Wednesday, March 29, 2006
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Now this is provocative scholarship
So let's talk about the provocative article written by two academics that has a whole country's foreign policy community in a lather.
No, not that article -- the authors are still ducking the open debate they claim to want. I'm talking about the one that has exercised the entire Russian military-industrial complex.
For almost half a century, the world's most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960s, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the other's retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to committing suicide....Needless to say, this article has roiled the Russians just a bit.
How much? Former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has an op-ed in today's Financial Times scolding Lieber and Press:
America is a free country and what these two authors wrote in their article, entitled "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy", is their business. The trouble is, when addressing such a delicate issue, it would be good to understand the responsibilities that go with it....I'm pretty sure that if Lieber and Press were actually the official voice of the U.S. government, this essay would never have seen the light of day. That last thing the DoD would want would be to publicly advertise nuclear primacy, for precisely the reasons Gaidar elaborates.
No, Lieber and Press are doing what academics are supposed to do: generating hypotheses, testing them, and publishing the results,* no matter how uncomfortable the implications. And this implication is particularly disturbing:
Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion.Read the whole thing.
* Even though Foreign Affairs is not peer-reviewed, it should be noted that Lieber and Press the FA essay is an abridged version of a forthcoming scholarly article: "The End of MAD? The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy," International Security 30, no. 4 (Spring 2006).
Mr Gaidar believes that these issues should not be discussed openly. We disagree. The wisdom of American, Russian and Chinese nuclear policies should be debated. But doing so requires a clear appreciation of the dramatic new realities of the strategic nuclear balance.
posted by Dan on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM
In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Walt said: ''My coauthor and I stand behind our paper, and we welcome serious scholarly discussion of its arguments and evidence. Period." He would not respond to questions about Duke's use of the paper or to critics' comments made to the Globe
Amen brother.posted by: Mitchell Young on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
So claiming the US seeks dominance is not rocket science.
Presumably the computer simulation results are, but simulation is not evidence (unlike, say, the hundreds of data points in W&S) -- the results depend on the assumptions built into it. The results can then be tested against reality to adjust assumptions. Let's hope that Lieber and Press don't have that opportunity.posted by: Mitchell Young on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Read the article closely--it's not *claiming* that the U.S. is merely seeking nuclear primacy, it is arguing that Washington either has now, or will soon have, a first-strike capability.posted by: P.M. on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
I thought the nuclear winter stuff would have stopped this nonsense.
Here's a brief rundown about what happened with that, for whoever hasn't heard:
Some academics came up with a potential side effect of a giant US attack on the USSR. They thought that perhaps that many nuclear attacks on sites with a lot of wooden buildings and sites in forests would put up so much ash into the air that the global weather would be affected very badly.
We had something like that when the volcano Krakatoa exploded. It put so much particulate matter into the high air that less sunlight reached the surface. "The year with no summer." And there's some reason to think that at the end of the time of dinosaurs a giant meteorite hit the earth and threw up enough dust that the plants couldn't grow for two or three years, and a whole lot of things went extinct. This might be something like that; a nuclear first strike against the USSR might kill us all by accident.
The immediate reaction was the usual. There was a chorus that the research was shoddily done and politically motivated, and therefore it was wrong and there was no such thing as Nuclear Winter. However, it was recognised by some that this argument wasn't definitive. So funding was provided for new studies to prove there was no Nuclear Winter. The new mathematical models and computer simulations were finely tuned and eveutually provided a quite diplomatic result. Nuclear winter could be an issue, but it depended strongly on the time of year and the weather. At least sometimes it would be possible to do a successful first strike against the USSR and suffer nothing worse than a Nuclear Autumn. And then we all mostly forgot it.
Now consider -- a couple of academics started thinking and came up with a side effect for a nuclear first strike that was potentially a show-stopper. Nobody had considered the possibility before. What's the chance that this is the only serious side-effect that hasn't been considered? What's the probability that a first strike would kill us too, due to some side effect we've never considered? What confidence limits are appropriate for that probability?
And then people talk like we're seriously considering a first strike against russia and china. Are they crazy? Do they just want to persuade the world that we're crazy so everybody will humor us and do what we say? Like the proverbial maniac on a lifeboat, with a hand grenade....
Why do we want the status of being the world's premier rogue nuclear power?
P.M. -- there are people that get paid good money to run the sorts of simulations that L&P have done. They have access to better info so I fail to see how this paper advances knowledge. It does bring knowledge (of a sort, simulation results are a matter of epistemological controversy) into the public sphere -- but I really don't see the point. This analysis strikes me less than state of the art and most certainly redundant. Our targeteers now what they know, the Russians know what they know.posted by: Mitchell Young on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
This paper was presented at harvard last year and met with a very hostile reception. The models are flawed and the logic is strange. It all but ignores alternative reasons for US nuclear posture. Overall, it is an incredibly bad paper, on a par with mearsheimer's 'back to the future'. It should be a career ender. It is astonishing that it has been published at two such prestigious journals. However, I imagine that the responses in IS will really hurt Press and Lieber.posted by: anon on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
What presidential administration -- of any country -- given the chance to develop warfare technology to the point of nuclear primacy, would pass on it thinking, "Oh, that's just not right."?
Add to that the US's track record of international belligerence to protect "American interests" (increasingly loosely defined), plus the official position of full spectrum dominance (formally claimed or not), and you have the image of the DoD people frozen-in-headlights when the Lieber/Press article came out.
Of course we're seeking dominance. It's just not polite to talk about it.posted by: St. James on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Thomas: Nobody's been talking like the US is "seriously considering" a first strike against Russia and China.
People have been saying that a successful one is possible now. That people realise something is possible is not even remotely the same as seriously considering doing it.
(For instance, I'm perfectly capable at one level of murdering a large number of people, raping, and any number of awful acts. And yet I am not considering doing them at all.)
As for "nuclear winter", I wouldn't hyperventilate worrying about that one; even if we grant (as I do not) that the original studies were correct in their modeling, those scenarios were based on a full nuclear exchange between the US and USSR, IIRC, not a magic first-strike with no response, as that was not possible at the time; the posited first-strike of today would involve far fewer warheads.
Not only would there, of course, be no Russian counter-attack in an undetected first-strike scenario, but since their arsenal is so much smaller now, far fewer warheads would be needed in the first place, and with modern, accurate targeting, lower yields can be used while still ensuring effect.
Also, "we" don't want "the status of being the world's premier rogue nuclear power". "We" also don't have it and have taken no steps towards having it, either, at least in reality.
Who was it, that a few months ago, intimated that a nuclear strike would be the response to terrorist attacks on his country's interests?
Jacques Chirac. Not George Bush.posted by: Sigivald on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
> What's the chance that this is the only serious
> What's the probability that a first strike
If by "us" you mean any semblence of organized, not to mention industrial, society, for 10,000 years: 100.0%
> And then people talk like we're seriously
Well, I can only offer four words: Wolfowitz. Feith. Rumsfeld. Cheney.
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Cranky probably also thinks Goldwater would have nuked China (hook, line, sinker), so I'd bear that in mind.posted by: Chris Lawrence on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Wolfowitz. Feith. Rumsfeld. Cheney
Lord knows I am very anti-neocon, but I think the US drive for supremacy long outdates the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypseposted by: Mitchell Young on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
I can't comment on the general simulation suggested by the authors, but I'm a little skeptical of the notion that Russia's submarine fleet could be destroyed before retaliation. If Russia did want to build a countermeasure, then perhaps more submarines would be the best way to proceed. Russia doesnt' need a full arsenal to counter an attack -- it just needs a few submarines with SLBMs that survive first strike.
Sigivald, your arguments would be much more compelling if you weren't arguing based on what our diplomats haven't yet said.
We could perhaps reduce russian and chinese fears a little if we were willing to promise we won't make a first strike. But each time we've been invited to make such a promise we have refused and instead said that we'll make a first strike if we feel like it. Of course there's a giant, stupendous difference between repeatedly refusing to promise we won't and actually considering doing it. And as far as I know the last time we threatened a nuclear first strike against the russians was 1973, a very long time ago. It would be reasonable for them to trust we'd never do it again, wouldn't it?
About nuclear winter, you have made the classic mistake that nobody should have made in the first place, much less at this late date.
Let me repeat: When Nuclear Winter was first proposed, nobody had even considered the idea. It took years of research to come up with models that somewhat refuted it. The point wasn't how good the academics' models were. The point was that nobody had done the research at all before. How many other gotchas might there be, that nobody has researched?
This is not something you can run small-scale prototypes for. Either it works right the first time, or it doesn't. And missing a significant number of foreign nukes that get fired back at us, is not nearly the only danger.
Wolfowitz. Feith. Rumsfeld. Cheney
Lord knows I am very anti-neocon, but I think the US drive for supremacy long outdates the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
OK, great, but neither Rumsfield nor Cheney can be considered neocons. Wolfowitz, sure, but I really can't imagine him as a first-strike kind of guy. But perhaps that's just the sort of dastardly thing that the guy who, while ambassador there, persuaded the US to abandon support for the dictator Marcos in the Phillippines would do.posted by: John Thacker on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
I, for one, am glad that the US has nuclear supremacy. We deserve it, because we are the best country in the world, and, indeed, in all of history. We will guarantee the safety and security of the world. The only force capable of deflecting us from our mission is the Democrat party.posted by: Robert Schwartz on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
The American nuclear position is terrorism against the world. The USA is a true terrorist state. It is completely sickening that the Americans have the hypocracy to attack Iran for having a legitimate international right to use nuclear power, while the American terrorists are continuing to kill and murder the poor and weak of the world (and bully the less-though-still weak), while stockpiling its terrorist weapons of mass destruction and threatening the entire world with war. The American people are, in general, selfish bastands who believe they have a divine right to their empire of blood. The USA is a fascist government over the rest of the world, even if it is only a mildly a police state domestically. every singe thing is garbage. my only hope is that the mexicans are given citizenship and have sense enough to vote against this evil. i can't wait for an internationalist mexican-american political party to destory the vile republicans and democrats. in every respect they are wrong or cruel or stupid. the crap that comes from their mouths is worthless. they must be stopped. this terrorism and hypocracy is endless.posted by: joe M. on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
here is a perfect example of their garbage (as if it is not obvious on its face):
posted by: joe m. on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Wolfowitz has always struck me as a man of genuine conscience and honor (if not competence), which distinguishes him from Feith, Rumsfeld or Cheney.posted by: erg on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Robert Schwartz, with all due respect, you are a fool. A power-drunken, clod-headed fool to say something like that. I'm a lifelong Republican who's worked in the international affairs biz for quite a long time and in fact read the Foreign Affairs article. I was dissecting the "nuclear primacy" angle with my colleagues and a former colleague who's also worked in this field-- all of us longtime committed Republicans. And guess what? The unanimous consensus in the room, is that "nuclear primacy" by any country-- the US, Russia, Brazil, the Republic of Balochistan, whatever-- is a catastrophically stupid idea.
When you're in the nuclear bunker, you have maybe about 10 minutes to decide if a potential nuclear launch is real or a foul-up with the detection systems. There have been *dozens* of false indications of a launch on the US and Russian side even after the Cold War. One of the principal safeguards preventing a retaliation, is the knowledge on *both* sides that a first-strike by either would be fatal to the other side-- with both sides therefore reasoning (benefit of the doubt-style) that all those blips on the screen ain't the real thing. If that certainty is gone-- if a true first strike advantage is indeed present-- then the potential for an accidental launch (our nukes are on a hair trigger) goes up exponentially.
Remember, although Russia's nuke retaliation capabilities have deteriorated somewhat, they're still quite robust and will remain so through the century. If the US does get a first-strike advantage, all this does is to convince the Russian commanders that they need to disperse their nukes all over the Russian landmass and on the nuclear subs, so that a massive US strike wouldn't take out Russia's retaliatory capability. That's how the logic works. Oh, and there's one more thing a US first-strike advantage would cause Moscow to do-- modify the directive requiring central control of any nuke launch decision-making (by the President only), and decentralize it to local silo and sub commanders, in case a massive US strike were to take out Moscow and prevent the orders from being delivered. Normally nuke launch decisions are kept on a tight leash and made only by the President in consultation with top military commanders. If the US acquires nuclear supremacy over Russia, then Russia will inevitably remove that central command and disperse it to the local commanders, who are far more trigger-happy and less capable of making reasoned decisions in a short time span. It's an automatic formula for a massive nuclear war.
If there are any Republican operatives lurking here, I hope you're paying damn close attention, because you're getting your party (formerly my party too, without hesitation) into some deep trouble here and you're going to get thrashed in 2006 the way you're going. For those of us who are grandparents holding our 5 and 6 year old grandkids, grandnieces and grandnephews in our lap, US and global nuclear policy is *extremely important* because we want to see our grandkids grow up and take advantage of the opportunities we've provided for them. For obvious reasons, a nuclear war would be quite harmful, which is why all of us-- even though of us who are quite hawkish on most issues (most of us were supporters of the Iraq War)-- are disgusted with nuclear weapons and the way current US policy embraces them. I am talking here about almost a dozen lifelong Republicans all huddled together,
DISGUSTED. These aren't weapons of war, they're weapons of mass disaster and the ruin of civilization. Their only function should be to deter an offensive attack, that and nothing more. They should never be used for offensive purposes themselves, and they should be discouraged and pushed to the smallest numbers possible to ensure deterrence, perhaps 30 or 40 tops. They should not in any way be a centerpiece of military policy!
Yet Bush and Cheney push for development of offensive nukes supposedly for attacking bunkers (nevermind the fallout from their use), shilling for the potential value of a first strike against non-nuclear nations-- excuse me, but have Dumb and Dumber left their brains back in Texas and Wyoming? Not only does Bush utterly foul up the aftermath of the Iraq invasion after that tyrant Saddam was finally deposed, he goes and smooches up to Kim Jong-Il in North Korea despite that country's threat. So a non-nuclear Iraq gets hit, while a nuclear North Korea (far more dangerous) gets left alone? Does anybody realize the message here? "Get nukes, then the US will stay away." Of course this sort of thing will lead to proliferation like mad! We needed to take down Saddam, but we also needed to get tough on N. Korea, with at least more arm-twisting diplomacy and a we-mean-business blockade if nothing else. If we weren't going to hit the N. Koreans, we should have stayed out of Iraq as this sends the worst message possible. Now to top if off, Bush wants to effectively arm India to the teeth with nukes-- starting a nasty arms race with Pakistan and in effect, with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt too as they go the "nuclear prestige" route-- in exchange for mangos. Nukes for mangos. Any Congressman supporting this should be committed for the next 20 years in a sanitarium, because this is truly one of the most inexpressibly stupid ideas I've ever heard!
The point is that Bush seems to be building a lot of his defense and foreign policy around expanding nuke arsenals, which will inevitably lead to nuclear war and, likely, nuclear terrorism as they proliferate across the world. This is not the sort of world I want my grandkids to be growing up in! All the stupid babblings about how "we're a democracy, we're special and will use the nukes morally," is just total and utter crap. There is no moral use of nukes in war except as a last-resort self-defense, and even then in small enough numbers to act as a deterrent to invasion while not flattening entire cities full of civilians. Most people in the world and most Americans know this, which is why some poll showed almost 2/3 of Americans favoring getting rid of nukes period (even by us-- please, Joe M, don't take out your anger against the American people, most of us are moral enough to see the folly of these policies). Yet the fools in power, obsessed with nukes as a kind of national phallic symbol, can't get their heads around the idea. How much are we costing ourselves with all these nukes? $40 billion a year? $50 billion? My grandkids will be the ones forced to pay off this horrible debt accumulated in the past two decades, and nukes seem to be one luxury we can't afford in abundance anymore. We needed to take down Saddam, but we didn't need to gratuitously enrage the world in the process, and our nuke policies are making us persona non grata. I've been around for decades, and we've never, ever been despised the way we are now due to these policies.
