Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It’s Not a MAD World Anymore.

Regarding the administration’s announcement that it forswears the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for non-nuclear WMD attacks:

Other than to serve as yet another example of Obama’s moral preening, I’m not sure what this policy is supposed to accomplish.  It is one thing to tell another nuclear power, in the interests of stability, “No matter what happens, we don’t want you to be afraid that the U.S. will launch a preemptive first strike that destroys your retaliatory capability.  We will therefore renounce the use of nuclear weapons under circumstance X.”

But Obama is telling non-nuclear states (in compliance with the NPT, yada yada) that the U. S. won’t use nuclear weapons against them no matter what they do.

How is this supposed to encourage good behavior?  How does it make America safer?

UPDATE: Ace argues this doesn't make any difference because after 9/11 nobody took our deterrent threat seriously anyway.

7 comments:

trumwill said...

It's supposed to encourage them not to get nuclear weapons in the first place.

If, as you propose, you tell countries with nuclear weapons that you will not nuke them if they use biological weapons on you, but you do not offer non-nuclear nations the same protections, you have provided some pretty powerful incentives for countries to develop nuclear weapons.

trumwill said...

It's supposed to encourage them not to get nuclear weapons in the first place.

If, as you propose, you tell countries with nuclear weapons that you will not nuke them if they use biological weapons on you, but you do not offer non-nuclear nations the same protections, you have provided some pretty powerful incentives for countries to develop nuclear weapons.

Φ said...

Trumwill: Well, no, I didn't specify that circumstance X included a bio/chem attack; on the contrary, in a world where bio weapons especially can be developed cheaply and easily, weapons which we ourselves have nonetheless chosen not to develop, the policy of putting all NBC weapons in a single class has a great deal of merit.

In theory, I can see that, if it were true that aspiring nuclear club members were attempting to deter the U.S. from using nuclear weapons against them, then forswearing such use would remove that incentive. But I'm pretty sure that these nations have other motivations quite apart from whether or not the U.S. will nuke them.

trumwill said...

I honestly fall into the apathetic way of thinking. In the end, we're not going to nuke a country that doesn't nuke us first or doesn't leak proof of an impending nuke. So in practice, I don't see it making any difference. It formalizes what was already the case. I also don't think it makes a difference in terms of image, because I don't believe that anybody believes that we would do it.

Professor Hale said...

1. We have not had a MAD strategy for a long time. I think we moved to the "flexible response strategy" in the 80's. Flexible respons basically said, "we will use whatever we want whenever we think it is appropriate."

2. Nukes today are a meaningless deterrent. We have not used one since 1948. No one believes we will use one, and we likely will not (unless of course we are in the path of a huge rogue asteroid or get invaded by a marauding hoard of planet stripping aliens).

3. The best use of nukes is to destroy large cities. This is something that we Americans simply will not do and we are civilized enough to not be able to consider any circumstances that would lead us to that.

4. Another good use of nukes is: naval formations and massed land armies. Other nations in the world that we are likely to fight have neither of these capabilities. Those who do, also have nukes already.

5. The American weapons inventory has sufficient non-nuclear capabilities to punitively damage other nation's important infrastructure, government and military important sites.

6. We have LOTS of nukes. Bush got rid of 2/3s of them and we still have thousands left. The tiny handful Obama is going to cut are meaningless.

7. Presidential policies, in general, are meaningless. As long as we have one nuke on the shelf, the President can, in contradiction to any previous policy, order the armed forces to use it on someone, FOR ANY REASON HE LIKES. Just one more reason why people should be careful who they elect as president.

8. The islamic fruit cakes that are the most likely to nuke us are also not in any way deterred by our own capability. They may in some twisted way be intentionally trying to get us to nuke Mecca to spark the general uprising that will sweep Christianity and Judaism off the map.

The important thing we need to teach our potential Islamic enemies is: They may want to kill all of us, but we actually CAN kill all of them.

Φ said...

Professor Hale:

I recognize that you are the expert here, but here's how things look from the peanut gallery:

1. Flexible Response dates back to the Kennedy administration.

2. "[N]ot used one since 1948 [Really? I thought it was '45]" is the "deter" part of, well, deterrence.

3. America hasn't used a nuke against a large city because we haven't had a nuke used against us. I'm not sure how much civilization has to do with it.

4. True.

5. Not even close. We have nowhere near the conventional airpower necessary to do a Dresden, Hamburg, or Tokyo today. You can only make this claim by defining "infrastructure" pretty damn narrowly.

6. Last I knew, we've cut our stockpile because we know longer have enough tritium to start them since we stopped making it at Savannah River. (I'm not sure to what extent Watts-
Bar has improved this situation.) But my point was about their use, not the number we stockpile.

7. That presidential policies can be abrogated is certainly true, but Presidents issue them anyway to motivate certain behavior among friends and allies like. This is why they are important.

8. Here again, Obama's policy change doesn't concern terrorist nukes. It apparently addresses chem/bio weapons of other nation-states.

Professor Hale said...

1. True.
2. Duh. (faceplant)
3. The city is no longer a viable target since it targets primarily non-combatants. Military production in the city is incidental. The goal of modern warfare is precision targeting to achieve the desired affect without massive damage. We can certainly do this. We can hit factories, government buildings, power transmission stations, and presidential bunkers. We don't have to destroy a whole city to get what we want. If an American city were nuked the desire to "strike back" would be tempered by the humanity to not strike aimlessly and kill a few hundred million women and children who had nothing to do with the strike against us.
5. See 3. In WW2, we had to destroy whole cities to destroy the military targets in them. And every city had military targets then. This is no longer the case.
6. For whatever reason, we still have plenty.
7. They are only important if other countries believe you. The world learned a few decades ago how fickle American "policy" is. It is beyond me why any foreign leader would believe an American politician. We don't.
8. And again, it is unimportant. It doesn't matter how we are attacked. We maintain the capability to strike back against nations or small groups, with more than sufficient force to destroy them, even without nukes. We do not have to use a proportional response. We only have to kill the people who struck us to have our revenge. You only have to kill them once and a rope is as good as a mushroom cloud.