Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
The Medical Implications of Nuclear War, Institute of Medicine. ~ 1986 by the National Academy of Sciences. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. The Nuclear Arms Race and the Psychology of Power JEROME D. FRANK, M.D., PH.D. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Baltimore, Maryland INTRODUCTION The information presented in this volume on the reactions of children, adolescents, and the general public to the threat of a nuclear holocaust has been most illuminating. This paper shifts the focus from the potential victims of such a disaster to its creators, the national decision makers of the nuclear powers. Leaders of the national security establishments throughout the world are remarkably impervious to outside pressures. Marches, rallies, and demonstrations attracting millions of participants; numerous writings in medical and academic journals; and many conferences have had no ap- preciable impact on the nuclear arms race. There are reasons for the ineffectiveness of such activities. Probably the most important is the rapid formation of vast technological, scientific, economic, bureaucratic, and military constituencies behind every new weapon system. Often the only decision involving a new weapon system is the first one. Once a bureau- cratic unit has been set up and money has been allocated, the process unrolls virtually automatically from research to testing and then to de- velopment and deployment. This paper examines a psychological feature of national leaders that contributes to their resistance to public pressure for nuclear disarmament and is probably the chief psychological instigator of the nuclear arms race the will to power. The Roman historian Tacitus has called this drive the most flagrant of all the passions, and the contemporary military his 474
THE NUCLEI ARMS MCE kD THE PSYCHOLOGY OF POWER 475 torian Michael Howard has written, "The causes of war remain rooted in perceptions by statesmen of the growth of hostile power and the fears for the restriction . . . of their own" (Howard. 19841. The counterpart of the drive for power is the equally strong propensity to obey (Milgram, 19741. Were there not a drive to obey orders, leaders would be powerless, and this drive seems to be as powerful as any other human propensity. In recognition of this fact, instillation of automatic obedience to command is a major function of all military training. In response to a leader's commands, human groups perform incredible acts of both heroism and destruction, including perpetrating massacres and committing mass suicide. Examined in this paper are some psychological aspects of the exercise of power in the anarchic and dangerous international environment with special reference to pursuit of the nuclear arms competition. The presen- tation therefore inevitably emphasizes the aspects of power that are socially destructive. Obviously the power drive accounts for ambition, competi- tiveness, and other characteristics of members of a healthy society. The prevalence of such qualities is necessary for the emergence of leaders who are essential for the organization and functioning of any group. Without people willing to give orders and others willing to obey them, societies could not organize themselves or protect themselves against the external threats. In organized, cohesive societies, moreover, the drive for power gen- erally expresses itself constructively. Leaders seek to enhance the welfare of their followers, and rules, social customs, and shared values inhibit the use of violence to resolve conflicts. Only in the absence of such constraints is violence the final arbiter of power struggles (Schmookler, 19831. PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS OF LEADERS All successful leaders have certain psychological characteristics that, in varying degrees, are essential to the exercise of power. Among these characteristics are practicality, a low threshold for suspiciousness, opti- mism, and strength of will. . Successful exercise of leadership requires that leaders acquire and con- trol the means of exerting power, whether these means be weaponry or mastery of the structure and finances of the organizations they lead. As a result, leaders are characteristically men of action who seek to master practical problems as they arise. Most are impatient of abstractions and theoretical considerations. To advance in the hierarchy of leadership, it is helpful, perhaps essen- tial, for an aspiring leader to have a low threshold of suspicion of the
