a probable attack by attacking first. There is a grim logic in this position.

The greater probability, however, most writers agree, is that a small war or a limited war, which, they argue, we must be ready to fight, will grow into a major thermonuclear conflict, or that war may come by accident or design, the work of more or less anonymous military officers in possession of thermonuclear weapons. The number of men capable by mistake of precipitating the worst kind of war will inevitably grow as more and more nations acquire thermonuclear weapons.

This multilateral disarmament, though dismissed by so many of our savants, seems to me to offer our only hope in this world of risks where “an optimist is a man who believes that the future is uncertain.” Infinitel...