Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Countdown To Zero

"Countdown to Zero" continues a rather standard meme within the arms control community. I found it disappointing for that reason and others. Here's an interview with the producer.

The movie relies far too much on fear. Terrorists might get a nuclear weapon, we are told by those who have said it before, Graham Allison, Matthew Bunn, and Rolf Mowatt-Larson, from Harvard's Belfer Center. The message is repeated and amplified by others, along with the possibility of an accidental exchange between the United States and Russia. The examples of near-misses in the latter all took place during the Cold War or slightly after. Some things have done to improve safety on that point, although we don't hear much about that. Should more be done? Certainly, but neither we nor the Russians expect that kind of nuclear exchange the way we did twenty years ago, so that alone makes this sort of accident less likely.

There is the usual footage of mushroom clouds and Hiroshima destruction. More of underground nuclear tests and ensuing nationalistic celebrations in Pakistan and India.

Proliferation is indeed a danger that should be addressed in a number of ways, but there is little that individual citizens can do about it. Export controls and dual-use technology are very wonky subjects indeed. The producer admits that this issue is not in the same league as "An Inconvenient Truth," also his product, in this sense. Citizens can make their views known to their elected representatives. Hmmm. The most encouraging thing he had to say was that young people, previously oblivious to this not-much-talked-about subject, were figuring out that all those nukes are not good thing.

But fear is a poor motivator. It loses its focus and becomes anxiety, and anxiety inhibits action. Fear is so much used on the political scene these days (Tea Party fear of the government they are dependent on, fear of Islam, real fear on the economy) that a single movie presenting a more specialized set of fears is hardly likely to have an impact. And those young people have been lecturing us old folks on how counterproductive our demonstrations turned out to be.

People need a positive reason for action. A world without nuclear weapons is likely to be a better world; that depends on the means toward eliminating those weapons, the negotiations and concessions that would have to take place. But none of that is as easy to present as fear in a handful of Hiroshima dust.

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