476 IMAGES AND RISKS OF NUC~FAR WAR intentions of others. All leaders at times must conceal information from others, even if this requires dissembling or deceit. An example was Pres- ident Kennedy's concealment from the Russian ambassador of his knowl- edge of the Russian missile bases being constructed in Cuba. In their rise to power, furthermore, leaders are likely to encounter some superiors who wish to hold them back, rivals who seek to displace them, and subordinates who seek to curry favor. The recognition of leaders that they themselves sometimes dissemble and their experiences in thwarting machinations of those around them may facilitate the formation of the image of the enemy discussed below. Leaders' optimism contributes to their ability to persevere in the face of disappointments and defeats. Leaders who have reached the top have typically experienced more victories than defeats, sometimes despite prophecies of defeat by their advisers, so such leaders develop high con- fidence in their judgment and ability to prevail. Optimism contributes finally to strength of will, probably the most important single psychological attribute of the successful leader. Strength of will involves not only the ability to persist in spite of obstacles but also to endure physical suffering as well as unpleasant emotions such as fear. Moreover the effective use of power involves the infliction of as much suffering on the opponent as is necessary to prevail. In this connection a major psychological reason for the failure of anti- nuclear activists to influence national policies may be that their major appeals are to fear and compassion. Appeals to these emotions have been implicit throughout this symposium in the delineations of the many and varied horrors of a nuclear holocaust, and the distressing feelings the prospect of such an event arouses in children and the general public. Fear powerfully motivates most people, and appeals to compassion resonate particularly with physicians and other members of the helping professions. Yet it is hard to imagine two emotions less likely to influence those with a strong power drive. In fact, for members of the national security establishment, appeals to such emotions are counterproductive because those who make them are readily dismissed as cowards and sen- timentalists. EMOTIONAL INSTIGATORS OF VIOLENCE International struggles differ primarily from domestic ones in that there are no enforceable rules for guiding the course of conflict into nonviolent channels, and opportunities for mutual accommodation are restricted by the fact that two rival groups may be operating under different rules and
THE NUCLEI ARMS RACE ID THE PSYCHOLOGY OF POWER 477 with different values. In such an anarchic situation, victory goes to the side that can bring to bear superior means of violence. The proclivity to resort to violence is deeply rooted in the human psyche. At an emotional level the two main instigators of violent behavior are fear and anger. Fear instigates violence in an animal only when it feels cor- nered, that is, when it is unable to flee. Because of their symbolic powers, humans often feel cornered even when physically they are not. The rec- ognition of a warrior that flight would mark him as a coward and expose him to the contempt of his fellows is often a more powerful obstacle to flight than any physical barrier could be, leaving the warrior no alternative but to fight. Similarly, a national leader might well feel cornered by the prospect of loss of his domestic power base if he yielded to an enemy's threat. Anger, which is the typical response to frustration, evokes the urge to harm or destroy its source. Since under the goad of the drive to power groups seek continually to expand, inevitably they eventually collide and thus frustrate each other. So the international arena never lacks for stimuli to fear and anger. The role of emotions in influencing decisions of national leaders is hard to evaluate. Historically emotions have influenced leaders' behavior in crises where rapid decisions had to be made under conditions of extreme tension (George, 1986~. By and large, however, leaders are among the most emotionally stable members of their societies, because in order to reach the top they must have weathered many emotionally stressful sit- uations. Although fear and anger are prime instigators of violence in hand-to- hand combat, the major destructiveness of modern war is inflicted on invisible targets by bombs and shells launched by soldiers who are simply obeying orders. Moreover, decisions of heads of state to go to war are usually based ostensibly on highly rational calculations. On the other hand, emotions can influence ostensibly rational decisions of national leaders in subtle ways (Janis, in press). Emotional reactions almost certainly con- tribute to the frequent misinterpretations by leaders of antagonistic groups of each other's capabilities and intentions. THE IMAGE OF THE ENEMY The major psychological instigator of the accumulation of weaponry and the major target for its use has always been another group perceived as an enemy (Frank, 19821. Humans, like all social creatures, are pro- grammed to fear and mistrust members of groups other than their own.
