23 January 2009

Catastrophe: coming soon

From The atomic bazaar, by William Langewiesche:
[D]etailed knowledge of nuclear bomb-making has fully escaped into the public domain, placing nuclear arsenals within the reach of almost any nation. Once countries make that choice, their rivals will hear the same call. The United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan. North Korea and soon perhaps Iran. At least twenty other countries are in position to proceed. ... In Western capitals today there are quiet people, serious people, who, while recognizing the low probability of [a Hiroshima-type fission explosion] nonetheless worry that the successful use of just a single atomic bomb could bring the established order to its knees - or lay it out flat. The atomic bazaar: the rise of the nuclear poor (pages 13 and 19).
Given such a consequence, the large number of countries involved, the multiplicity of possible causes of conflict, and our total uncertainty as to where the greatest dangers lie, I think this is one policy area where incentives to achieve a result - the absence of nuclear explosion - should be supplied, however that result is to be achieved. In that way, people would investigate and implement those ways that do most to reduce the probability of a nuclear explosion per dollar spent. Application of the Social Policy Bond principle - see my essay on Conflict Reduction Bonds - would ensure that the incentives are always in the hands of those best placed to achieve the target.

Nuclear conflict, like conflict in general, needs a diverse, adaptive approach. One shaped by our dire need to avoid catastrophe, whatever its source, rather than by the structures, goals and funding of bureaucracies. Unfortunately, it is the latter that have the traction.

No comments: