A Nuclear Paradox? Not Exactly…

Posted: June 15, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , ,

Loren Thompson, writing at Forbes, points out that President Obama is likely to spend more on nuclear modernization than any president since Ronald Reagan.  Why? 

This may be the ultimate example of how gaining political power can transform the beliefs of leaders — not because Obama has abandoned his support of disarmament, but because of how being responsible for the nation’s security forces him to think in practical terms about the dangers of disarming.

Later, Thompson offers this:

The paradox is that the fewer weapons each side has the greater the danger of a surprise attack because at lower numbers it becomes easier for each country to disarm the other side.

That’s not exactly a paradox as I see it.  Instead, it’s a simple reflection of the fact that as the numbers of nuclear weapons go down, the value of each remaining weapon goes up.  Similarly, the value of missile defense goes up and the value of cheating on arms control treaties and on nuclear proliferation issues goes up.

While there may not be much deterrent difference between 4800 and 5000 nuclear weapons and if the world is in a fairly stable bipolar configuration, today we’re instead looking at a third that number, as agreed to in New START.  Even at 1550, assuming a target set of (say) 700, you’re looking at up to two weapons per target.  But that assumes much including an immobile and unchanging target set and an unchanging target count.

However, nuclear proliferation is busting out all over and those nations busy plussing-up their weapons count and delivery systems don’t have a well established track record of political and military stability or friendliness and good humor.

In the bad old days we were more interested in counter-force targets, those military targets of great value in the Soviet Union.  While the Soviets may or may not have used a similar philosophy, today’s nuclear proliferated world, with less reliable weapons and delivery systems is likely to look at soft, asymmetrical targets like cities, population centers, centers of industry and government, and the likes.

What’s it all mean?  I’ll count down with five suggestions to make the United States safer: 5) stop the arms control insanity, 4) revitalize nuclear deterrence, 3) plus-up missile defense, 2) grow civil defense, 1) spend more time on anti-nuclear proliferation and more money on anti-nuclear proliferation technologies.  Concurrently develop and execute punitive (and effective) policies and sanctions for nuclear proliferators.

These are wicked-type problems, but let’s deal with the world as it is and not as we wish it to be.

  1. Gary Stark says:

    I have a better idea. Let’s decrease the need for nuclear proliferation by increasing the level of world peace. Makes sense. If the only two nations were the US and Great Brittan, there would no need for nuclear weapons, none at all. And as more nations on this planet become stable, dependable democracies, that will need less weapons.

    I doubt you will argue…world peace would provide some serious peace dividends, the lack of need for nuclear weapons being just one of them. So how do we promote democracy? We do it cost effectively. So not like Iraq or Afghanistan, but instead like Egypt or Tunisia. In the latter all we really had to do was invent the internet.

    In addition to keeping the internet running, we need to set a good democratic example for the world. The most important first step would be a democratic overhaul of the United Nations.. Currently we check our democratic principles at the door, walk inside, bow and converse at great length with impostors. The guy behind the “CHINA” nameplate does not represent the Chinese people, no matter how well we pretend. It’s how democracy works. We need to start conducting foreign policy under the rules of democracy, rather than the might-makes-right rules of dictatorship.



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