478 IMAGES AND RISKS OF NUCLEAR WAR When two such groups find themselves in conflict this mutual distrust escalates to what has been termed the image of the enemy. No matter who the conflicting groups are, each sees the other as warlike, cruel, and treacherous. This perception was correct for those societies, from the Assyrians to the Nazis, whose values glorified military conquest and death in battle. Fortunately, according to the dominant values of the two leading in- ternational antagonists today, the United States and the Soviet Union, war is an evil, justified only in the service of the highest moral goals or in self-defense. Groups that hold these values see themselves as peaceful, honorable, and humane, while portraying their opponents as treacherous, warlike, and cruel. As a result, each group attributes its own violent acts to irresistible environmental forces, while similar actions by the other are attributed to their innate evil qualities, a phenomenon psychologists have termed the attribution error (Jones and Davis, 1965~. Each antagonist attributes the atrocious acts of an enemy to the enemy's viciousness, while attributing those committed by itself to regrettable necessities. Unfortunately the evil image of the enemy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever the characteristics of warring groups initially, each group, in its effort to combat what it perceives as the treacherousness and warlike- ness of the other, becomes treacherous and warlike itself. Enemies that do not recognize each other to be treacherous and warlike would not long survive. So each antagonist can legitimately justify its own accumulation of weaponry as being necessary for self-defense. VIOLENCE AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS In an anarchic world the ultimate means of controlling the behavior of an enemy has been the threat or actual use of violence. Efforts to resolve international conflicts by negotiation have always been conducted in this context. The creditability of the threat of violence depended on the ability to maintain the tightest control possible over the course of battle should negotiations break down. Control was sought through battle plans based primarily on experience with previous wars. Even when based on extensive previous experience, these plans have often failed to work under battle conditions. Scenarios for waging limited or controlled nuclear war are based only on extrapolations from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the results of underground tests. Most of the creators of these scenarios have never been in combat or even witnessed a nuclear explosion, and none, of course, has experienced a nuclear holocaust. To quote a high-ranking military expert: "In a very literal use of the language, they do not know what they are talking about" (T. L. Davies, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, personal communication, 19821. If battle plans based on extensive experience so
THE NUCLEI ARMS RACE ID THE PSYCHOLOGY OF POWER 479 often failed under conditions of actual combat, what are the chances of success for these computerized nuclear fantasies? In addition to the unfamiliarity of nuclear weapons, their unprecedented destructiveness coupled with such phenomena as electromagnetic pulses hamper the ability to maintain the tight command and control that would be required to assure the successful use of nuclear weapons in battle. Breakdowns of command and control leading to serious errors have fre- quently occurred under the stress and confusion of combat. Nuclear weap- ons allow virtually no margin for error. As the historian Henry Steele Commager puts it, "Technologically for the first time we've reached the stage of the irretrievable mistake." National leaders are well aware of these considerations. They never- theless continue to place their faith in weaponry because no alternative means of exercising power is in sight. They continue to create ever more elaborate and sophisticated nuclear weapon systems in hopes of acquiring meaningful superiority over their rivals. NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND CONCEPTUAL INERTIA To be able to pursue this goal, leaders must psychologically assimilate nuclear weapons to conventional weapons, with which relative power had meaning. The view of nuclear weapons as simply bigger conventional ones is a manifestation of what has been called conceptual inertia or the force of habit. Whenever humans are faced with a brand new problem they try to make it look like an old, familiar one and then attempt to solve it by the same means that succeeded with the familiar one. The assimilation of nuclear weapons to conventional ones is abetted by the misuse of language. Words used to describe arms races and nuclear weapons are still almost exclusively those used for conventional weapons. Concepts such as superiority, inferiority, defense, margin of safety, and so on, dominate the language of military affairs. As semanticists have pointed out, in the absence of actual experience reality is what we tell ourselves it is, so if we use the wrong words to describe a situation, we are off on the wrong foot before we even know we have started to think (Rapoport, 1984~. To cite one example, every speaker in this symposium has used the terms nuclear war to refer to a nuclear holocaust, while simultaneously providing abundant evidence that a nuclear holocaust differs fundamentally from war in at least two crucial respects: it cannot be won in any mean- ingful sense of the term, and its destructiveness continues and probably increases long after hostilities have ceased. The mere use of the word war, by evoking images of the possibilities of victory and of survival of an intact society, can subtly distort one's thinking about the nuclear threat.
