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29 June 2007

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Montag

DH,
Reminds me of the ending in Leonard Wibberly's comic novel, "The Mouse That Roared." The Duchy of Grand Fenwick gains possession of a Doomsday Bomb that can destroy the Earth, and use the threat to impose total global nuclear disarmament. But the bomb's creator worries that the Doomsday Bomb may go off spontaneously. So he's examining it alone when he drops it, and finds to his delight that the detonator is defective--it's a dud. But it's still an effective deterrent against nuclear rearmament as long as this remains a secret. As he's leaving the dungeon cell where the bomb is stored, the guard asks, "How's the bomb?" And he replies happily, "It's a better bomb than ever."

I think Wibberly was saying that, since a nuclear deterrent depends upon the weapons existing without actually being used, then it doesn't matter if they can't actually BE used. After all, even a saber that's broken off at the hilt can still be rattled in its scabbard, making a fearsome sound.

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

Thank you for your reply.

I think US & EU have destroyed NPT, although it is debateable who bears the most responsibility.

As evidence in support of my opinion I suggest the nuclearization of Israel, the destructuion of Yugoslavia foloowed by the Kosovo War, the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the rationalization of India's nuclearization.

Spinoza wrote: " The most useful thing to a human being is another human being." Why we plan for destroying those who are the most useful to us can best be explained by the old religious doctrine of "the Fall of Man" - in my opinion - for I cannot find any rational explanation for this love-hate relationship with other members of our species.

jang

"an enlightened technocracy run by self-selecting (yeppers)bureaucratic elite (elite- yep) may not be very inspiring, but under the circumstances it may be better and more sustainable than a corrupt, demogagic republic"...(agree: this administration has proven that intimidation works, and black can really be seen as white on some occasions, and that if you speak in an authoritative manner and/or wear an expensive suit you can persuade many of the people a lot of the time) To me, this incestuous group of politicians has hijacked the republic.

But isn't this the first President who is also an MBA grad, correct? He seems to be content with and loyal to powerful administration officials who forgotton about, or care less about, George Washington and the cherry tree....as well he seems to condone faction fighting in the WH as a management tool.

You all deserve better. and, as well, someone should alert the American people to the epidemic spread of Luntzspeak.

PeterE

These United States may face a Roman (or a Tsarist?) fate, but I'm not convinced. Recently I reread Benjamin Franklin's autobigraphy and bits of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. I was astonished at how contemporary they seemed. I heard America singing. Why not, in the end, a democratic government and an enlightened civil service?

David Habakkuk

Montag,

I don't know the Wibberley novel, only the film that was made of it with Peter Sellers playing multiple roles.

But as regards nuclear weapons, I have come to think that a closer approximation to reality came in another film in which Sellers played multiple roles -- Doctor Strangelove. I write, I should stress, as someone who had learned, if not to 'love the bomb', but at least to 'stop worrying' about it. Back in the early Eighties, I used to see the CND enthusiasms of people like Blair as another reason for regarding them with contempt. On this point at least, I now think they were in some ways right -- and that it is a shame that they have fallen in with Cold War orthodoxies, at precisely the point these needed questioning.

Actually, Doctor Strangelove is a more complicated film than appears at first sight. When George C. Scott, as the SAC commander General Turgidson, suggested an immediate all out attack on the Soviets, he was of course making a quite valid point: if there was good reason to judge a nuclear war inevitable -- and the film was set up in a way that made that a perfectly plausible suggestion, once General Ripper had issued the order to attack -- then it was not simply silly to suggest that the least worst option was pre-emption. Nuclear war is like duelling -- if there is any meaningful advantage to be had, it comes from shooting first.

And of course, if you want to minimise your opponent's retaliatory capability, a key target is going to be his command and control. But precisely this fact generates insoluble dilemmas for nuclear strategists. If you want to avoid accidental or inadvertent nuclear war, then you want to create a situation where there is no possibility that lower level commanders -- like General Ripper -- can launch nuclear weapons. Ideally, you would want a situation where not only authority to authorise nuclear use, but also the physical ability to initiate use, were in the hands of President Merkin Muffley. But if that were so, then a single bomb catching the President by surprise would disable your arsenal.

