Could Afghanistan Lead to a Nuclear Disaster?

While now a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, Andrew Bacevich is also a West Point graduate and retired Army Colonel with service in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Bacevich has an uncanny ability to combine his academic and military perspectives to produce a brilliant, common sense approach to international issues, especially those involving war and peace. In this post, I recommend his most recent OpEd, which appeared today in the LA Times. In it, he relates Afghanistan to Kennedy’s disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion – an event that helped lay a foundation for 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis.

While the linkage between Afghanistan and nuclear war is not the point of Bacevich’s OpEd, the danger should be obvious in light of what transpired in those fateful thirteen days of October 1962. But, just as almost no one saw how supporting the overthrow of Castro could lead to a nuclear war, almost no one today is concerned that the war in Afghanistan has a similar potential. The risk analysis approach that I have been advocating is helpful for illuminating that danger.

Last May, as part of my Defusing the Nuclear Threat series at Stanford, former Director of Los Alamos Dr. Siegfried Hecker spoke on “The Greatest Nuclear Risks.” In that talk, he explained why he saw Pakistan as the greatest nuclear risk we face.

The war in Afghanistan adds to an already unstable situation in nuclear-armed Pakistan. If that instability should lead to a coup by Taliban sympathizers within the Pakistani military, the risk becomes much clearer.

To avoid disaster, we need to stop seeing dangers only in hindsight. We need to start thinking through the possible consequences of our actions, before they occur. If we do that, we can not only avert a nuclear disaster, but also build a better, safer world.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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