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The debate on the Benefits and Risks of Laser Isotope Separation between Mark Raizen and Francis Slakey (January APS News Back Page) raises interesting points that, ultimately, are relevant to the development of any defense (but therefore also war-enabling) technology that some possess but do not wish others to have. Raizen and Slakey could have been talking about bows, arrows, guns and gunpowder that all have access to now. Or, they could have been talking about nuclear, biological and chemical weapons that all do not have today–but which are likely to become widespread, if we do not change our ways.
Unfortunately the debate does not address the root cause of many of our difficulties: We do not recognize that our conflicts can only really be resolved by negotiation rather than by slaughtering one another. No matter how hard we try to prevent “others” from acquiring the deadly weapons that we so dearly guard because we are “civilized” while they are not, these others will eventually also acquire them. The reason is simple. All technology is based on science and, if we have learned anything from the latter, it is that what can be done in one place at one time can be repeated in any other place at any other time. The laws of physics are invariant.
If we have nuclear technology today others will acquire it tomorrow. If we fly drones over other countries today they will have the capacity to do the same over ours –one day.
We may try to continuously stay a step ahead and hope that our defenses will be able to shield us while they attempt to catch up. But that is a dangerous game. A perfect shield against any weapon is an impossibility.
More physicists, engineers and other scientists ought to try and have a broader perspective and recognize the plight of people all around the world. In that way perhaps we could persuade our politicians to also look at the world without the blinders they seem to have on.
Then they may not be as trigger-happy.
I cannot help but make one final comment, though. Admirably, Slakey exhibits that broad perspective and refers to the poverty of many in the world. I do take issue, however, with the “tribeswoman” appellation applied to that woman trekking miles to fetch water. One of the problems we have here in the “West” is that we often look at those whose cultures we may not understand well as being somewhat inferior.
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