Hans Bethe on Security

Hans Bethe was one of the first nuclear scientists, a member of the Manhattan Project, and a political activist. In this article about him, there's a great quote:

Sometimes insistence on 100 percent security actually impairs our security, while the bold decision -- though at the time it seems to involve some risk -- will give us more security in the long run.

Posted on November 15, 2005 at 12:41 PM • 6 Comments

Comments

peachpuffNovember 15, 2005 3:41 PM

"The impossible is the enemy of the good enough."

That old saying could slice either way. As I understand it, he's regretting that they only banned what they could detect. Banning nuclear tests that couldn't be reliably detected was seen as a security risk for honest countries. He thinks that a risk taken to make the ban total would have paid off in long-term safety (by doing more to stop the arms race).

egeltjeNovember 16, 2005 3:19 AM

"The impossible is the enemy of the good enough...."
or:
Best is the enemy of better....

ExpatEggheadNovember 17, 2005 1:23 AM

Eisenhower kept the secret of the date for D-Day from journalists by telling them what it was. They then became paranoid about not revealing it rather than trying to find out when it was.

Arturo QuirantesNovember 17, 2005 5:20 AM

I don't quite agree with Bethe's statement. It was related to the fact that not all nuclear explosions were banned in the 1963 treaty.

But let's be realistic. The 1963 Test Ban treaty banned air, sea and space explosions, as well as underground blasts larger than 350 kilotons (IIRC). In short, all nuclear explosions that could be detected. In that sense, it did serve a limiting purpose. No more 20-megaton busters, no more tests fallout, and a limit nevertheless. Yeah, you can still build under-350kt bombs and explode them underground, but you would do it anyway, treaty or not.

It's a bit like saying that a shoplift-prevention device is useless because it fails to protect napkins, cookies or pencils. Fine, but it works against the 30'' flat-screen TV, so let's use it anyway and then try to improve it. Bethe's shop would be empty by now.

100% security? If that thing exists, Bruce would probably be out of business ;-)

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