480 IMAGES AND RISKS OF NUCLEAR WAR The pursuit of greater security through technology is strikingly exem- plified by the Strategic Defense Initiative. Proponents justify research on this program by citing the solutions of many problems long thought to be insoluble, examples being human flight, the splitting of the atom, and the cracking of the genetic code. Moreover, an effective defense, it has been said, has been developed against every weapon in the past. This statement is probably true, but only because a considerably less than perfect defense was adequate against even the most powerful prenuclear weapon. Ade- quate protection against nuclear warheads would require a virtually perfect defense. This has never been achieved against any weapon because the same mental processes that devise the defense are simultaneously thinking ~ . . . Oi ways 0 circumventing it. The triumphs of technology in mastering inanimate nature depend on the fact that the physical world does not fight back. The problem remains stationary during attempts to solve it. The real problem posed by an enemy's weapons, however, lies not in their physical properties but in the mental processes of the enemy's weapons experts. Since the mental pro- cesses of all humans are similar, although one side may achieve a tem- porary technological advantage, the other inevitably catches up. The optimism of national leaders seems to prevent them from drawing this obvious conclusion, creating what has been termed the fallacy of the last move. Leaders of each side apparently believe that its latest techno- logical solution to threats created by an enemy's weapons will assure final victory, while actually both are pursuing an ever-receding goal. NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND DEMONSTRATION OF RESOLVE As mentioned earlier, the successful exercise of power depends on both possession of the means of power and demonstration of the will to use it. Stronger will has often been a more important determinant of the victory than arms witness Hitler's successful invasion of the Rhineland in the face of vastly stronger French military power and the victory of the North Vietnamese over the United States. The more conventional weapons a nation had the more powerful it appeared to be and, indeed, the more powerful it really was. The accu- mulation of nuclear weapons, beyond the level where each nuclear op- ponent can destroy the other many tirades over, no matter how large or sophisticated the other's nuclear arsenal (a level long since exceeded by the United States and the Soviet Union), conveys only the appearance of security and power. As a result, the main function of nuclear weapons has become to demonstrate determination to prevail. For example, Pres- ident Reagan has argued for the support of the MX and other weapons
THE NUCLEI ARMS RACE ID THE PSYCHOLOGY OF POWER 481 systems of dubious military value on this ground: "Indeed should Congress delay or eliminate the Peacekeeper program, it would send an unmistakable signal to the Soviet Union that we do not possess the resolve required . . . to maintain . . . the policy of deterrence" (Reagan, 1985~. To put it bluntly, with nuclear weapons appearance is really all that counts: " . . . objective reality, whatever that may be, is simply irrelevant: only the subjective phenomena of perception and valuejudgment count" (Luttwak, 1977~. Furthermore, an arsenal that is continually innovating is a more convincing demonstration of will than one that is static: "A growing and innovative arsenal will be perceived as more powerful than one which is static-even if the latter retains an advantage in purely technical terms" (Kline, 19751. These arguments, incidentally, provide intellectual justification for the pursuit of an endless arms race not only with the military establishments of other nations but also within the military establishment of each of them. Under the spur of the drive for power each of the military services competes with the other for a larger share of the military budget, and each goes to great length to justify its need for ever new and more sophisticated weaponry. A possibly hopeful consequence of the universal recognition that the use of nuclear weapons in combat carries an inordinately high risk is that, in contrast to previous arms races, the major purpose of both nuclear superpowers is not to win a nuclear war but to avoid or prevent one. Unfortunately, this goal itself becomes a justification for pursuit of the nuclear arms race. The justification goes something like this: Prudence requires that mil- itary policy be based on the worst case assessment, the worst case in this instance being that the opponents believe they can win a nuclear war. Each side can quote ample evidence for this possibility in the form of public statements by military and political leaders, military directives, elaborate preparations to enable essential leaders to function during a prolonged nuclear war, and the like. Should the opponents come to believe that they could prevail in a nuclear war, the argument continues, they might threaten to attack. Our side would then be faced with the dread alternatives of yielding to this nuclear blackmail or launching a nuclear holocaust. Therefore our side must maintain escalation dominance-that is, sufficient superiority at every level of armaments and in all nuclear weapon systems, so that the opponents could not possibly believe black- mail would succeed. In short, there seems to be no limit to the intellectual gymnastics leaders of national security establishments will perform to avoid confronting the realization that weapons chemical and biological as well as nuclear- are becoming too destructive to be usable as instruments of power.