All of us at the table, almost a dozen lifelong Republicans, and we're on the verge of quitting the GOP in the wake of this addle-headed nonsense and incomptence. We actually want our grandkids to go up safe, healthy and alive, without staring at a world that has nukes in every other unstable country and the US and Russia still poised to zap each other over some stupid misunderstanding, made all the worse by some foolish quest for nuclear primacy. For the security of everyone-- and that includes the USA most of all-- we cannot allow nuclear primacy, and that includes by us. We along with Russia should be reducing our nukes into the low 100's, and then the low dozens as soon as we can. Otherwise, my grandkids will be growing up in a fallout shelter after some two-bit fool in one of these countries gets a bit too trigger-happy in the bunker.posted by: Old Soldier on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Gaidar is exactly right.
The vast Soviet nuclear arsenal was not built to create strategic parity with the United States, but to maintain the advantage the Soviet Union enjoyed by virtue of the much larger conventional forces it had in Europe. A second reason, developed later, was to enable the Soviet leadership to have an option against its Chinese rival. The argument that this huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, built to deter the Americans from preventing the imposition of Soviet power on Russia's neighbors, helped keep the peace during the Cold War stands the truth on its head.
The argument that the nuclear peace is threatened by a change in the "balance" -- most of which is the product of Russia's not being able to maintain the huge force of missiles, submarines and long-range aircraft it had built to carry nuclear weapons rather than a result of anything America has done -- is equally bizarre. Maintenance of the (wholly theoretical) ability to survive an American first strike is not relevant to any critical Russian need today. The diversion of Russia's windfall of oil revenues to restore such an ability would effectively restore the policy that helped drive the Soviet Union into bankruptcy in the first place.
This is what Gaidar is afraid of. Now, one would like to think that it would take more than a couple of American academics innocently romping through the fields of idle intellectual endeavor, doing what all good academics are supposed to do, to lead the government of a large country with many pressing needs to turn away from them and pursue again the warped priorities of the Soviet state. I wouldn't credit the idea if nostalgia for the heady days when Soviet Communism was a world menace didn't seem to be the leitmotif of Russia's current leadership. Since it is, though, it's hard to argue with Gaidar's view that the publication of the Lieber/Press article was deeply irresponsible.posted by: Zathras on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Scarry sh*t you talk about!! If the US electorate keeps sending the same type of folks that staff the current administrations to Washington and we really have this capability then God Help Us All.posted by: DILBERT DOGBERT on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
I was going to say that I think the concept of a first strike is absurd. After our recent intelligence failures do you think a leader would bet that he could take out every single nuke in Russia (and perhaps China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and who knows where else...)
But I don't think that is the best argument anymore. I think that the situation Old Soldier lays out about decentralization of nuclear control is pretty darn scary and he convinced me that it is high time we take a serious step back from our nuclear investment. Heck, maybe those scientists could help with our oil problem (like we don't have enough and have to rely on odious nations to supply us).posted by: Rich on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Zathras, you're unbelievably wrong on the first point. The Russians most definitely want a strong nuclear deterrent because they do not want to see the horrors of World War II (when Russia lost 10s of millions of people) repeated. While people from that generation no longer hold power in Russia, I believe there is a deep psychologial need in Russians to ensure that they cannot be invaded again -- by anyone, whether its the US, China or Germany (!!). That is why Russia wants the ability to survive a nuclear first strike.
Nor would it bankrupt Russia to keep that. What bankrupted the Soviet Union was supporting all its satellites, maintaining a huge army and a pathetic economy. The economy is probably better now. Russia does not need a full deterrent, or full parity. It just needs enough to survive a first strike. Absent SDI, you only need half a dozen warheads to make any enemy pay a heavy price.
I'd be willing to bet that Yegor Gaidar understands both Russian interests and the Russian mentality a lot better than erg does.
"The horrors of World War II" were a product of Stalin's having purged the leadership of the Soviet military and then making a treaty with the Nazis. There is not now and never has been a threat to Russia from America or any other country remotely comparable to the one that existed in the 1940s; the vast Soviet arsenal amassed in the years after the war was primarily a tool to impose Soviet will on its neighbors and buttress a superpower status that neglected the needs of Russia's people and eventually bankrupted the state.
There was never a shortage during the Cold War of soft-headed Westerners willing to accept almost any excuse for Soviet conduct and treat Moscow's behavior as a kind of psychiatric problem requiring patience, understanding and strenuous demonstrations of American goodwill. Perhaps that is one of the many things that has changed since the Soviet empire disintegrated, and perhaps not. In any event, President Putin and other Russian leaders have free will, and the ability to learn from history the lessons they think appropriate. These could involve the importance of not wasting billions on useless weapons to meet a nonexistent threat, or instead the importance of spending whatever is necessary to regain the plausible status of superpower, which while doing little for Russia's people has always been most gratifying to the vanity of its political leadership.posted by: Zathras on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
I, for one, am glad that the US has nuclear supremacy. We deserve it, because we are the best country in the world, and, indeed, in all of history. We will guarantee the safety and security of the world. The only force capable of deflecting us from our mission is the Democrat party.
