Next month, “Fallout 4,” a highly-anticipated video game releases. Dealing with various Americans a couple centuries after nuclear war, the Fallout series is known for its strong writing, dark humor, and bleak outlook. “War never changes,” Ron Pearlman bitterly narrates over each game’s introduction. The player character is never able to save the world or return it to what it was. Only slow progress is possible, and only if the player character chooses benevolent options. One entry’s entire quest involves bringing clean water to the inhabitants of DC. Not only does the most recent entry release soon, but we also approach the date in the Fallout universe on which nuclear war broke out: October 23, 2077, the games explain, sees a nuclear exchange between the United States and China that ends life as we know it in a mere two hours.
Some real-life anniversaries accompany this: 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the founding of the United Nations, intended to prevent another war capable of destroying the planet. The reason I bring this up (besides my love of video games) is that despite popular perceptions, nuclear disarmament is still a prevalent issue in today’s world. Here are some possibilities for the use or exchange of nuclear weapons:
• First, there is the ever-present fear, not unjustified, that a terrorist group could gain control of a nuclear weapon. As Fareed Zakaria points out in The Future of Freedom, nuclear weapons existed 70 years ago, the era of black-and-white televisions, rotary phones, and no commercial air traffic: The science of creating a nuclear weapon is not so complicated by today’s standards.
• Religious nationalists in India have recently taken power. Under Modi, Pakistan is unstable and beset by its own religious extremists, and both still claim Kashmir.
• North Korea is always as volatile as its current autocrat. It has a tiny stockpile of nukes, but their unpredictability worries world leaders across the globe.
• President Obama, along with other heads of state, is to be congratulated for negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran. However, hardline elements in Iran are still pro-expansion, which is worrying. There is also the outside possibility of an exchange with the State of Israel.
• The United States and Russia are currently at odds over the conflict in Ukraine.
Thankfully, none of these conflicts is particularly likely to escalate into nuclear war, but they are worth considering and keeping an eye on.
I should also point out our own extremists: Senator Jon Kyl nearly undermined the New START treaty with Russia in 2010/2011. His cooperation was secured only with massive pork-barrel projects for his state and a promise of tens of billions of dollars in nuclear modernization. John Bolton, meanwhile, took what appeared to be a pro-nuke stance in a New York Times piece. All this despite the fact that the United States has the most nuclear weapons on high alert in the world (closely followed by Russia, which has more nukes but fewer on high alert).
The threat of nuclear exchange did not end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It may not be the most pressing problem in the world, but peace activists should continue to work towards a world free of the threat of nuclear destruction.
Check out Isao Hashimoto’s visual representation of every nuclear explosion from 1945 to 1998.