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Harsh Necessity

In 1946, Albert Einstein wrote a short essay which appears in One World or None, a collection of the thoughts from the community of scientists who identified and unleashed the power of the atom. Einstein concerned himself with the question of nuclear weapons and modern civilization. I will not reproduce the essay in full here, but I recommend the small book linked above to anyone interested in such things.

One of the many points laid out by Einstein was the imperative that we all be aware of the “harsh necessity” to face up to the implications of nuclear weapons — that “all the people living in cities are threatened, everywhere and constantly, with sudden destruction”. Einstein wrote his essay before the Cold War, before the first nuclear arms race, and obviously before the next world war or the next military use of nuclear weapons. Just seven months after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein’s laser focus was on the question of how to end the unprecedented condition humanity found itself in.

Sixty-five years later, the question is still on the table.

Einstein considered the implications of the awesome offensive advantage of nuclear weapons. He concluded that the answer to the question consists of two actions:

  • Establish conditions that guarantee the individual state the right to solve its conflicts with other states on a legal basis and under international jurisdiction.
  • Establish a supranational organization with sufficient military power exclusively under its control whose mission is to prevent individual states from making war.

That is, he concluded that the advance of offensive military technology would eventually lead to the end of the sovereign nation-state.

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