Cold War is history, but nuclear destruction remains world's greatest threat

To a younger generation, these times seem strewn with violence and threats to the United States. But for those born before the 1960s, the overall situation appears much more stable.

Contemporary violence in the Middle East and Africa seems set at terrible levels until compared to the record of regular and routine savagery from the beginning of recorded civilization. Try the Old Testament. To those whose parents experienced World Wars and who themselves lived through the truly existential terror of the Cold War, overlapping with Korean and Vietnam wars, things today are not so bad.

After Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Cold War's threat of "mutually assured destruction," a preface to radioactive annihilation of the whole human race, was truly terrifying. Seniors remember the pathetic responses such as useless backyard bomb shelters. Children went through futile but scary "duck and cover" school training.

From the 16th to the 19th century, historians attribute periods of peace to a British sponsored "balance of power." While the British empire is long gone, the current global situation can be described as an unarticulated, common rule by Russia, Europe, China and the United States. Russia, as the weakest of these entities does more huffing and puffing, but shares a general desire for world peace as essential to economic growth and preservation of an internal power structure.

These four entities communicate among themselves through a myriad of channels, most invisible to the average citizen. Behind the formal organizations of the U.N., various departments of the United Nations facilitate international cooperation. The G6, G7, G8, G20 and Outreach 5 "summit" organizations allow for constructive communication and agreement unrestricted by U.N. formalities. NGOs, regional alliances and international organizations based on topical interest also wield informal power.

The great powers still compete for world influence and marginal imperial advantage. The U.S. intervenes in the Middle East, the Far East and South America. Its unique, globally framed military structure monitors the world. China pushes its boundaries in the South China Sea. Russia, a sore loser in the Ukraine, pushes against a Europe that spread east within Russia's former sphere of influence.

This competition is lethal in the eastern Ukraine. Thousands are murdered annually in several parts of Africa and the Middle East, sometimes by proxy. But the overriding concern, now little heeded by the public, is still a slip into nuclear war and an uninhabitable, radioactive globe.


Many Americans grumble about treaty infringements on American sovereign power. Get used to it. A continual strengthening of international law and order is not only in the cards, but America will only injure its own interest by "going it alone" in a shrinking, interdependent world.

Great powers share concern with a common threat: smaller, unstable nations with loose nuclear controls or unstable leadership.

The No. 1 threat to world peace is not Russia but North Korea. No other unstable country has a substantial supply of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The country rests on a rigid structure maintained by terror, led by a man of marginal sanity, at least as we define it. China has some limited influence.

The next most dangerous country is Pakistan. Pakistan too has nuclear weapons and an unstable government. Even if the United States has some influence with Pakistan, it is also limited. Elements in that country are fanatical and, seizing power, could push the world into a nuclear war starting with India, another nuclear power but with greater political stability and less fanaticism.

The great powers are united in their opposition to the expansion of nuclear power, hence the unanimous cooperation in blocking Iran's nuclear program. Propaganda aside, Iran is not run by crazies nor is the government inherently unstable. Under the recently sealed U.N. nuclear control agreement, Iran will see its long-term best interests lie in cooperation with the global network.

This is a beginning. Enhanced effort in nuclear weapons control is an absolute necessity to human survival, a real existential issue. A complete peace is not foreseeable but nuclear peace policed under international law is an emerging possibility in the 21st century, and desperately needed.

John Havelock, a former White House Fellow, Alaska attorney general and retired professor of justice has long been a commentator on foreign affairs.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

John Havelock

John Havelock is an Anchorage attorney and university scholar.