President Palin Declares War on Russia!

OK, I know Sarah Palin is not president of the United States. And, even if she is elected, I’m not saying she would declare war on Russia. But, under conditions that are quite possible, that’s what she said she would do, so that headline is more serious than you might first imagine. On September 12, 2008, The Wall Street Journal wrote: “Sarah Palin said Thursday that Georgia and Ukraine should be admitted to NATO and that the U.S. should be prepared to go to war if Russia invades Georgia again.”

Another war between Georgia and Russia is all too likely, as noted by conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan: “What is [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili up to? He seems intent on provoking a new crisis to force NATO to stand with him and bring the United States in on his side — against Russia. Ultimate goal: Return the issue of his lost provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back onto the world’s front burner.”

Here in Silicon Valley, a Palin presidency tends to be dismissed as inconceivable, but that seems premature. Today’s San Jose Mercury News [page A8] reported: “Look out President Barack Obama. Even Sarah Palin’s gaining on you. … After trailing Obama by more than 20 percentage points in polls all year, the new national survey, taken Sept. 13-14, found Palin trailing the president by just 5 points, 49-44 percent.”

As further evidence that what appears inconceivable can, in fact, occur, think back to the 1960’s when a man then often derided as “a B-movie actor” was elected governor of California. But that was crazy California, and the idea that he could become president of the United States was … inconceivable.

Whether or not Sarah Palin is elected president is up to the American people, and seemingly less radical candidates have made mistakes that took us to the brink of nuclear war – think JFK and the Cuban crisis. What is important is being much more careful of the commitments we make, and to think through their potential consequences – especially when one of those potential consequences is the destruction of civilization.

An example of one more such commitment – by a Democrat this time – was on page A13 of today’s Wall Street Journal. In spite of a headline reading “U.S. Faces Rising Risks In Vow to Defend Taiwan,” the article quotes Obama’s ambassador to China, Gary Locke, as saying, “We’re absolutely committed to the defense of Taiwan.”

While a Chinese attack on Taiwan may seem inconceivable today, there are scenarios in which it could happen, for example, if Taiwan, encouraged by such American guarantees, were to declare its independence. (There was serious talk along those lines a few years back.) When I ask Chinese friends what might then happen, almost all tell me that war between China and Taiwan is a distinct possibility.

Government guarantees are not as free as society seems to think – witness the cost of the bank bailout. So let’s stop giving out so many, especially those that have the potential to result in a nuclear war.

Martin Hellman

How to help
If you agree that the risks associated with our current nuclear policies need to be better understood, please sign our petition asking Congress to authorize the National Academies to undertake such a study. The petition has been signed by a four star admiral who headed the National Security Agency, a former president of Stanford University, and two Nobel Laureates, so you can rest assured that it makes good sense.

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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