WTF?posted by: William Dipini Jr. on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Wolfowitz was never ambassador to the Philippines. He swayed US policy re Marcos when he was Assistant Sectretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The only ambassadorship he held was in Indonesia.posted by: bartman on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
(knocking on desk). Well said, Old Soldier. Keep on postin'posted by: St. James on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
I'd be willing to bet that Yegor Gaidar understands both Russian interests and the Russian mentality a lot better than erg does.
Yes, and that is exactly why he suggests that articles like this one reinforce Russian paranoia and fear of being isolated. Now I think Gaidar is protesting too much, but he almost certainly knows more about Russian public opinion than Zathras.
Nor is there any shortage of Westerners like Z going off on half-baked rants. I never opined whether the Russian fear was rational or not, I simply opined that it existed and would have an influence on Russian foreign and military policy. I actually think it is largely irrational, but not totally so. Who knows what the world will be like 10-20 years from now ?
Many governments take actions that are totally irrational from a realist perspective, that are driven by vague feelings of national pride. Great Britain and Argentina get involved in a useless battle over a barren rock of land. India and Pakistan spend 100s of millions of dollars and the lives of many soldiers yearly on a barren plateau and the top of the world. The US and the Soviet Union get involved in a symbolic race to the moon, whose civlian and military spinoffs do not begin to cover vast expenses. And what rational reason is there anyway for Britains nuclear weapons ?
As I said, who knows what the world will be like 10-20 years from now ? Maybe China's arsenal will be much more powerful. Maybe (god forbid) the US, after facing a nuclear terrorist attack on its soil, would require all other countries in the world to give up its nukes. Maybe Russia needs a nuclear capability to strongarm a nuclear Iran.
If I were a Russian decision maker, I would most definitely try to maintain a capability of surving a first strike (maybe via submarines). This means just that, and not nuclear parity with the US. And I think if you polled the Russian people, they would agree with that, irregardless of the fact that it means less butter.posted by: erg on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
On taking out the Russian subs, it's possible because they are ALMOST NEVER AT SEA. Press and Leiber point out that Russian SSBNs conducted two total patrols last year. Two, just two. That's consistent with what I found when I did a similar project a few years ago (which didn't go anywhere, my loss). On any given day, odds were that ALL Russian boomers were in port. At any given time the US could have several LA-class SSNs looking for each Typhoon, and if we wanted a first strike, hell, put 20 'em on the job. Given the decline in Russian training and maintenance, I bet our detection capabilities have only increased.
Now, if there were a week or two of crisis first, the Russians could probably surge some subs, and that would complicate things significantly (though we still have a good shot given our ASW overmatch). But bolt-of-the-blue, pretty good shot when I run the numbers myself.
I'd be curious to hear more from "anon" on the negative reaction at Harvard (Belfer? Olin?). I haven't seen the IS draft but from the FA piece and what I know of the subject myself, along with positive reactions from faculty at MIT, Press-Leiber doesn't sound like crap.
anIRProf, it suddenly occurred to me -- suppose the russians had a bunch of fishing trawlers prowling around, with 30 or so nuclear-armed cruise missiles each and some sort of communication gear to find out when we've launched a first strike....
Well, but we could track them all and hit them at the same time. We could hit every russian fishing trawler just to be sure. Would it be a violation of treaty for them to have such a thing in the first place? Or are the treaties that might have banned such a thing already broken?
They might not be using their boomers because the things are just obsolete. After all, for a first strike you need to hit things as quickly as possible, and having subs close to the enemy's shore cuts down the warning they get. But for a second strike it doesn't really matter how long it takes -- you could hit back a couple of weeks later if you thought the nukes wouldn't get destroyed in the meantime. They could even send cruise missiles from russia if they thought the things wouldn't be primary targets and would get through.
Could the russians build a doomsday device that might survive a first strike? Could they build one that would be triggered by a first strike, if we tried to destroy it?
There might be lots of ways to get revenge after a first strike. But part of the trouble is that they'd need to advertise them to persuade us not to do that first attack, and once we knew about their ripostes we might think we could knock those out too. Safer to try a variety of approaches and not tell us -- if the important thing is to hit us back. If the important thing is to persuade us not to attack in the first place, then I suppose they'd do better to find ways to eliminate insane US decision-makers.
If one is of a conspiratorial frame of mind one could readily find a rationale for the Leiber/Press thesis about US nuclear superiority; to slow the Russiand and Chinese down economically.
I think it's generally acknowledged that building and maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent is an expensive thing. A cost which the US can afford to bear much more easily than Russia or China can, at least for now.
Catching up would cost proportionately more depending on one's goals. If you limit the goals to a dozen surviving bombers with warheads - that is a fairly modest goal. But building a missle submarine force capable of surviving an onslaught by US attack subs - that costs real money!
