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The doomsday clock is inching towards midnight. A reading list for a time of new nuclear threats.
This week saw a spate of news stories all pointing menacingly to a new nuclear crisis. Iran announced it has now surpassed the cap on uranium enrichment set by a 2015 nuclear deal; North Korea successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit targets anywhere in the continental United States; and the House of Representatives approved a provision that requires Congressional approval before the president would be authorized to use military force against Tehran.
Given the rising tensions with Iran, Congress’s move brought to mind Elaine Scarry’s argument that, “Nuclear weapons and oversight are simply, starkly incompatible. You can’t have nuclear weapons and Congress. You can’t have nuclear weapons and a citizenry. The things can’t coexist.”
With the hands on the doomsday clock once again hovering close to midnight, we took a dive into our archive for more perspective. The essays below analyze our current threats, look to new solutions, and offer lessons from the Nuclear Freeze Movement, which was founded by one of Boston Review's regular contributors, the late Randall Forsberg.
“The sight of the nuclear football is supposed to make us keep in mind the vast level of injury the president is permitted to inflict on the world, and forget about the lesser injuries he has actually inflicted.”
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A group of American and Russian analysts explore the processes that ended the first nuclear age, the pressures behind the new threats, and the prospects for addressing those threats.
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Scarry contends that because nuclear weapons make citizen control of military force impossible, maintaining a nuclear arsenal is fundamentally anti-democratic.
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“The Nuclear Freeze Movement succeeded because there was a present danger of mass violence, before waning in the 1990s as the collapse of the Soviet Union removed that danger. But Trump’s America First foreign policy once again offers a clear threat of massive state violence.”
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The Doomsday Clock is set to two minutes to midnight—the same position it held in 1953, when the United States and USSR detonated their first hydrogen bombs. So why don't we make movies about nuclear war anymore?
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“Arms control and disarmament, taken alone, are certainly not means to a lasting world peace. But arms reductions that limit the use of armed force to narrowly defensive situations are a crucial first step.”
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The former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency outlines why early approaches to simply ban nuclear weapons didn’t work—and what a broad program of global disarmament could look like.
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“U.S. citizens would be safer than they are now if nuclear weapons were abolished and their lives were no longer in the hands of politicians authorized to order the use of nuclear weapons on a few minutes’ notice.”
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The former U.S. Under Secretary of State paints a tense picture of America’s initial altercations with Iran on the subject of nuclear weapons more than ten years ago.
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“The Iranian and American governments have many common interests in the Middle East and can more effectively help bring regional peace and stability through cooperation. It will not be easy, but one thing is certain: lasting peace and stability cannot be established through violence.”
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