Failed to be Safe: A Nuclear Crisis

December 15, 2011

Political Theory


         Although it has been roughly twenty years since the Cold War came to an end, the United States spends more on nuclear weapons than when the Soviet Union threatened our country decades ago. In the last ten years, the United States has spent a little over $600 billion on nuclear weapons, spending around $55 billion annually. President Obama continues to adamantly support the Global Zero Campaign, that is aimed to drop our country’s number of nuclear warheads down to 1,000, yet currently the U.S. has around 2,500 warheads ready to be deployed. The U.S. with other global powers, such as Russia with well over 2,000 active warheads, have enough nuclear power to destroy the world multiple times over. With this in mind, one should immediately notice the irony in our countries continued support for nuclear weapon advancement. Why does the United States continue to fund billions of dollars towards increasing the power and quantity of nuclear bombs when we already have enough to end humanity all together?

          In the 1964 film Fail Safe, Sidney Lumet exposes the irony of the nuclear arms race in one of the greatest Cold War films ever made. Lumet inspires the audience to question the reliability of nuclear weapons by placing them in the middle of a grim yet possible scenario: Through a series of highly unlikely mechanical and technological malfunctions, the United States has accidently sent a fleet of bombers to nuke Moscow. After reaching a point of no return, the president, played by Henry Fonda, is forced to either allow the Soviet Union to gun down the bombers or compensate for the lives killed by dropping a nuke over New York City to avoid initiating a nuclear war. Although extremely unlikely, Sidney Lumet does an effective job providing the viewer with a possible, alternative outlook on the perceived benefits of nuclear weapons. At the end of the film, the President comes to a realization that nuclear weapons, although the most powerful form of protection, are also a potential cause for the destruction of our world.

The radical scenario, that Lumet presents in Fail Safe is not to be overlooked, especially with the amount of active nuclear warheads the US currently has at its disposal. Lumet wants the audience to realize that through our country’s continued production of nuclear arms, we are only more at risk. The amount of destruction the U.S. can potentially inflict on another country, almost seems to be lessoning our own protection by increasing the potential consequence, such as those presented in Fail Safe.

Thomas Hobbes believes that the sovereignty, the U.S. government, “shall authorize all the actions and judgements of that man, or assembly of men, in the same manner as if they were his own, to the end to live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men.” (Leviathan, Ch. XVIII) Meaning that the government must uphold its protection of the people under all circumstances. Creating more nuclear warheads only increases our risk of initiating a nuclear war and becomes more of a threat to those whom the nuclear bombs ironically protect. Does the continued effort to produce more nuclear warheads only increase our potential risk? Is our protection actually being negated by our amount of nuclear bombs? What would Hobbes say to the use of nuclear bombs as reliable protection?

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One Comment on “Failed to be Safe: A Nuclear Crisis”

  1. ryanjcarney Says:

    Concerning your questions, “Does the continued effort to produce more nuclear warheads only increase our potential risk? Is our protection actually being negated by our amount of nuclear bombs?” the obvious answer is “No.” As you correctly stated, the United States is already controls more nuclear bombs than it would EVER need to destroy the Earth many times over. The limit for the Mutually Assured Destruction deterrent plan was met a long time ago so there is no benefit to the nation in the production of more. The more nukes in existence only increases the possibility of the situations Cold Wars films have outlined so well over the years: your Fail Safe example, a lunatic at the helm (ala Dr Strangelove), terrorists somehow getting their hands on a nuke, and the list goes on.

    So the question is why do we keep making more? My guess is defense lobbyists with politicians in their pockets. Money talks, and it always will.

    I don’t think nukes would be a good example of the reliable protection Hobbes desired. The bombs don’t do much for maintaining peace domestically but rather have been used in international politics.

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