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David Holloway on: Deterrance and the Nuclear Future
David Holloway Q: World War III hasn't happened yet. In your opinion, should we be thankful for these hydrogen bombs? Does deterrence work?

DH: I think hydrogen bombs played some role in preventing nuclear war, but they also played some role in making war more likely, certainly in the 1950s and 1960s. I think after the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was an even stronger awareness of how close we could come to a World War and how destructive that would be...

At that point, I think you could say that the danger of nuclear war was very clearly implanted in the minds of political leaders and indeed of populations at large. So that it did serve as a kind of a restraining device. But that's not to say that we would have had a war without the weapons. And I don't think under all circumstances that you can say that these weapons -- there is certainly not a guarantee of peace by any means...

It's now actually to my mind, impossible to understand why so many weapons were built on either side. It somehow seems so utterly crazy when we are now having to deal with the consequences of building so many weapons, of cleaning them, dismantling them, dealing with the plutonium pits, trying to stop these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists groups. Who knows, you know, what kind of a group. And I think that we have a terrible legacy from that period. I mean, I think it is true that political leaders felt a greater sense of responsibility. And I think we should be glad that they did so. But you can't guarantee that that will always be the case. And you can't guarantee that some use of nuclear weapons won't happen.

Q: So is this whole story a cautionary tale? Is it a long nightmare? Is it a path to a better future? What do you see in this history of the hydrogen bomb?

DH: I think this history is not a cautionary tale, because it's much more than that...This is something that we have to live with. We are living with the consequences of the decisions made in the late '40s, and the early '50s. We are living with the consequence of what these scientists thought up. The Cold War may be over. There may be agreement on controlling nuclear weapons, but there are tens of thousands of these weapons around. We have to deal with those things. We have to deal with the knowledge that people can make these weapons. Other people can acquire them.

At one level, of course, it's a nightmare. At another level, it's an enormous challenge, it's something we have to cope with. And what I think about the history of the hydrogen bomb is that if you look at the mid-50s, you see the political leaders beginning to understand the threat that nuclear war poses. You see scientists, say on the Soviet side, they are becoming more aware of the responsibilities that they have incurred by what they have done. You can look at this as a story of -- not only a horrible story of prison labor, and police repression. And it's not only a story, a kind of exciting story, of a race to hit on ideas, to develop weapons. There is also at some level, an element of hope in there, because what you see, is even in the context of a terrible political confrontation, you begin to see people on either side moving, kind of groping their way towards finding some common solution to this problem.

So I think of this as not just a nightmare, though there are nightmarish aspects to the history, but it's also a story of hope, a story of an ability of, even in the face of kind of entrenched conflict, to look for a way out of the conflict, to look for some solutions to the problems that face us.

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