Peering into nuclear futures

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Analysis favors policy over technology

By Roger Snodgrass

Under American leadership, the arms control pendulum has swung back in the direction of abolishing nuclear weapons, after a period in which such a sweeping aspiration has been outside the mainstream of political thought.

This is the perspective of James Acton, an associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who specializes in non-proliferation and disarmament. Acton talked about those two closely related goals, as their technical and political aspects have increasingly intertwined in the post cold war era. He spoke to an audience of non-proliferation and threat reduction specialists Wednesday on the campus of Los Alamos National Laboratory about “The Politics of Proliferation


“You can’t solve a political problem with a purely technical solution,” Acton said at the beginning of his talk, quoting from a famous paper by ecologist Garett Hardin, who applied the warning to the question of population control in 1968. Hardin believed that those who thought population pressures could be averted through an easy technological fix were simply avoiding the inconvenience of political changes that could disrupt their privileges.

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