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    Missile Defense

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?

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rshowalter - 11:56am Nov 4, 2000 EDT (#470 of 471) Delete Message
Robert Showalter

Tactical nukes are a problem. Not so separable a problem as some think. Nobody, so far as I know, has ever run a credible simulation where use of tac nukes didn't escalate to a full strategic exchange. (That is to say, under current conditions, probable destruction of the world.) So these "more palatable, smaller" nuclear weapons aren't so palatable at all.

In REHEARSING ARMAGEDDON , people said that Clinton refused to agree to deep reductions in stategic nukes that the Russians had proposed, in an attempt to bargain down somewhat larger stockpiles of Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

The argument for taking down tac nukes is essentially similar to the argument for taking down the strategic "city killers." And the arguments AGAINST taking them down are the same as well, but with a difference. The part that's the same is that neither side wants to give them up unless the other does, as well. There's deep distrust - and negotiations have to assume that.

The part that's a little different is that the tactical nukes (which are only "small" in relative terms - yeilds are Hiroshima sized) are coupled to tactics with conventional weapons, and these weapons can look like a bargain to a nation state, like Russia, with depleted conventional forces.

Because of the instabilities that come with desperate soldiers in the face of defeat, these weapons are no bargain. If you start to win with them, you lose big. But these weapons DO involve couplings with conventional forces that need to be adressed. The key issue is increasing the stability of conventional military balances.

rshowalter - 12:04pm Nov 4, 2000 EDT (#471 of 471) Delete Message
Robert Showalter

It doesn't make sense for NATO to invade Russia (it is hard enough for modern nations to endure the loss of a few soldiers in a peacekeeping exercise - there's essentially no stomach for an agressive large scale war.) NATO invasion of Russia hasn't ever made sense. Nor could the Russians plausibly invade Europe. But in military "games" of threat and counterthreat, such implausible activities become much discussed, such things are threatended, and such things even come to be assumed. That has happened.

The remedy is not necessarily conventional force reductions (though some of that might make fine economic sense) but assured information flows. Get rid of nukes, including tac nukes, and the number of "plausibly successful" suprise attack scenerios shrinks precipitously. The number of "plausibly successful" attacks that could be undertaken without surprise shrinks to none at all, with no scenarios at all that come remotely close to being "theoretically acceptable."

With the internet, and other redundant detection means, it should be possible to radically stabilize forces where NATO and Russia face each other, so that DEFENSES are relatively much stronger than OFFENSIVE OPTIONS.

That's the kind of stability that peace requires, in the real world where trust and love between competing nation states cannot be relied on.

Kalter, you raise a point about nuclear disarmament that carries a burden of complexity - a burden of staff work. It isn't enough for two leaders to get together and say "yes." Nuts and bolts staff work has to happen, and a document in something close to workable form has to be in being, and discussed through the systems of the nation states involved, before the leaders can get to "yes."

I think that staff work, this time, might be better done with serious involvement by big journalistic powers, who have flexibility. Journalists have more flexibility than military officers, who are far less flexible, are expected to take steps to disadvantage their enemy at every chance.

I've suggested that the staff of the NYT, and the Guardian/Observer as well, might be well adapted to this purpose, and that the document might be in the form of a special, linked to arguments both for and against nuclear disarmament, from all over the world. I think that the exercise might be superb journalism, even if it was only a "thought exercise." I also think that the document needed for actual action might flow from that "thought exercise" fairly quickly, if the political will for nuclear disarmament could be persuaded in to being in the United States.

My bet is that a truly all-star cast of contributors for such a special could be put together quickly.

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