As everyone knows, the United States initiated its nuclear-weapons program in response to Nazi Germany’s. Though getting off to a strong start, just like the U.S. Manhattan Project, it may have become dispersed over too many departments. As well, nuclear physicists were skimmed off by the Wehrmacht’s draft; others were Jews who fled Germany.

In The Diminishing Justice and Utility of Nuclear Deterrence, his contribution to Thinking About Strategy, A Tribute to Sir Michael Quinlan, George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace addresses Adolf Hitler’s position as a driving force in the development of nuclear weapons. (Michael Quinlan served in the British government and was an academic and writer who believed in both nuclear weapons as well as just war and eventual disarmament.)

We often forget or just take for granted that the origins of nuclear weapons lie, in large part, with Hitler. To this day he remains the gift that keeps on giving for nuclear-weapons advocates. Perkovich explains three of the justifications Hitler continues to provide.

[1] Proponents of nuclear weapons tend to. … assert that even if it were feasible to achieve secure nuclear disarmament, it would be undesirable because without nuclear weapons the world would be more susceptible to large-scale aggression and war, whether nuclear or not. … In Sir Michael’s words, “Even if all nuclear weapons had been scrapped, there would never be total assurance that a new Hitler would go down to defeat without building some and using them.”

[2] Israel does not openly explain its possession of nuclear weapons, but as Avner Cohen [the expert on Israel’s nuclear weapons — RW] has documented, the specter of Hitler stirred Ben Gurion’s determination to acquire the ultimate defensive weapon.

[3] The ghost of Hitler is influential in France, too, for obvious historical reasons. In a June 2009 advertisement sponsored by the Ministry of Defense in the Nouvel Observateur commemorating the allied invasion of Normandy, a photograph of troops landing on the beach ran with a caption thanking the allies for liberating France and saying that France’s nuclear deterrent would render such assistance unnecessary in the future.

As begins to come clear from the above excerpt, states already in possession of nuclear weapon have no qualms about using a Nazi Germany scenario as justification for their weapons. Perkovich again:

Since the Cold War ended, the states that enjoyed conventional military superiority over their competitors — namely, the U.S., France and the UK in NATO, and Israel — have felt a need to justify retaining these weapons and resisting pressures to lead global efforts to eliminate them. Hitler’s ghost serves the purpose, projecting a massively monstrous threat that should make us thankful that nuclear weapons exist to keep it from ever appearing again.

Nothing worse than nuclear-weapons ingrates! Meanwhile, according to Timothy Snyder in Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010), Germany killed over 10 million noncombatants. Thus do nuclear weapons not only turn our leaders into Hitlers waiting to happen, but Hitler times two, three, or even five or more.

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