482 IMAGES AND RISKS OF NUCLEAR WAR GROUNDS FOR HOPE CREATED BY NEW TECHNOLOGIES The analysis I have presented implies a bleak future for humankind. In searching for crumbs of hope, I recollect that violence is the ultimate source of power only in an anarchic world. As already mentioned, within an orderly community resort to violence is inhibited by customs and rules, and leaders are free to devote their talents to socially desirable goals. Fortunately, technological innovations as radical as nuclear weaponry for the first time in human history have created a possibility that the psycho- logical grounds for a world order, namely a worldwide sense of com- munity, could be achieved. A hopeful consideration in this respect is that nations can change from enemies to friends with remarkable rapidity when they discover that co- operation can yield vastly greater benefits than antagonism to both. Wit- ness the evolution of relationships between the People's Republic of China and the United States. In 1976, according tc public opinion polls, about 75 percent of Americans saw China as a hostile power. Only 6 years later, in 1982, the same percentage saw China as a friendly power or close ally (Kalven, 1982), even though the Chinese leaders, like the Russian ones, were still atheists and had treated their own people as ruthlessly as the Soviet leaders did theirs. The most immediate task is to reduce mutual fear and mistrust among the nations of the world. Technological advances as revolutionary as nuclear weaponry are now available to promote this goal. Modern com- munication equipment is already being used in the hot line and to reduce the probability of incidents at sea, two important steps to reducing the mutual fear of nuclear war starting by inadvertence or accident. At the public level, a major technological advance is worldwide elec- tronic communication by satellite. Electronic communications could be used with great effectiveness to increase mutual understanding among the peoples of the world. Millions of international voice channels will soon be available (Ahmad and Hashmi, 1983), and already it is possible to reach almost everyone on earth simultaneously. Even many of the very poor possess transistor radios, and television receivers are set up in many village squares. Audiovisual communication circumvents the literacy bar- rier and has considerably more effect on behavior than the written word. A more potent method for reducing international mistrust than increased communication is international cooperation toward goals that all nations want but none can achieve alone. The modern world provides many new opportunities and incentives for cooperation in the pursuit of such super- ordinate goals. Successful examples are the Antarctic Treaty based on the International Geophysical Year, the program devised by the nations bor
THE NUCLEI ARMS RACE ID THE PSYCHOLOGY OF POWER 483 dering the Mediterranean to clean it up, and the elimination of smallpox. There is good experimental evidence that although no one episode of cooperation has much effect on group antagonisms, repeated experiences of this sort do gradually build a sense of mutual trust (Sherif and Shenf, 1966). CONCLUSION The emergence of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of un- imaginable destructiveness will eventually force national leaders to rec- ognize that continued reliance on these instruments of power is incom- patible with survival of their own nations if not civilization itself. To put it bluntly, these weapons are making war obsolete as an arbiter of international conflict. As a result, national leaders will be forced to find other means of satisfying the will to power. Concomitantly many new technologies are emerging that for the first time could enable the peoples of all nations, through cooperative activities, to achieve heights of well-being that our ancestors could not even imagine. Perhaps it is not too much to hope that the threat of annihilation by violent conflict on the one hand and the prospect of unprecedented benefits through international cooperation on the other will yet persuade the world's leaders to use their power for constructive rather than destructive ends. REFERENCES Ahmad, I., and J. Hashmi. 1983. World peace through improved perception and under- standing. Pp. 1-3 in Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs. London: Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs. Frank, J. D. 1982. The image of the enemy. Pp. 115-136 in Sanity and Survival in the Nuclear Age. New York: Random House. George, A. L. 1986. The impact of crisis-induced stress on decision making. This volume. Howard, M. 1984. The causes of wars. Wilson Quarterly, Summer, 99. Janis, I. In press. Problems of international crisis management in the nuclear age. J. Social Issues. Jones, E. E., and K. E. Davis. 1965. From acts to dispositions: the attribution process in person perception. In L. Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 2. New York: Academic Press. Kalven, J. 1982. A talk with Louis Harris. Bull. Atomic Sci. September, 3-5. Kline, R. 1975. World power assessment. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies. Luttwak, E. N. 1977. Perceptions of military force and U.S. policy. Survival, January- February, 4. Milgram, S. 1974. Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper & Row.
484 IMAGES AND RISKS OF NUCLEAR WAR Rapoport, A. 1984. Preparation for nuclear war: The final madness. Am. J. Orthopsych. 54:524-529. Reagan, R. R. 1985. Message to the Congress, March 4. Schmookler, A. B. 1983. The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. Sherif, M., and C. W. Sherif. 1966. In Common Predicament: Social Psychology of Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.