Let's remember that a ruble devoted to defence pusposes can't be devoted to building the Russian economy, and the same goes for China.
I think there is a real possibility that this is nothing but disinformation - particularly given the slighting comments made by various academic on this blog.posted by: Don S on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
I find it hard to believe that any person even remotely affiliated with these types of programs in the US, Russia, China or else where did not realize this was the case. My guess is that the Russians knew this already. If you have ever been there you realize that the level of maintenance would not be sufficient to support their stock. And as the missiles age they become more maintenance intensive. Russians knew this, but just did not want to have to admit it. Now, to my mind, it is not private scholars jobs to keep the lack of Russian military competence a secret.
This kind of reminds me of the Danish cartoon issue. This relatively benign article comes out in a journal 99.44% Americans don't know about and now the man on the street in Siberia is complaining about American nuclear supremacy. This just seems like a convenient excues for the Russian military/government to whip up local anger for their own reasons.
Just my thoughts
Thomas: What is it you think I was arguing, that is based on diplomats saying or not saying anything?
The only relevant thing I said (I'm assuming that from your talk about diplomats and first strike plausibility, you're not making the Nuclear Winter argument) was that nobody was seriously considering a first strike against Russia.
That diplomats have not made a promise (which would, of course, not be worth anything if the President decided that US interests necessitated a first strike against any nation, and every nation on Earth knows that) not to ever make a first strike is not evidence that actually making one is seriously being considered.
It is evidence that some things, even diplomats won't waste time making empty promises about.
(By which I mean, if the US does not feel it vital to make a first nuclear strike against Russia, it's not going to, promises or not.
And if the US (as embodied by the Executive Branch guy with the nuclear football) decides it is vital, such a promise is of no value. And since no possible government of Russia or China is stupid enough to believe such a promise, were it made, I really don't see the point.)
You seem to still be missing the point that I was arguing against in the first place, which is that this scholarly paper is not "people talking like the US is seriously considering a first strike". You haven't given me any examples of people doing so yet. That you keep talking about nuclear winter and possible side-effects of a nuclear first strike is... irrelevant to that.
Arguing that a nuclear first strike is a bad idea is fine and well, but that doesn't address what these academics actually wrote, nor does it address my argument against your original statement that someone somewhere was seriously considering committing a first strike.
Perhaps you misspoke and meant only that people were considering the feasibility of a first strike, rather than the commission of one?posted by: Sigivald on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Sigivald, do you have any reason to think that the US government is not considering a first strike?
The only evidence that we are not considering a first strike is that we haven't come out and said that we are. That is, our President hasn't directly said he is, and our State Department hasn't officially said he is. If they said he was, that would make it official, and until we officially say we aren't then you could perhaps say that means we aren't.
Do you have any reason whatsoever to think we aren't actually planning a first strike? Of course our military analysts and contractors are busy making detailed first-strike plans. They have to, without that they couldn't estimate what our losses would be from an enemy second strike. And in that context what does it even mean to say we aren't considering a first strike? We have all the resources in place to make a first strike at a moment's notice, and whawt it means that we aren't considering it is that it simply hasn't crossed the President's mind?
Russian and chinese diplomats *have* bothered to promise that they won't make a first strike. They seem to feel that civilised nations make such promises. We have not promised we won't make a first strike against other nuclear powers, and we haven't promised we won't nuke nonnuclear nations. In fact we have specifically threatened to nuke nonnuclear nations, for example we threatened to nuke iraq if they used poison gas on our troops that were invading iraq at the time.
There's something refreshing about the way you admit that we wouldn't keep our word anyway. Perhaps we should extend that. Whenever we make a treaty with any foreign power or the UN, we should include in the preamble that we reserve the right to break the treaty on no notice whenever we feel like it, and that no treaty signed by the USA is worth the paper it's written on. That would be a novel approach to international relations.
At any rate, a minority of the US electorate has been considering a US first strike against russia for roughly 60 years. A sizeable command in the US air force has been seriously considering it for almost that long. And the major argument that made that a nonstarter was that the russians could hit us back. If you like you can pretend that "no one" has been considering this. But there is no evidence to back this claim, except the negative evidence that the State Department hasn't directly denied that claim. And if they did deny it, who other than you would believe them?
> And the major argument that made that a
About 18 months ago, by pure chance, I ran across a book at the library that traced the history and effects of the fallout clouds from every known US above-ground nuclear test (and as many of the unannounced ones as could be determined). Just those 50 or so relatively low-yield shots over a period of 18 years had a significant impact across the United States (turns out I was a baby under several of those clouds and look what happened to me!). Even if the Air Force and its contractors have studied the theoretical effects of a "small" counterstrike (say, thirty 400 kt shots) there is no way in hell that they have any knowledge or understanding of how devestating the consequences would be in real life.
Since we seem to live in a pseudo-fictional dream world these days, permit me to quote a fictional character: the senior surviving Soviet commander in Tom Clancy's _Red Storm Rising_. The scene: the commander has just demanded full control of the keys to the tactical nuclear force. Politburo member: "But why do you need that, Comrade?". Commander: /to himself/ 'So they will NEVER BE USED you idiot' /out loud/ "To ensure operational security sir". Politburo: "Very well; here are the codes".
Let's hope our real commanders of nuclear forces have that much sense.
