To Avoid Nuclear War

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, BERTRAND RUSSELL, philosopher and mathematician, now in his ninety-first year, has led the forces in Britain that demand an end to nuclear testing. He says and believes that it is later than we think.

The danger of a nuclear war is viewed by a great many people with an easygoing optimism. They are persuaded that a nuclear war would be horrible, and they think that both sides would shrink from it. I wish I could share this view, but there is much expert testimony tending to show that a nuclear war is not only possible but probable. Lord Home, speaking in the House of Lords on June 25, said, “When I went to the SEATO conference it was not just a question of war between North Vietnam and Laos. War between the SEATO Alliance, including America, and the Communist powers, including Russia and China, was so near that it could have turned on the spin of a coin.”

The latest and most authoritative book on American strategy, 100 Million Lives by Richard Fryklund (Macmillan, $3.95), says without any qualification, “Nuclear war is becoming more, not less likely.” I should wish to see this book widely read, since, although it is intended as an argument in favor of Secretary of Defense McNamara’s policy, it is sufficiently candid to make every reader aware of the hopeless futility of nuclear war. Many people have been persuaded by the argument of the “Great Deterrent.” As to this, Mr. Fryklund says that it will work only if five conditions are fulfilled. These are: 1) that all with fingers on the trigger will remain rational; 2) that there are no accidents; 3) that there is no miscalculation of enemy intentions on either side; 4) that there is no growth from small wars to world war; 5) that there is no Russian defense against missiles. He does not think it likely that all these conditions will be fulfilled, and I think we should agree with him.

Mr. Fryklund reports two estimates made by the Pentagon in 1960 as to the probable course of a nuclear war. These estimates, he says, were made with the help of electronic computers and the best brains to be found in the Pentagon. Both were concerned with what was to be expected if war occurred in 1963. The first estimate assumed an attack by Russia on the United States without warning. The conclusion was that in America, out of a population of 195 million, 150 million would be dead, whereas in Russia, out of 220 million, 40 million would be dead. This, he concedes, would be a victory for Russia. He insists that the estimate was a result of “cold professional calculation.” The second estimate started from a different hypothesis: that Russia engaged in a massive, nonnuclear attack on western Europe and that the United States retorted with a nuclear attack. In this case, it was thought that there would be 75 million dead in Russia and 110 million dead in the United States. There is no mention of what would happen to western Europeans, but the author suggests that alter such a war the Chinese would inherit the earth.

Fryklund, however, does not leave the matter there. He advocates a new strategy which has been proclaimed by Mr. McNamara. According to this strategy, American missiles will not attack Russian cities and will not seek, primarily, to inflict death and destruction of capital. They will, instead, attack Russian nuclear installations with a view to crippling any counterattack by Russia. While the war is in progress, negotiations with Russia will be continued. The Russians will be told, “Unless you attack American cities, we shall not attack your cities.” It is hoped that this will induce the Russians to confine themselves to attacks on American nuclear installations. He concedes that if the Russians choose to strike cities, America cannot stop them, but can only retaliate by destroying their cities. “The difficulties,” he says, “of carrying on deterrence during a war certainly are great, but the only alternative to making the effort would require that we accept death for most of us and for our country as the inevitable consequences of a major war.” This sort of limited war gives, he says, “little likelihood of a clear-cut victor.” He does not know whether the war will last minutes or months, but supposes that, when both sides are satiated, they will either negotiate or just stop and snarl at each other. Both sides must, he says, “fight a cool calculated war,” and preserve “cool heads and iron nerves.”

If this is the best that American official policy has to offer, it scarcely seems a very enticing prospect. If everything proceeds as Mr. Fryklund hopes, negotiations after this halfhearted war would have no better chance of success than they have at present. If. on the other hand, “cool heads and iron nerves” are overwhelmed by war passions. we are back in one or another of the previous disastrous forecasts.

There is no good reason to reject Mr. Fryklund’s estimate of the results of the various policies that he considers. He has access to a great deal of information which is withheld from the general public, and he makes, at least upon me, an impression of candor and sincerity. Within the framework of continued enmity between Russia and America, there are, if he is right, only three possibilities: the first is that Russia is victorious and the United States is practically destroyed; the second is that both Russia and America are devastated and the sole victor is China; the third is that Russia and America light an inconclusive war, after which both proceed to build up their strength with a view to a more decisive struggle following a period of recovery. Does it not seem as if both sides could be brought to realize that the mutual enmity which now exists is futile and cannot lead to any result which either would welcome?

The world at present is spending on preparations for war more than $112 billion a year, roughly $450 per head for every man, woman, and child in the world. Let us consider for a moment what could be done with this sum of money if it were spent on peace and not on war. Some of it, at any rate, in the more prosperous countries, could be spent on reduction of taxation. The rest should be spent in ways that will, at the same time, be of benefit to mankind and a solution to the economic problem of conversion from war industry to the expansion of peace industries. As to this expansion, let us begin with the most elementary of all needs, namely, food. At present, the majority of mankind suffers from undernourishment, and in view of the population explosion, this situation is likely to grow worse in coming decades. A very small part of what is now being spent upon armaments would rectify our predicament. Not only could the American surplus of grain, which is now uselessly destroyed, be spent in the relief of famine; but by irrigation, large regions now desert could be made fertile, and by improvement in transport, distribution from regions of excess to regions of scarcity could be facilitated.

