Another Early Warning Sign

My post of two days ago showed that, if you are watching for them, early warning signs of potential nuclear disasters often can be seen, and catastrophe averted. As a current day example, I noted the dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, so imagine how I felt when I opened today’s New York Times and found this two page ad on pages A16 and A17.

New York Times Ad

New York Times Ad

China Daily, which placed the ad, is a state-controlled English language newspaper located in Beijing.

The ad is also on China Daily’s web site. The last two paragraphs highlight why we in the United States should think long and hard before issuing security guarantees that we will go to war with a nuclear-armed China to allow Japan to hold onto these insignificant islands that it wrested from China by force in 1895:

Japan’s so-called “nationalization” of Diaoyu Island severely infringes upon China’s sovereignty and rejects and challenges the outcomes of the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War.

China’s will to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity is firm and its resolve to uphold the outcomes of the World Anti-Fascist War will not be shaken by any force.

The “World Anti-Fascist War” is what we call World War II – a war in which Japanese aggression killed almost 20 million Chinese, most of them civilians. The infamous “Rape of Nanking” is the best known of numerous atrocities and war crimes that Japan inflicted on China. This is not to say that the Senkaku/Diaoyu should be returned to China, only that we need to be aware of how high emotions run on both sides, and that China has some legitimate grievances from the past.

And, of course, Japan was not uniquely blood thirsty. Millions of Chinese died at Chinese hands during the Chinese Civil War; the mistakes of Mao’s Great Leap Forward led to millions of deaths; and the Cultural Revolution killed somewhere between half a million and three million more Chinese, some by public beatings that could be likened to atrocities during the Rape of Nanking.

Given the level of irrationality that is possible on both sides, and the reasonable arguments that each side can advance for its claims to these islands, it is not in our national security interests to issue security guarantees to Japan over these islands. There is too much risk that our “insurance policy” will have to pay off, potentially with a nuclear war and millions of American deaths. Such an outcome is unlikely, but if we keep risking small chances of being destroyed, eventually one will realize that potential.

Martin Hellman

Further Reading: See my associated web site, Defusing the Nuclear Threat.

PS: At least on my Mac, clicking on the picture of the ad brings it up in higher resolution.

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, since 1982, 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, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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2 Responses to Another Early Warning Sign

  1. Jian Feng says:

    I browsed through your website with great fascination. Your writings are very persuasive and logical. Indeed, I feel that anyone who disagree is not because they do not agree with your logic. They must have a conflict of interest. I take that your petition for the National Academies to do a study on the fail rate has met deaf ears. As you are well aware, the National Academies have done many more studies on far less consequential topics. They already know the results of such a study. They just do not want to put their weight on such a study.

    We need out-of-the-box ideas. The old guards cannot afford to be disinterested on something that they have created with their entire careers. We have these nukes not because the public demands them. We have them because the mandarins have been making them for the Emperors. Some of the Emperors, along with a few of their top lieutenants, apparently do not even want them. But what the heck, they need their mandarins to run their empires.

    Slavery did not go away because we gradually became more kindhearted at the persuation of our better angels. We invented more profitable ways to induce people to work more effectively. At the glacial pace of arms control, I suspect that some disruptive events will make arms control obsolete one way or the other.

    Instead of asking for a study on the fail rate, a better study would be the career impacts of reducing our nukes by 90% or more. Lots of people in power will either lose their paychecks or prestige. Some bases will be closed. Some congressmen and senators will lose support. You get the idea. Not even President Hu can order this to happen in China, let alone in a democracy represented by very capable mandarins.

  2. Martin Hellman says:

    Jian Feng: Thanks for your comment. While Congress has not yet authorized the proposed study — and is unlikely to do so in the current budgetary and political situation — my plea has not fallen totally on deaf ears. I am writing this in the Dulles International Airport at Washington, DC, returning home from two days of talking with Congressional staff about this possibility. Some new ideas have come out of this trip, so even if the proposed study never occurs, just asking for it is having a positive impact. A venture capitalist once told me that almost all highly successful companies end up with a very different product and business plan from the one they started with, but it was important to have the initial goal as a guide star. Hopefully the same is true here.

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