POLITICS: Avoiding nuclear anarchy

Mon, 06 Jan 97 15:18:56 GMT

In the recent book "Avoiding nuclear anarchy", a group of
Harvard researches argues that the danger of nuclear
prolifieration is *the* greatest threat to american national
security. Especially worrisome is the risk of leakage of
weapon grade plutonium and uranium, as well as lower grade
fuel, nuclear related technology and nuclear scientists from
the former Sovjet Union. The authors claim that though the
american government has made some attempts to cooperate with
the Russians to contain this threat, the efforts have not
been proportionate to the urgency of the situation.

Serious as this may be though, the risk of nuclear leakage
from the ex-Sovjet is only a minor part of the picture of
dangers that lay ahead of us. There are other sources for
nuclear proliferation, there is the risk of proliferation of
biological and chemical weapons, and there are even greater
risks in some potential new technology such as

None of this is news, but I bring it up for two reasons. The
firt reason is that I think that we extropians and
transhumanists do not consider the risks seriously enough.
We usually acknowledge their existence, but are not
generally too worried about them and we do not spend a great
portion of our time thinking about what we could do about
them. The explanation is probably that it is *boring*. No
one wants to be the one who complaints, urges restraint and
focuses on the negative aspects of things. This is an
explanation but not an excuse; it would be great if we could
become more responsible.

Another explanation -and this brings me to the second point
I want to make- is that many of these problems seem to call
for solutions that clash with the libertarian doctrine held
by many on this list. At least at first sight, it seems that
a reformed and strengthened United Nation would be the best
suited institution to supervise the use of very dangerous
technologies. I know the mere mention of the UN probably
causes some people here to want to throw up. The alternative
would perhaps be a world where USA plays the international
big brother role, but this raises many problems of moral
authority, financing etc. etc. Perhaps it is therefore worth
considering an institution like the UN in whose decision
making processes USA and other nations are allowed to play a
part in the that are in some proportion to their real power.
If this were to be effective, the UN would of course have to
have the mandate to make and enforce some laws that would
prevent any nations, organisations and individuals from
acquiring weapons of mass distruction or any technologies
with dangers greater than the group in question could be
entrusted to handle.

This would mean that some sacrifice of individual freedom
and national souveigninty would have to be made. But that
would be a prise worth paying if it would increase the
chance that mankind succeeds in avoiding putting an end to
civilization or even its existence as a species. Since we
have the vision of how fantastic the world could be if the
forces of possible technologies were released and employed
wisely, we should also have the will to do what it takes to
prevent things from going tragically wrong, even if this
means adding new principles to our thinking that
circumscribe the applicability of some of our most favoured

Do you think there is something in this?

Nicholas Bostrom n.bostrom@lse.ac.uk