Is the nuclear threat real?

Conference on nuclear weapons in the Einstein Forum PotsdamFilm kiss in front of the mushroom cloud

Where once the balance of power ensured a certain controllability of the atomic potential, today there is unpredictability. The American philosopher and director of the Einstein Forum, Susan Neiman, is convinced of this.

"Now we have someone in the White House who has been declared literally insane by a number of psychologists and psychiatrists. And I think that also shows the problem to a certain degree that we didn't really have during the entire Cold War. "

Beyond the military threat, the bomb is to be understood primarily as a symbol of an unconditional political urge to gain recognition. The journalist and writer Mohammed Hanif, for example, described the Pakistani nuclear arsenal as an "extension of the founding myth" of his country. The slogan of the former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that his country needs the bomb, even if you have to eat grass for it, has an effect to this day:

"We don't exactly eat grass, but we are seriously malnourished. 18 million of our children will never see the inside of a school. There is an endless list of things we couldn't do because we were too busy trying that damn bomb." to build and hide it from the world. We haven't figured out how we can supply the population with clean drinking water - but thank God: We have the bomb! "

There is no public discourse on atomic threats

More states than ever before have nuclear weapons today. The upgrade spiral has long since picked up speed again, and not just rhetorically. Nevertheless, the potential for atomic destruction only plays a minor role in the public consciousness. The historian and organizer of the conference, Martin Schaad, demonstrated this contradicting development using historical manuals and films on survival in a nuclear catastrophe:

"If you look at cultural productions that have nuclear weapons as their theme, then those were to a large extent fear scenarios in the eighties, while the field of apocalyptic nuclear films is now played by James Cameron. You, Arnold Schwarzenegger kiss his Film partner in front of a mushroom cloud and says: 'Hot kiss that!' That has changed to a degree that one could not have imagined if, as a child in the eighties, one watched certain films, books, brochures and the like. "

Other doom scenarios such as climate change and the threat of terrorist attacks have suppressed fear of the final nuclear battle. Wrong, thinks Lovely Umayam. The American nuclear expert is also committed to the public discourse on the atomic question.

"There are other narratives than just the expert knowledge of nuclear deterrence. The history of nuclear weapons also tells of people and the piece of land they live on. Just think of uranium, the most important material for nuclear weapons. In many places Thousands of Native Americans were displaced because uranium was mined on their land. Many of these places are still contaminated to this day. From this perspective, the issue of nuclear weapons is much more accessible to the general public because it touches on environmental issues and social justice. "

Algorithms replace democratic decision-making culture

The American science historian Lorraine Daston also brought an alternative approach into play. The atomic threat scenario has replaced the democratic decision-making culture with situation analyzes of programmed algorithms in a matter of seconds. Human doubts or ethical considerations have fallen into disrepute in view of nuclear threat scenarios, with socio-cultural consequences to this day:

"The Cold War situation was a situation where the cost of deliberation, of moral inhibitions, emotional inhibitions, were simply intolerable. And in such circumstances algorithms are beneficial. What has changed is the proliferation of algorithms and an immoderate one Trust that algorithms can regulate all aspects of our lives. From driving to spouses. "

How real the threat from nuclear armament and the termination of old alliances is is discussed differently among geostrategists. In any case, the conference in Potsdam's Einstein Forum showed two things: Even if the majority are concentrating on other doom scenarios today, the atomic option remains the most concrete symbol of the existential potential for destruction. At the same time, the bomb has permanently shifted the dominant relationship between man and machine.