During the Cold War, US/Soviet conflict moved the hands of the nuclear clock preilously close to midnight. That war is over now, and the Soviet Union is gone. But nuclear danger is not. Instead, a new set of threats has emerged over the past decade: proliferation and testing, new efforts to build missile defenses, and a nearly complete collapse of the arms control framework constructed in the early 1960s. Thus Jonathan Schell’s bracing claim that “We are witnessing… the emergence of an extremely volatile and dangerous second age of nuclear danger.”

In this New Democracy Forum, which grew form a debate at a recent American Historical Association meeting, a group of American and Russian analysts explore the processes that ended the first nuclear age, the pressures behind the new threats, and the prospects for addressing those threats. Historians Lawrence Wittner and Vladimir Zubok contest peace-through-strength intpretations of the end of the Cold War, and emphasize the importance of the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, European peace movements, and Gorbachev’s vision for the future of the Soviet Union. Schell and Sergey Rogov examine the emergent threats, and trace them to a distrubting reinterpretation of nuclear weapons (as normal weapons of war, rather than exceptional responses to an historical emergency), the dominant inernational role of the U.S., new military technologies, and the absence of a suitable vocabulary for understanding the new nuclear world. 

Randall Forsberg’s concluding comments locate some sources for hope. A founder of the U.S. Nuclear Freeze Cmpaiagn, Forsberg thinks that the resurgence of a popular movement against nuclear weapons is essential to ending the new dangers. In this, she returns to a central theme that runs throughout: that peace is the product of good politics. Though not an especially optimisitc message—the current state of our politics is not so good—it is an important message. For it means that if this second age of danger ends badly, we will have only ourselves to blame. 

— Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman