New York Times on the Web Forums Science
Nazi engineer and Disney space advisor Wernher Von Braun helped give
us rocket science. Today, the legacy of military aeronautics
has many manifestations from SDI to advanced ballistic missiles. Now there is a controversial push for a new missile defense system.
What will be the role of missile defense in the new geopolitical
climate and in the new scientific era?
(461 previous messages)
rshowalt - 12:17pm Nov 2, 2000 EDT (#462 of 465)
kalter.rauch's - (#458 ) asked key questions, and made a key comment. I've dealt with these issues before, but would like to review them again, concisely.
"The public, naturally enough, is mesmerized to paralysis by the thought of Nuclear Armeggedon, but it can take sustenance in knowing that the enemy is even more afraid of The Fire.
That's a widely acknowledged "comfort." It is less comfortable if the paralysis keeps people from doing reasonable things in the face of clear threats to world survival. It is also less comfortable than most people think, because people who are very threatened, very afraid, may react irrationally, and fight in suicidal ways that might end the world, in a chain reaction of firings, if a single nuclear weapon happened to explode on US or Russian soil.
K and others may find me "a peacenik," to be discounted on that basis. But in the CNN documentary REHEARSING ARMAGEDDON it was very clear that the people in charge of firing the missiles themselves, the "missileers", are concerned about the magnitude of forces, and though not all are "abolitionists", most seem to want very large reductions in forces. These General Officers were tough characters. And they wanted deep reductions of forces, if not abolition of nuclear weapons. When General Officers are prepared to stand up in a documentary and say some of the things those Generals did, the technical reasons to want deep reductions in nuclear weapons are compelling indeed.
Key issues here depend on questions of fact - one more than any other.
Question: how do people respond to threats? Consider two possibilities:
1. People (essentially all people) are more and more deterred, more and more inhibited from action, as threat escalates, without limit.
2. People (at least many young males) are deterred by threats of harm, up to some limit, but if you threaten them enough, they fight, or stand very close to a fight response, so that fights are easy to triggger.
OUR THEORY OF DETERRANCE ASSUMES 1 ABOVE.
I BELIEVE, AND THINK IT IS A FACT THAT COULD BE ESTABLISHED, BY EXAMPLES (INCLUDING MANY IN THE MIDDLE EAST) AND EXPERIMENTS, THAT 2 ABOVE IS TRUE INSTEAD.
If 2 above is true, as I believe, that means our nuclear policy, which is based on the idea that "the more threatening a force can be, the stabler the situation is" is fundamentally wrong, and threats can be destabilizing.
Particularly, if 2 above is true, nuclear weapons can't be used for the standard military purpose of winning battles so civil social arrangements can be imposed. Once nuclear weapons are detonated on a country's territories, and death tolls are high (and the deaths, of course, are gruesome) then fights to the death are the only result that can be expected. Nuclear weapons are extirmination weapons - and militarily useless if one is asking military force to be a tool for "politics by other means."
If 2 above is true, then many of our other military deployment decisions are based on a misconception, as well. Overwhelmingly large forces may not make sense as deterrents.
I've also argued that the controls on current nucear weapons have become increasingly and radically less stable with the explosion of ill defended internet connections all over our military-industrial structure.
I'm FOR weapons, and FOR deterrance. I believe nation states need effective military defenses.
nuclear weapons , because they are prohibitively dangerous, they are militarily ineffective in the sense above, and they are corrupting of our international arrangements in all sorts of ways. Policies of negotiation by threat of extirmination aren't conducive to stable peace.
To take kalter's points in order:
" I don't see what you mean by nuclear weapons being militarily ineffective. They ended WWII and kept World Bolshevism a
rshowalt - 12:20pm Nov 2, 2000 EDT (#463 of 465)
" I don't see what you mean by nuclear weapons being militarily ineffective. They ended WWII and kept World Bolshevism at bay. Are you denying the validity of deterrence?"
No one doubts that in unburied corpses per dollar, nuclear weapons would have an unbeatable "bang per buck." In that sense, they are militarily effective. As flexible instruments of military policy, they are ineffective. Except if one is deterring another force bent on exterminating you. For that, nucs work well, and I don't see any reason to deny that they were necessary during the Cold War. The USSR was as fearsome as it was. But the Cold War is supposed to be over, and the weapons are still deployed, much to the dismay of the missileers themselves.
I think that deterrance is important, but much smaller threats than extermination threats suffice for it, and nuclear weapons are prohibitively dangerous - they could destroy the world, and in my view are quite likely to do so unless we take them down..
kalter goes on, with a number of assumptions based on the idea that
we absolutely have to have grossly overwhelming force, and that reduction in nuclear destructive power will somehow force us to come up with equivalent destructive power by conventional means that, on a bang per buck basis, are more expensive than nuclear weapons.
"Are you aware the US Army has only 10 active divisions? If it weren't for nuclear weapons, the US would have to reinstitute the draft, and increase the order of battle to over 50 divisions......better yet, a hundred divisions, with the main emphasis on heavy armor and air cavalry. The Navy......do you have any idea how many capital ships would be needed? Reagan's Navy Sec. Lehman had a "600 ship Navy", but aside from carriers and subs, it was mostly support ships, indefensible on their own. I would call for a 1000 ship Navy. The Air Force......those 20 B2s and the remnants of the once mighty B-52 air fleet would be of little decisive utility in the event of an emergency without nuclear clout."
Again and again, the notion is that we'd have to replace the destructive force of the nucs taken down. That doesn't follow. We've taken overkill much farther than it makes sense to. We don't need that much of a threat force. We need to reduce the level of threat to something more stable. Take away the nuclear weapons, and the US would continue to be well defended (IF THE OTHER SIDE TOOK DOWN THEIR NUCLEAR WEAPONS, TOO.)
Even if full takedown can't be achieved, a few hundred nucs on both sides would be more than sufficient for reasonable deterrance. With such "small" forces, mistakes might still kill many people, but the human race would survive. If the current arsenal was set off (as it very likely would be if a mistake was made) the human race will end.
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