Applied to Nuclear Weapons, Realism is the Road to Ruin

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In an op-ed at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled Why nuclear realism is unrealistic, Benoit Pelopidas writes that “adopting the point of view often called nuclear realism—the notion that technology and careful management will keep us safe—is a dangerous course.” Since the early days of the Cold War, he writes “it was considered ‘realistic’ for the United States and the Soviet Union each to build ever more nuclear weapons, so as not to fall behind in the arms race with the opposing country.”


The quest for a realistic nuclear outlook is shortsighted today when it portrays the bleak prospects for a new round of US-Russian nuclear arms reduction as the definitive verdict of the “real” world.


The quest for so-called nuclear realism is a walk into a blind alley; it underplays the risks of the status quo and assumes that it is endlessly sustainable. … such a quest leads to fatalism, a short-sighted focus on the present, and resignation to a future in which nuclear weapons will continue to exist and eventually be used.

Realism, like all failures to imagine the path to a better world, is just this side of fatalism, which, by any other name, is a death wish.