Event: Nuclear Realism – Global political thought during the thermonuclear revolution


On Wednesday the 2nd of March 2016, Center for War Studies, in corporation with History at SDU, held a lecture about Nuclear Realism. The lecture was given by Casper Sylvest, Associate Professor at History at SDU, on account of his and Rens van Munster’s forthcoming book, Nuclear Realism: Global Political Thought during the Thermonuclear Revolution.

The event was launched with an introduction of Casper Sylvest as being a professor with various interests concerning international relations, but especially with issues regarding security and technological development in a historical and global perspective.

Sylvest then introduces nuclear realism as a fusion of realism, in terms of how to understand politics and radicalism regarding a more or less possible solution to avoid the potential devastating consequences of nuclear weapons. The focus of the event was on the critique of nuclear deterrence, present in the early 1950s, lead by Bertrand Russell (an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament), Lewis Mumford (philosopher of technology), John H. Herz (best known for the security dilemma) and Günther Anders (philosopher and anti-nuclear activist).

The forthcoming book, he explained, is divided in five main chapters: 1) The atomic age and the new knowledge economy – which criticizes the device for production of knowledge, stating that much of the research in the time surrounding the 1950s, was financed by the Ministry of Research. 2) Limits of war and rationality in the thermonuclear age – which criticizes the reductionist tendency to make everything about rationality without reason, stating that the deterrence theory undermines unavoidable mechanisms in international relations such as diplomacy and balance of power. 3) Security and liberty – criticizing the term “national security” (questioning what national and security means and if one can even argue for security in a nuclear age), as well as the culture of secrecy created by the state as a nuclear statehood, stating that it has fatal consequences for democracy as it should be. And lastly chapter 4) Technology and ecology, and 5) Reimagining the future – both focusing on the concern for global population growth and the need to deal with the fact that, we in the nuclear age and forward, are producing self-defeating technology, with Bertrand Russell stating the need for world government as a solution.

After the presentation of the book and the term Nuclear Realism, the event was completed with an open debate and the opportunity to ask Sylvest questions. Another professor at SDU, with well-known close relations to international relations theory, Sten Rynning, was attending and raised the question of how nuclear realism is associated with the realism, generally associated with international relations. with nuclear realism’s focus on hypothetical scenarios and “thinking the impossible”, as to which Sylvest clarifies that nuclear realism is an attempt to merge a realist way of understanding politics with a radical solution to avoid the world (allegedly) defeat itself.

So to make a kind of conclusion: Nuclear Realism: Global Political Thought during the Thermonuclear Revolution is  a discussed issues in the amotic age according to realist-radical theoreticians, putting nuclear technology on the agenda – once again.

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