13 June 2017

Listening to the 99.9 percent

Jeffrey Lewis writes about Our Nuclear Future
President Trump, for example, would have between two and four minutes to decide that computerized reports of [a nuclear] attack are not a false alarm and to give the order to retaliate. Our Nuclear Future, Jeffrey Lewis, 'The American Scholar', Summer 2017
The possibility of nuclear catastrophe is not confined to the Russia - US theatre:
If the 30 minutes that it would take for an intercontinental ballistic missile to fly from Russia to the United States imposes crushing time pressures, consider that flight times in South Asia will be five to 10 minutes, depending on the missile and the target. India and Pakistan are re-creating a Cold War deterrence framework under much more demanding conditions.
That's scary enough, and then there's North Korea.... What can be done to reduce the chance of catastrophic nuclear conflict? Mr Lewis writes about the Global Zero initiative, but that appears to be a failing attempt to eliminate all nuclear weapons. So, despite its fading somewhat from public consciousness, the nuclear nightmare hasn't gone away. In many ways it's getting worse. As Mr Lewis writes, the very narrow window available for decision-making 'requires an enormously complex computerized system to detect missile launches, convey that information to the president, and then transmit and execute his order. Every minute that is lost to these processes reduces the time in which the president must decide. As a result,
the pressure to automate much of the system is strong.' And with automation comes the possibility of malware or defective hardware or software.

The problem is magnified, in my view, by the mismatch between the enormous costs of nuclear catastrophe and the relatively minuscule rewards on offer to those working to prevent it. I am certain those involved in initiatives such as Global Zero, and in disarmament, whether they be UN or non-governmental agencies or other public- and private-sector bodies are hard working and well meaning. They probably couldn't work harder even if their salaries were tripled. But the point about lack of incentives is that they are needed to attract more, and more-talented people into striving for nuclear peace. Our current political systems have no way of funnelling sufficient funds into a goal, such as nuclear peace, that is inherently long term, and that has no powerful interest group to lobby in its favour, despite the enormous potential benefit to the 99.9 percent of humanity that would like to see it happen.

The Social Policy Bond principle could help, in the form of Nuclear Peace Bonds. We don't know how to achieve nuclear peace; we don't know who'll be best at achieving it, but we do know that, if we're going to achieve it, we need to offer higher rewards, so as to encourage a diverse, adaptive range of peace building initiatives. Some of these initiatives will be failures or inefficient; others will need research and refining before they can be implemented effectively. This points to the need for a long-term, guaranteed reward for success, as well as the need to make the bonds tradeable, so as not to discourage people from taking only partial steps toward our goal. It seems ridiculous to me, that the rewards to people who gamble with other people's money, keep their winnings and get taxpayers to pay for their losses, are in the billions of pounds, while the collective rewards for those working in an unglamorous but far more socially beneficial field - like nuclear peace - are much more modest and entirely unrelated to effectiveness. Nuclear Peace Bonds would fix that.

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