THE TWO-EDGED SWORD: Armed Force in the Modern World by Laurence Martin

THE TWO-EDGED SWORD: Armed Force in the Modern World

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In Britain, debate over the nuclear arms race has produced, at its antipodes, E. P. Thompson's stinging Beyond the Cold War (p. 858) and war historian Martin's 1981 BBC Reith Lectures: fundamentally, a cool argument for the status quo. Dismissing the idea of complete disarmament as utopian (i.e., momentarily forgetting that he's talking about nuclear weapons) and rapping advocates of unilateral disarmament along the way, Martin rehearses some of the arguments for and against deterrence theory, the positioning of so-called tactical weapons in Europe, and arms control. On the first, he comes out for a sustained nuclear war strategy--which breaks with the old policy of deterrence through mutual assured destruction (MAD) and rests its hopes on graduated levels of nuclear exchange coupled with more precise targeting. It makes sense to plan for all possible contingencies, he maintains, and additional options would increase chances of containing the conflict. (Others contend that while MAD sets a maximum on the numbers of warheads a country needs, a policy of sustained war is potentially limitless.) Since Martin does not ""expect to find a politically practical course of action that is without a degree of sinfulness,"" he ""can only try to select the least sinful of the courses open to me."" He can thus endorse a policy that he has not really justified. The same tactic is applied to the introduction of cruise and Pershing II missiles into Europe: though the USSR has a case against the weapons (strategic, from their point of view, since they can hit Soviet territory), they increase NATO options and might even act as a deterrent (used against a Soviet conventional attack, they would inherently lead to all-out war). On arms control, Martin adds a new twist to the usual pessimism about effective means: by institutionalizing the bias against development of new weapons, arms control would prevent the creation of better and more precise weapons that would be easier to control in use (which relates to his pitch for a sustained nuclear war strategy). Not the balanced review Martin professes--simply one of the more elevated anti-antinuclear polemics.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1982
Publisher: Norton