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Not With a Bang but a Click

NOT with a bang! For 46 years now, policymakers around the globe have inhabited a realm in which the stark forecast penned by poet T.S. Eliot seemed to define the only choices: This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.

Bang or whimper, the grim reality of a world poised on a nuclear hair trigger made it seem almost inevitable that, through accident or terrible design, sooner or later the world would end. No more. Thank you, President Bush, for your wisdom in ordering the dismantling of the United States' nuclear hair trigger. Thank you, President Gorbachev, for responding in kind. Who could have foreseen, five years ago, that the way the cold war would end would be - not with a bang - but with the steady click, click, click of nuclear control systems being recoded? Click, as missileers close the hatches on silos left, for the first time ever, untended. Click, as the gun crews take the gravity bombs away from the aircraft into storage. Click, click, click. The decision of the world's two nuclear megapowers to move away from nuclear readiness and slash their nuclear arsenals makes the world a safer place. The historic steps will not totally free us from the horrors of future nuclear war. The US and the former Soviet Union will still have vast, if vastly safer, nuclear arsenals. In former Soviet lands, the disintegration of central power could still bring nuclear threats into intercommunal bargaining. Meanwhile, the seven other powers around the world who followed the megapowers into acquiring nuclear arsenals, and those who have plans to do so, will have reason to question the trend away from reliance on these weapons of doom. We will have to find a way to persuade these parties to join the campaign for a world free from nuclear dread. All relations between nations will change as we enter the post-hair-trigger era. How will European and Japanese attitudes toward the US change when they no longer rely on the American nuclear deterrent for national survival? How will the nations of the world deal with the peoples of the former Soviet Union, to help them build a better future for themselves? Can an anti-missile shield protect rich Northern nations from threats coming from the poor South? Nobody knows. At least we have international structures to help midwife the changes ahead - the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and so on. All have flaws. But it is better to have these organizations in a time of change than to invent them from scratch. We also have many of the ideas we will need to take best advantage of the new era: * The idea that engaging in arms-racing is not the only - or most effective - way to respond to feelings of vulnerability. As Presidents Reagan and Bush have proven, working to build relations and resolve differences with former adversaries can be more effective than endlessly preparing for megawar. * The idea that it is possible to build a world in which basic human needs, including dignity and freedom from fear, can be met. The past 70 years have seen the development of international conventions, treaties, and declarations on what the common standards of the world community should be. Now that cold-war rivalries are no longer an excuse for noncompliance, it is time to bring these standards to the heart of the way states and leaders are judged. In 1964, some of my pre-teen friends in England were disturbed by the images of nuclear devastation portrayed during that year's US presidential election. Two years ago, my son, also entering his teens, experienced nuclear dread. Now I have good news for him and my younger children. The world does not have to end! No bangs, no whimpers. Just the click, click, click as all get down to business building a better world.

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