BEYOND THE HOTLINE: Crisis Control to Prevent Nuclear War by William L. Ury

BEYOND THE HOTLINE: Crisis Control to Prevent Nuclear War

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This is a slim volume that could be slimmer still since Harvard Nuclear Negotiation Project director Ury (co-author, Getting to Yes: Negoitating Agreement Without Giving In) has a pretty simple idea going here. Ury fears that a nuclear war is most likely to start because of a lack of communication between the superpowers, obscuring intentions during a crisis or leading to the misinterpretation of some event, such as a nuclear accident or an act committed by a third party. (For some reason, Ury adheres to the current scenario-convention of bomb-toting Mideastern terrorists financed by Col. Qadaffi,) Ury points repeatedly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the two crises over Berlin, and the Arab-Israeli wars as situations where brinksmanship came to the fore, and fears that newer technology allows less time to work crises out. He therefore advocates the establishment of crisis control centers in Washington and Moscow, staffed by US and Soviet technicians and experts, where the most modern communications technology would make possible eye-to-eye contact and the exchange of information during a crisis. This is an unobjectionable enough proposal to have elicited an 82-0 vote in the Senate approving a similar plan, in principle. An agreement currently in force sets out precautionary procedures for US and Soviet vessels that wind up in the same water, and there are others to deal with nuclear accidents; Ury sees these as good precedents. But they, and the Hotline teletype, are not enough. He fleshes out his idea with notions about simulated crisis briefings for incoming presidents, regular cabinet-level meetings between Washington and Moscow, and so on, and reminds us that the Hotline was the result of a public campaign conduced by citizens (in this case the editor of Parade magazine) to bolster his readers' resolve. The missing element, however, is politics: reading Ury it's easy to forget that national interests and power politics are involved and not just accidents and misinformation. Crisis control is a sensible idea, but there are dangers that technicians can't deal with in little rooms full of TV monitors.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1985
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin