Five Minutes From Midnight

ASPEN -- I'm listening to a panel of nuclear proliferation experts and am finding it difficult to believe that my fellow audience members can hold on to their box lunches. We're all doomed. I hear the hoof beats. I mean, seriously. Bruce Blair, a former missilier who is now the president of the World Security Institute, recounted a tale form his service as an Minuteman ICBM launch control officer where he recalled securing himself in an underground bunker because he believed that Russian missiles were on their way. (He was a minute away from inputing the launch codes himself.) Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund described a 1995 instance where the only thing that stood between peace and annihilation was Boris Yeltsin's sobriety. The panelists seemed to focus on the recent developing intellectual consensus that a new US policy toward nukes is feasible (Sam Nunn, Bill Perry and George Schultz's project at Hoover) and the threat of Israel's program, which they called a potential "contagion" in the region. On Iran, the panelists agreed that Iran is effectively contained by aggressive sanctions. Al Q's pursuit of a nuclear weapon is much more likely to come from states that are willing to give them access to raw nuclear material, Cirincione said -- Argentina and Russia are as likely sources as Iran.

A poet and dancer whose goal is to "undo the mind of war" asked the room and the panelists -- "Inside of ourselves, what do you think we have to look at within our own thinking to get to get the people off the trigger." The question is not as loopy as it sounds... and the answer, according to Cirincione, is that we all to get over our fear of nuclear energy -- and we must face it, control it, and combine it with a sense of awe. "We unfortunately live in a time where government has manipulated our fear to get us to support policies and wars that we never would have supported."

Since this conference is about Ideas and Solutions, the panelists seemed to believe that the following action items were good ideas:

(1) Israel hosting a regionwide conference on nuclear weapons
(2) A worldwide inventory of nuclear weapons
(3) Standing down forces and taking them off hair-trigger alerts. (This would take a day.)