The question of whether or when to resume new nuclear weapons design work is now formally on the table with the Bush Administration’s request to repeal a ban on U.S. research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons.
I am careful here in my personal blog not to express my own views about issues I cover as a journalist. I have what I believe is a good working relationship with both the leaders of the nuclear arms control community and leaders of the nuclear weapons community. I have spent more than a decade talking to both, and I deeply understand their arguments and the passion with which they make them.
Succeeding as a journalist in such a situation requires an odd state of mind – the ability to fully hold, entertain and understand contradictory viewpoints. I need to be able to embrace the arms control community’s argument that nuclear weapons are a fundamental threat to humanity. I need to be able to embrace the weapons community’s argument that nuclear weapons prevented (“deterred”, to use their careful word) world war for half a century.
I’ve spent countless hours doing that in this case – the bookshelf behind me of nuclear weapons policy books is filled with heavy tomes on the subject. Ultimately it has been a morally exhausting experience. The experience has allowed me to write sympathetically about both, and robbed me of any views of my own. In this case, an unwillingness to share my own views is not artifact or journalist’s deceit. It is genuine.
For most of the last five years I’ve hated writing about nuclear weapons for that reason. Grappling with this largest of questions is just too hard. But I do it anew this year because the question is back on the table, freighted with new nuances, in the context of a new world.