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
"Russian and chinese diplomats *have* bothered to promise that they won't make a first strike."
Chinese diplomats routinely say all sorts of on-the-face ridiculous things. Focusing on what diplomats are publically saying is a curious obssession.posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Sebastian, Sigivald is claiming that the USA has never seriously considered making a nuclear first strike.
What evidence could there possibly be for that claim, unless some US representative has said it -- a diplomat or president? Or perhaps the evidence could perhaps be that they have never solemnly claimed that they *were* considering a first nuclear strike, and the lack of such a claim might be considered evidence....
Regardless, those foreign diplomats have gotten some mileage off our refusal to deny that we'll make a first strike. It's a novel way to play the diplomatic game for us to say "We won't bother to go through the usual diplomatic maneuvers and say something that's advantageous for us to say, for the simple reason that we'd be lying -- and the truth is we'll do anything we want to whether we promise or not." I haven't heard of any other nation trying that approach. Perhaps it's a new way to win at diplomacy, something that nobody but us has ever considered.
Can somebody make a convincing argument for the strategic the point to all of this? I can see no advantage, at all.
These people we have in leadership (Cheney/Rumsfeld) seem to be stuck on a mental merry-go round and they don't know how to get off. Someone send them back to the eighties wher they belong.posted by: Babar on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Babar, I don't know whether you'll find this convincing, but I think I can state the argument.
Start from the assumption that the USA is the only superpower, and we intend to stay a superpower, and we intend to remain the only superpower.
China is headed toward becoming a superpower, so we have to stop them. Also, a good strong superpower should be able to stomp any regional power, preferably easily. We can ignore europe; they have no stomach for military strength and we can cut off their oil any time we want to. We can ignore japan, their military force is weak and we can blockade them and cut off their oil any time we want to. We can ignore india, they're still pretty weak and they have no inclination toward empire.
We can't ignore russia. Even though they're vastly weakened from the time they were the USSR, they could become a threat. And they can provide oil or natural gas to europe or china, and it would be hard for us to stop them. More like a wounded bear than a snake with a broken back.
We can't ignore the middle east because we have to control their oil. Otherwise there could be pipelines carrying oil to europe and china. Much more serious to bomb a pipeline than to blockade a shipping route. We can't cut off oil to europe or china unless we control the middle east nations that have oil.
If you look at it from this point of view I'm sure most of the details will fall into place pretty quick. We need nuclear threats against russia and china because they'd be very hard to attack conventionally. We might need a nuclear threat against iran for similar reasons, but less so. We need to occupy or intimidate the parts of the middle east that have significan oil. It all fits together.
I don't think the numbers will work out. There's a limit to the amount of military maneuvering you can do before it uses more oil than it controls. While there's a difference between the world's only superpower threatening to nuke people versus anybody else making that threat, the difference may not be enough for us to get away with it. There's a question how long we can pretend to be a superpower before we collapse. Etc. But ignoring the issues, doesn't this mindset explain the decisions? Particularly the decisions that are hard to make sense of otherwise?
I appreciate you taking the time to hash that out for me.
Anyway I don't know if you subscribe to that position or not, but I think the thing that jumps out at me right away is that it all seems to start from the concept that our nuclear arsenal buys us some sort of leverage in achieving our ends beyond being a deterrent to another nuclear power.
I would submit that this sort of leverage was and still is extremely limited. Granted that there is always a tactical military consideration, but all realistic policy goals very rarely benefit from this portion of the equation.posted by: Babar on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
China is headed toward becoming a superpower, so we have to stop them.
After 50 years of the one-child family policy China is also headed for the Mother of all demographic crisises and it's not clear whether they will achieve superpower status before their population starts aging too far. I think they will have to make a choice between military and economic power at some point and it will probably be the latter given their history.posted by: Don S on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
First Strike Capability Monopoly is a very stable structure and more or less ensures lasting word peace. The return of MAD would be a bad thing and I dont want (and probably would not for long) to live in a word where three or more actors possess First Strike Capability.posted by: jaimito on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
Babar, I think those ideas are stupid, but if our leadership holds them it fits their behavior, right? And I haven't found another set of basic assumptions that fits, unless we assume that they're also stupid.
That doesn't make it correct -- for example there could be a committee with conflicting goals that does things according to the ebb and flow of politics within the committee, and that model can explain any result at all, though it lacks predictive power. But the simple explanation fits what I've seen so far.
Don S might be right that china is not actually heading for superpower status. But at the moment they are the only obvious threat. If the arabs all got together under an arabist banner and tried to take over the world, mostly they have oil. Where would they build the factories to make tanks and planes and electronics? They'd have to buy those things from their enemies. India could become a credible threat, but it would be a change. They don't have ambitions to rule their muslim neighbors, they'd rather those guys just went away. And taking tibet would be a nightmare. India can get strong, and they can throw their weight around, but they don't have the passion for it yet. Easier to think of them as our ally against china.
I agree that nukes don't get you much diplomatically. But if we want a military threat against russia, or china, or india, or even indonesia, nukes are what we've got. Look at the problems we have occupying a nation of 25 million people with no more than 10 million of them opposing us. How could we occupy a large country? (We have come up with alternatives to occupation, but those haven't bubbled up to strategic thinking yet.)
