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    Missile Defense

Russian military leaders have expressed concern about US plans for a national missile defense system. Will defense technology be limited by possibilities for a strategic imbalance? Is this just SDI all over again?

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rshowalter - 08:10pm Feb 26, 2001 EST (#789 of 791) Delete Message
Robert Showalter

Example: The dominant motivation of nuclear policy, for both the Russians and us, is highly questionable on one level, and yet unquestionable on another level.

In a highly interesting and revealing paper, the rational and abstract case against fear of first strikes is set out like this:

Turning to the broader issues of nuclear proliferation and nuclear deterrence, my theoretical analysis and the South Asian case study call into question the utility of the concept of the reciprocal fear of surprise attack. The notion that nuclear weapon states embroiled in crises will inevitably face strong, perhaps irresistible, pressures to decapitate their opponents nuclear forces preemptively is deductively appealing but empirically unsupported. Five decades of the nuclear age have now seen nuclear powers weather several serious crises without succumbing to the supposedly inherent logic of preemption. The universe of cases is admittedly small, but my argument is supported by recent research indicating that preemptive attacks of any kind have been historically rarer than conventionally believed.(97) The nuclear era has seen two instances of preventive attacks against nuclear facilities--the 1981 Israeli bombing of Iraqs Osirak nuclear facility and the allied coalitions 1991 air war against Iraq--but both of these actions were taken without fear of nuclear reprisal. In situations where nuclear retaliation has been a possibility, no leader of a nuclear weapon state has chosen to launch a preemptive first strike.

The South Asia case also suggests the need to separate the universal effects of nuclear weapons on world politics from the particular consequences of proliferation in individual regions. The 1990 Indo-Pakistani crisis lends further support to the already impressive evidence that the chief impact of nuclear weapons is to deter war between their possessors. Having said that, it is important to recognize that patterns of proliferation and modes of deterrence will vary across regions. For too long, consideration of these issues has stalled in a quicksand of irresolvable deductive debates that neglect the distinctive historical, political, cultural, and geographical circumstances that shape nuclear behavior in specific regions. Even more troubling, many U.S. analysts continue to view the rest of the world through outdated Cold War lenses, which raises the possibility that the dynamics of regional nuclear competitions may be profoundly misunderstood. U.S. analysts should be prepared to question, modify, or even jettison the models they inherited from their Cold War predecessors. The East-West nuclear deterrence paradigm was the product of a unique historical milieu.

The proceeding paragraph ends with this revealing line:

Only a careful combination of sound strategic concepts and intensive area studies will enhance cumulative understanding of nuclear weapons evolving influence on international politics.

this is academic-speak for we do not know what the hell we are doing.

Hagerty, Devin T., Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia: the 1990 Indo-Pakistani Crisis, International Security, (v20 n3), Winter 1995

rshowalter - 08:12pm Feb 26, 2001 EST (#790 of 791) Delete Message
Robert Showalter

So a "logical" sequence can show that "we have no reason to fear first strikes."

(for myself, I fear insanity, accidents, and system instability, but as far as rational issues go, Hagerty may be right about first strikes.)

At the same time, any careful checking of what we've done, and what the Russians have done, and of the logic of other nuclear powers as well, shows that the FEAR of first strikes is THE dominant force in very many, if not most of the decisions that are made.

  • *********

    We can improve on the mess we're in. Radically. Safely. Gracefully. Practically.

    With resources we have available.

    In a way that makes almost everyone involved feel much better.

    . . ..

    Looking at the situation, I find myself in a cheerful mood.

    With ugliness and conflict so intense, new beauty may not be far away.

    I'll try to be clear about that tomorrow.

    rshowalter - 09:11am Feb 27, 2001 EST (#791 of 791) Delete Message
    Robert Showalter

    Sometimes the issues involved with the accomodation of significant fact are bracing, and morally important.

    lunarchick "How the Brain Works" 2/26/01 11:16pm

    rshowalter "How the Brain Works" 2/27/01 7:22am

    rshowalter "How the Brain Works" 2/27/01 9:05am

    The core problems with ending the nuclear terror, now, are of just this kind.

    The technical problems are relatively easy. The psychological and moral problems are hard.

    But doable.

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