Housing, even in the richest countries, is often disastrously inadequate. This could be remedied by a tiny fraction of what is being spent on missiles. Education everywhere, but especially in the newly liberated countries of Africa and Asia, demands an expenditure many times as great as that which it receives at present. But it is not only greater expenditure that is needed in education. If the terror of war were removed, science could be devoted to improving human welfare, instead of to the invention of increasingly expensive methods of mutual slaughter, and schools would no longer need to think it a part of their duty to promote hatred of possible enemies by means of ignorance tempered by lies.

By the help of modern techniques, the world could enter upon a period of happiness and prosperity far surpassing anything known in previous history. All this is possible. It requires only a different outlook on international affairs and a different state of mind toward those nations which are now regarded as enemies. This is possible, I repeat, but it cannot be done all at once. To reverse the trend of affairs in the most powerful nations of the world is no light task and will require a difficult process of re-education.

It is not only a matter for governments. It is a matter for each individual. Governments, in Communist countries as well as in the West, are influenced by public opinion, and to change public opinion is, at first, a task for a minority. This minority will have to endure a greater or lesser amount of sacrifice. The larger the minority becomes, the less sacrifice will be involved, and if, in time, it becomes a majority, there will be no occasion for further sacrifice. At the worst, there will never be so much sacrifice as there would be in a nuclear war.

There are, at present, in the world many who ardently work for nuclear peace. There are those who actively desire a nuclear war, but if they study such arguments as are to be found in Mr. Fryklund’s book, I cannot help thinking that most of them will see the futility of present policies.

There are some initial steps which could be taken without great difficulty. The first and most obvious is the stopping of tests. The differences between Russian and American attitudes on this question are minute, and neither side has any justification for refusal to accept a compromise solution.

A second step which should be taken is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to powers which do not at present possess them. Increase in the number of nuclear powers augments the danger of nuclear war at a rate greater than the increase in the number of nuclear powers.

Another thing which should not be very difficult to achieve is the diminution of hostile propaganda on both sides and an encouragement of social contacts between East and West with a view to lessening the habit of viewing the opposite side as composed of melodramatic villains rather than of human beings very like ourselves. Disarmament by stages, which is immensely important, has not hitherto been achieved because it has not been approached in the right way. When there is a disarmament conference, each side comes with a cut-and-dried plan. Pride and prestige make each side unwilling to modify its plan in the smallest particular. The consequence is that in spite of general professions of a wish for disarmament, nothing whatever is done. The proper course would be for both sides to invite neutrals to draw up a scheme of disarmament by stages which should at no point favor one side at the expense of the other.

A matter of great and rapidly increasing importance is that of space travel and space satellites. Mr. Fryklund says, “We are building colossal rockets now which could in a few years orbit doomsday weapons so large that 25 or 50 of them exploding above the atmosphere would incinerate everything of value in the Soviet Union.”The Russians, as everyone knows, would be quite as proficient as the Americans in this kind of warfare, which is capable of being immeasurably more destructive than the kind of nuclear warfare that we have hitherto been contemplating. Very serious projects have been influentially set forth both in America and in Russia by means of which, at enormous expense, colonies of Americans and Russians will be landed on the moon with weapons all ready for the destruction of Russia or America. To this sort of scientific lunacy, it is impossible to see an end except by a general cessation of the arms race.

There remain a number of vexing questions in areas where the interests of East and West are in apparent conflict. The most acute of these, at the present time, is the question of Berlin. The West cannot defend West Berlin by conventional forces and is, therefore, compelled in moments of tension to threaten nuclear retaliation against a Russian nonnuclear attack. The difficulty is that any such retaliation, far from protecting the inhabitants of West Berlin, would be almost certain to lead to the total extermination of the population of both East and West Berlin. This kind of protection can hardly be of a very welcome sort. Here, again, the advice of neutrals might be useful in freeing both sides from a futile contest of prestige.

In conclusion, there is one thing which should always be remembered. When some suggested policy is objected to because it involves a risk, it should be admitted that any policy, in the present state of the world, involves some risk, but that far the greatest and most imminent of all risks is that of nuclear war. Every agreement between East and West does something to diminish this supreme risk and to persuade governments that it is not by war that anything of value can be preserved. When there is talk, for example, of a war for freedom, it should be realized that a nuclear war would involve a complete end to freedom through the necessity of coping with havoc, disease, and famine. It is not by war that freedom can be preserved or extended, but only by a growing feeling of security and a diminution of the fears which promote intolerance. If this lesson could be learned on both sides, the world might soon become a happier place.