How do you get the other guy to back down in a nuclear standoff? If you can do that you win. This time. We perfected those techniques back in the MAD days.
1. You persuade him that the issue matters so much to you that you'd die rather than let him win.
2. Failing that, you persuade him that you care a lot more than he does, and that you'll escalate one step at a time until he backs down but you won't back down.
3. Persuade him that at some early step your responses will be automated and out of your control, you will no longer be able to back down.
This worked in 1973. We persuaded the russians that we were ready if necessary to kill everybody in the world for israel, and the russians backed down and let us win the 1973 arab/israeli war.
Since then we have spent a tremendous amount of money developing a first strike capability. We created a lot of technology that was no use for anything except a first strike. This helped make our enemies afraid of us -- why would we spend so much of ourselves, the productive lives of our best engineers etc, on something we didn't intend to use?
And we can use it diplomatically. We can tell the leaders of foreign countries, "Unless you do what we say we will destroy all your nukes. And then there's nothing you can do about it, we can do whatever we want to you. Give in." Since we have a tremendous number of dispersed nukes, they can't figure they'll destroy *our* second-strike ability, so if our first strike fails to take out their nukes and they hit us back then we'll get mad and hurt them real bad. Is the issue important enough for them to go through with all that, or is it easier to just give in?
Our first-strike ability doesn't have to work. All the advantages come from making them think we believe it works. Similarly, it doesn't matter whther our first-strike on somebody else kills us too. We get all the advantages if we believe it will have no effect on us, and we lose those advantages if we start to admit it could hurt us.
We lose those advantages if we actually nuke somebody. We get the political problems from the various citizens who get appalled that we nuked somebody. We get the international repercussions. Look at the international effects of Chernobyl, which was a partly-contained accident. Imagine the reaction to a few hundred intentional nukes. Foreign leaders everywhere will be screaming at us on TV. "The americans are crazy!" And our response of course will be, "Yes, we're crazy! You have to do what we say or we'll nuke you too!" And if it doesn't actually work and they announce they have surviving nukes we get a national panic and we look real real stupid.
It's a stupid idea, and an expensive one. But it's the only obvious chance we have to control russia and china etc, so we're going to try it.
And also the game theory wonks are going to think like jaimito, they're going to approve of a strategy that in theory will result in everlasting peace with us on top. And in theory, with an infinite number of strong economies all competing, if we don't do it somebody else will.
So the US launches a first strike on Russia and destroys its war fighting capacity.
Invade? Ask them to pay tribute? What?posted by: M. Simon on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
M Simon, first off I'm not exactly defending this idea.
But the idea isn't to actually do a first strike. The idea is to threaten a first strike.
Say for example we get into some big disagreement with the russians. They're doing something we just don't want to tolerate. So we say, "Do what we want or we'll nuke you."
They of course prefer a MAD world where they can say "You wouldn't do that, it would wind up killing everybody in the world. Better you put up with us doing this one little thing that really doesn't hurt you that much."
But we respond, "We don't have to kill everybody in the world. We can destroy all your nukes. And then if we want to we can nuke anything else we want in your country and there's nothing you can do about it. Now do what we say or else."
The first strike capability doesn't have to actually work. If they believe it works, and we believe it works, then we've put them in a dilemma. Do what we say or lose a nuclear war.
In fact, if we believe it works and they don't believe it works they're still in a dilemma. Unless they back down they have every reason to think they'll wind up in a nuclear war that might easily wind up killing everybody in the world. And they can't get us to back down because we firmly crazily believe we'll win.
They're still in something of a dilemma if they don't believe it work and they aren't sure we believe it works. Are we bluffing or are we about to start a war that might easily kill everybody in the world? The only way to find out is to call our bluff and see whether we back down. They have to consider whether this particular issue is worth it.
And if we can get them into the *habit* of backing down every time we threaten them with nuclear war, pretty soon they'll accept that we're the superpower who tells them what to do and they're the regional power that does what we tell them.
Without a first strike capability, we have no real military threat against any nuclear power that can deliver. Say we had a falling out with israel, we wouldn't even have a real military threat against *them*. With an SDI that worked, we'd have a defense against small powers and we could dictate to them. But we can't convincve anybody that we believe our deployed SDI works. A first strike capability is better. The technology is easier, so it's easier to pretend we believe in it.
And if we can't even threaten small powers that have the strength of israel, we aren't really a superpower.
That's the key point. If you want the USA to be a superpower, there is no choice but to believe that a first strike capability will let us stay a superpower. Because nothing else will. It isn't a question of believing that the mathematical game theory that predicts how foreign leaders will respond is accurate. If the goal is to remain a superpower, and no other method works, there's no choice but to grab onto this one and hope it works.
And if we actually have to do a nuclear first strike on russia and then figure out what to do next, the strategy has failed.
If the USA are that close to nuclear supremacy (and I'm not sure they are) it's hard to understand what will stop the next nuclear war from happening. Every weapon that mankind has developed through history has been used in large numbers. The only exception were the nuclear weapons, because of the MAD balance. Now, if it's possible to use nukes without risking self-destruction, I can't see what will stop someone, at some time, from doing it.posted by: Carlos on 03.29.06 at 11:14 AM [permalink]
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