Deterrence: A Comment at the Berkeley Tom Schelling Symposium
Presentable Conservatives

Lessons from the History of the Cold War: Comment at the Berkeley Tom Schelling Symposium

I had thought that this session was not supposed to be the scary stuff...

I want to challenge Bob Powell's characterization of the Cold War, and to make the optimistic case that the coming of nuclear weapons does herald an age of relative global peace. I want to do this not because I believe it but because I think it is an important position that should be out on the table. The position goes roughly like this:

During the High Cold War both sides thought that they were playing for the future of humanity. Believing Communists thought that history was on their side--but only if the global bourgeoisie could be prevented from destroying the homelands of socialism with fire and sword and killing the activists and agitators who could teach the proletarians their destiny. Believing westerners saw Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism-Maoism as a totalitarian ideology that could only survive by
destroying the fortresses of freedom. For both sides, risks of annihilation were worth running because only thus could the opponent's military power be frozen.

But since the end of the High Cold War we are no longer playing for the future of humanity. The gains are not proportional to even a small risk of nuclear destruction. Is it worth running the risk of nuclear destruction on order to change the language of the mayor of Strasbourg? What is at stake in the Balkans that is worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier?

In short, we are now in the world that Norman Angell falsely thought he lived in a century ago--the one in which the domestic political
advantages and the benefits to the nation from brinkmanship that risks general war are too small for anyone sane to undertake. When we
faculty squabble over the lunch check, nobody pulls out a bomb and says: "Give in! Or this thing might go off!"

I think this optimistic Norman-Angell-with-nuclear-weapons point of view is wrong, but I am not sure why it is wrong, and I would like
some enlightenment.

Comments