Obama and Nuclear Deterrence

By Bryan • military, politics, random world • 13 Apr 2010

Everyone has one or two obscure interests.  I think I have about ten…or maybe eleven?  Just wait to you get a load of this amateur fringe interest…

nuclear deterrence theory. I’m sure you are all dying to be my friend now, huh?.  Plutonic, perhaps?

bombshellSometimes one forgets their interests, and deterrence theory vanished into my archives…but has resurfaced with the large media coverage of Obama’s recent START (new) nuclear reduction agreement with Russia.  The agreement has been getting some flak for the notion that each country will still be holding on to about 1500 bad boys each.  Fair enough, but Obama is merely following a well established theory.  He’s also built upon it slightly by modifying US nuclear policy by limiting the option of nuclear weapon release only on nations that do not comply with the non-proliferations treaty.  You sign, you are safe from Betty up there.  You don’t…well, that sucks.  As we say in planning "some carrot and a big frackin’ stick”.  

Taking it to the backpack crowd is also now apparently on it’s way into US nuclear doctrine.

When completed next year, the Nuclear Posture Review will order the entire government to focus on countering nuclear terrorists — whether armed with rudimentary bombs, stolen warheads or devices surreptitiously supplied by a hostile state — as a task equal to the traditional mission of deterring a strike by major powers or emerging nuclear adversaries.

Deterrence theory has always had problems with nuclear terrorism and the idea of the bee-sting.  A bee-sting is a situation in which a nuclear armed organization obtains one or two devices and assumes that would be enough to deter a US attack.  Confidence upon acquiring such devices may increase the probability of their use.  They may even have been acquired solely for offensive purposes.  In a situation like this, a nations own deterrent may be of little use.

I have a few posts from way back about Chinese nuclear deterrence here, something about the deterrent policies of other countries here and little something about North Korea here

Beware, as I’m hardly a scholar.

sideshowbob Maintaining large numbers of nuclear weapons always seem to go hand-in-hand with uber-conservative views on the world.  I struggle with the above because it is only rational to hold on to a good chunk of devices to ensure your deterrent.  I then struggle with that statement because why would one want to hold onto 1500 warheads?  How is that sane? Besides, I’m not a neocon. If I say nukes are good…what does that say about me? That is probably why I find nuclear deterrence theory so fascinating.  That, and because I think  that a whole school of theory which has developed around an idea that assumes that  a winner will emerge in a nuclear exchange is outrageous.  Is that a reflection of the cold, hard rationalism that dominated the nuclear age?  That rationale people actually believe it?  I would say that I (a sane and somewhat rational fellow) could be thrown into that category as I’ve read some of it and admittedly find considerable amounts of it quite reasonable.  That’s freaky.  Reminds me of the famous explanation of sanity from Catch-22.

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.  Orr was crazy and could be grounded.  All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions."

The assumption that insanity is actually the way of a rationale mind.  Like with nukes…you would be bloody crazy to use them, but that’s normal.

What about that one genuinely crazy dude with his backpack?  Strategy seems to be get him before he gets the backpack.    

Stupid theory.

The one thing that always holds me back from dreams of a nuclear free world is that it is only feasible if everyone with a nukeeven buddy with the backpack…agree to get rid of them at the same time.  

People are just too rationale.

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5 Responses

  1. Andrew

    Eh, one of my obscure interests lies in a similar direction, so I wouldn’t worry about it. Anywho, the 1,500-warhead-per-side number reminds me of something I once read in a Clancy novel – apparently 1,000 bad boys per side has the effect of making a nuclear war “winnable”. Clancy adds, “…whatever the hell that means”, which dovetails with both of our feelings on the prospect of nuclear victory. Herman Kahn and his merry men are totally fucking insane.

    (Granted, that was rooted in the Bad Old Days of Reaganomics, where everyone thought that the Gipper’s goal was to beat Russia back to the Stone Age…)

    • Lisa Simpson: [reading a poster] “Nuke the whales?” You don’t really believe that, do you?
      Nelson Munz: I dunno. Gotta nuke something.

  2. Bryan

    Check out this other crazy piece of nuclear deterrence based on that fail-deadly concept.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Hand_(nuclear_war)

  3. Kay

    Woo.. that wiki article there looks very interesting and a bit scary to say the least.

    In truth, every time I think of nukes, I think of nuclear winter. I do not want to imagine how cold the world would be…

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