Hugh Gusterson has a new article on Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled, “The Bursting Global Security Bubble.” I was tempted to post the whole article here as well, it contains several important observations and critical questions. I will just post an extract:
In the 1930s and 1940s, the West’s financial and security structures collapsed. In the grip of a speculative bubble, and in the absence of proper oversight, banks had been allowed to lend more money than they responsibly could. (Sound familiar?) When queasy depositors sought to withdraw their money en masse, the result was a massive collapse of banks and the stock market, followed by the Great Depression.
The world was then engulfed by World War II, during which about 70 million people were killed–partly because jingoistic nationalism is always exacerbated by economic depression and dislocation, but also because the victors of World War I imposed what historians now see as an unfairly punitive settlement on Germany, facilitating the rise of fascism there. In the absence of a stable system either of treaties or deterrence, aggressively nationalist European powers were unable to manage their rivalries with restraint. The consequence was war on a scale beyond imagination.
The post-World War II order was supposed to be one in which wise men had fixed these problems, ensuring that supersized stock market crashes, great depressions, and genocidal wars would never happen again.
On the economic side, banks were regulated to make sure they lived within their means, and government spending and monetary policy were used to smooth out the business cycle and keep unemployment within parameters that didn’t threaten the social order.
On the security side, a combination of alliances and treaties evolved to manage and balance the competition of the day’s two superpowers–the United States and Soviet Union. After the near calamity of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the superpowers learned to avoid each other’s red lines, engage one another in a sustained conversation about their military programs, use treaties to keep these programs within bounds, and cooperate in reining back the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries. They also added features such as permissive action links to their nuclear weapons to make an unintended explosion less likely.
But human history is the story of complaisance. While disaster is fresh in our memory, we take precautions. As the memory of disaster recedes, kept alive only in history books and the fading memories of the aged, we assume that the fruits of precaution are the natural order of things. So we start to take risks. And if the risks pay dividends in the short term, we take more risks, finding reasons not to see that we’re building an edifice of risk that can only eventually collapse under its own weight….
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