Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nuclear War and Deterrence

Today I read this great essay, "The Four Paradoxes of Nuclear Strategy" by Hans J. Morgenthau, published in 1964 in The American Political Science Review.

I was a political science  minor and my professors favored the form of realism Morgenthau championed in his analysis of the power politics of states.

Morgenthau's Four Paradoxes of Nuclear Strategy is a very well argued criticism of the insanity of nuclear deterrence. At issue: The idea that nuclear weapons actually deter nuclear war.

1. What is the value of nuclear deterrence when "The Immensity of the military force which the nuclear age has generated goes hand in hand with the devaluation of its practical use" [as a weapon] and "The more endowed a nation is with  military force, the less is it able to use that force"

[paraphrase] A country that had organized its defenses by investing in nuclear weapons cannot use those weapons [without insuring their own destruction]

2. Limited Nuclear War is a paradox: [paraphrase] Since we cannot use them without incurring mutually assured destruction (MAD), we've been looking for strategies for employing them in limited ways:

 [excerpt] "we have been in search of a method of waging nuclear war without incurring one's own destruction. Thus, we have been in search of a method of waging nuclear war in the conventional manner so that nuclear war may produce conventional, that is, rational and tolerable consequences

However, the enormous destructiveness natural to nuclear weapons upon which the dynamics of warfare is brought to bear makes the  rationalization of nuclear war, however, attempted, a hopeless undertaking. [end excerpt]

The search limited nuclear war produced the distinction between "tactical" nuclear war and "all-out-nuclear war"

3. The distinction between tactical and all-out nuclear war is a false division, he argues, whose path increases actual likelihood for nuclear war:

4. It is paradoxical that the insertion of a pause provided by the nuclear weapons as deterrent actually produces a pause, and deterrence. No pause can be presumed for tactical, nor for all-out-nuclear war:

The "essential ambiguity of the military act (which it of course shares with the political act), uncertainty about the enemy's intention, and the enormous and irreparable risks, in nuclear war, of mistakes in interpretation" [undermine possibility of pause]

thus "the assumption of a 'pause' between tactical and all-out nuclear war increases the likelihood of escalation from conventional to tactical nuclear war"

Morgenthau concludes his essay by describing how we remain locked within the logic of conventional warfare, which is all about building bigger and still bigger defeneses:

"On the one hand, we embark upon a nuclear armaments race as though it were a conventional one. On the other hand, wary of its irrationality, we try to stop it"

He gives the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 as an example of our moment of lucidity when we try and stop the insanity as an unresolved paradox.


We have these same paradoxes today. Unfortunately, it increasingly looks as if the lunatics are running the asylum.

Today tactical nuclear weapons are a reality in many ways. Read what Wikipedia says about tactical nuclear war here, as opposed to wars that menace "entire" populations. What insanity is that?

[Wikipedia] A tactical nuclear weapon (or TNW) refers to a nuclear weapon which is designed to be used on a battlefield in military situations. This is as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons which are designed to menace large populations, to damage the enemy's ability to wage war, or for general deterrence. Tactical nuclear weapons were a large part of the peak nuclear weapons stockpile levels during the Cold War..... 

Weapons include:gravity bombs and short-range missiles, but also artillery shells, land mines, depth charges, and torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare. Also in this category are nuclear armed ground-based or shipborne surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and air-to-air missiles http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon

Majia here: Today tactical nuclear war is very likely an ongoing reality, even when not intended as such. For example, consider how DU is a kind of tactical nuclear weapon.

However, the insanity is that no tactical weapon that is nuclear-based simply stays on the battlefield.

Paul Langley argues convincingly that radiation health effects were understood by the military to be part of the weapons' killing power.

Radiation from the battlefield circulates atmospherically and in ocean currents. And it poisons the land and people where it is most densely deposited.

Morgenthau knew that nuclear war cannot be fought without jeopardizing us all.

Now we have a situation where we are threatened by the nuclear power plants built decades ago as part of the push by nations to join the nuclear club of nuclear-equipped world powers.

These nuclear power plants can produce far more radiation than the bombs stored around the globe.

And they are. They are having problems left and right around the globe, releasing large amounts of radiation in momentous accidents and releasing a continuous stream of beta-emitting tritium when operating

The FINAL PARADOX I would like to add is that of ATOMS FOR PEACE, which has proven so very disastrous for humanity.

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