So nuclear strategists had to try and work out the best, or least worst, compromise between the conflicting requirements of ensuring the arsenal could not be disabled by an attack on your command and control, and minimising the possibility of unauthorised launch. The least worst option they could find -- in both the United States and the Soviet Union -- was not actually a very good option: a posture of launch on warning. The academic theorists of nuclear 'deterrence' believed in a MAD equilibrium based upon a secure second strike retaliatory capability. What they had actually done was to set the practical planners an impossible task, and then not notice that the planners had failed to fulfil it. And accordingly, the academic theorists failed to notice that the actual nuclear relationship -- two arsenals postured on the basis of launch on warning, with large scale predelegation of the authority and capability to launch nuclear weapons, particularly on the American side -- was fraught with possibility for catastrophe.

All this has been set out in the writings of Bruce Blair, who before turning academic was a Minuteman launch control officer, and noticed the gap between what the theorists said and the exercises which the SAC actually carried out -- in which missiles were fired off before the Soviet missiles landed, almost never after. For a hair-raising illustration of how the SAC evaded McNamara's attempts to strengthen central control, see a short article by Blair at http://www.cdi.org/blair/permissive-action-links.cfm.

Babak Makkinejad

Michael MccGwire -- the former Royal Navy intelligence analyst and staff officer who first opened my eyes to the weaknesses of academic 'deterrence' theory -- has said that the NPT 'is like a wisdom tooth that is rotten at its root, and the abscess is poisoning the international body politic.' I think the major responsibility for this lies with the U.S., Britain, and France, all of whom believe that they can continue to place nuclear weapons at the heart of their security policies, while denying this supposed panacea to others. And underpinning their attitudes is the same faith in the 'unilateral, undemocratic exercise of raw power' which 'Peter Principle' expressed.

Human life is a contradictory business. It is very often true that power comes out of the barrel of a gun -- and certainly, any viable non-proliferation regime in current conditions must necessarily depend in substantial measure on force, and in particular the force of U.S. arms. But then, morality does matter in international affairs. As MccGwire notes in relation to the collapse of the NPT: 'Fairness is important because its correlate -- resentment -- is a powerful and destructive motivator.' It has been a delusion of U.S. policy that the country's 'raw power' is adequate, on its own, to maintain a double standard which is widely -- and increasingly -- perceived as hypocritical and illegitimate. One of the things the attack on Iraq seems to have been intended to be was a kind of Roman-style demonstration of invincibility, to instill in people a vivid sense of the impossibility of defying the will of the United States. It has actually done precisely the reverse, in particular with regard to Iran.

The effect of the policies of 'regime change' and 'preventive war' has been to add to the already considerable incentives for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, while greatly increasing the problems the United States has in preventing it from doing so. What is involved here is not simply the failure of a specific policy -- it is the collapse of American non-proliferation policy.

Certainly, I think that if I were an Iranian strategist, the arguments for acquiring a nuclear 'deterrent' would appear to me to be very strong indeed. But I still think that the kind of problems that Bruce Blair describes are liable to make nuclear balances in the Middle East latently unstable. As to Britain, whose security problems are far less serious -- in current circumstances, I think the kind of unilateral nuclear disarmament MccGwire has championed would be perfectly sensible. We should spent the money on our overstretched and underequipped land forces. The situation of the U.S. is of course quite different -- but I still see no value whatsoever in even keeping open the option of nuclear first-use as a means of preventing Iran acquiring a nuclear capability.

I also think that there is something in nuclear weapons which appeals to the most 'fallen' sides of our nature -- and which gives them a bizarre attraction, even in situations where they have no conceivable practical use. A Christian would say that the antidote to our fallen nature was grace. Certainly, seeing the amount of fear and anger loose in the world, some antidote seems necessary.

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

In regards to Iran:

The security concerns of that state are historically rooted:

-Invaded & occupied in WWII by UK & USSR inspite of her declared neutrality

- Invaded by the Ottoman & Russian Empires in WWI in spite of her declared neutrality

- Loss of Herat (equivalent to loss of Wales of Ukraine) in 1820

etc.

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad:

I do not doubt that the security concerns of Iran have deep historical roots.

And I think if people in Washington (and London) were wise, they would take due account of these historically rooted fears.

That said, the fact that security concerns have deep historical roots does not necessarily make responses to them sensible.

In saying that, I am not taking a view as to what the Iranian government should do. It seems to me that the Bush Administration has been doing its very best to back both Iran and itself into a corner. And this seems to me monumentally stupid.

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