Is America Necessary? Conservative, Liberal, & Socialist Perspectives of United States Political Institutions

By Henry Etzkowitz; Peter Schwab | Go to book overview
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Henry A. Kissinger. Force and diplomacy in the nuclear age.

In his whimsical essay "Perpetual Peace" written in 1795, the German philosopher Kant predicted that world peace could be attained in one of two ways: by a moral consensus which he identified with a republican form of government, or by a cycle of wars of ever-increasing violence which would reduce the major Powers to impotence.

There is no evidence that Kant's essay was taken seriously in his lifetime, or indeed for a century and a half afterwards. But much of current thought about the impact of the new weapons of today carries a premonition of Kant's second proposition. We respond to every Soviet advance in the nuclear field by what can best be described as a flight into technology, by devising ever more fearful weapons. The more powerful the weapons, however, the greater becomes the reluctance to use them. At a period of unparalleled military strength, the President has best summed up the dilemma posed by the new weapons technology in the phrase "there is no alternative to peace."

It is only natural, of course, that an age which has known two world wars and an uneasy armistice since should have as its central problem the attainment of peace. It is paradoxical, however, that so much hope should concentrate on man's most destructive capabilities. We are told that the growth of thermonuclear stockpiles has created a "nuclear stalemate" which makes war, if not too risky, at least unprofitable. The Geneva "summit" conference has been interpreted as a nonaggression treaty: a recognition by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that war is no longer a conceivable instrument of policy and that for this reason international disputes can be settled only by means of diplomacy. Mr. Stassen has maintained that the peaceful application of nuclear energy has made irrelevant many of the traditional reasons for wars of aggression because each major Power can now bring about a tremendous increase in its productive capacity without annexing either foreign territory or foreign labor. And many of the critics of Mr. Dulles' interview in Life were concerned less with the wisdom of the specific threats than with the fact that a threat of war was made at all.

These assertions have passed almost without challenge. They fit in well with a national psychology which considers peace as the "normal" pattern of relations among states and which has few doubts that reasonable men can settle all differences by honest compromise. So much depends, however, on the correctness of such propositions that they must be subjected to close scrutiny. For the impact of the new weapons--as every revolution--has not only a technical but a conceptual side. Until power is used, it is, as Colonel Lincoln from West Point has wisely said, what people think it is. But except for the two explosions of now obsolete bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have ever been set off in wartime; there exists, therefore, no previous experience on which to draw. To a considerable extent the impact of the new weapons on strategy, on policy, indeed on survival, depends on our interpretation of their significance.

It therefore becomes of crucial importance that the United States not paralyze itself by developing a calculus of risks according to which all dangers would seem to be on our side. But this is precisely what has happened to us recently. The slogan "there is no alternative to peace" is the reverse side of the doctrine of "massive retaliation." And both deprive us of flexibility--"massive retaliation" because it poses risks for us out of proportion to the objectives to be achieved, and "there is no alternative to peace" because it relieves the Soviets of a large measure of the risk of aggressive moves. This is true despite Soviet reiteration of the horrors of a hydrogen war. For apart from the fact that these statements are usually addressed to foreigners and may therefore, be designed to increase the inhibitions of others, it makes all the difference which side has to


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Is America Necessary? Conservative, Liberal, & Socialist Perspectives of United States Political Institutions
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