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01 April 2013

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William R. Cumming

An interesting post and perhaps shockingly to some further indication that S. Asia could well be the site of a nuclear war this century.

Truthfully though few in US leadership positions have studied or thought through nuclearwarfare so why should India and Pakistan be any different! BillClinton was so casual about possession of nuclear authentication codes that he lost track of his for six weeks. An impeachable offense IMO!

And nuclear surety and safeguard in the USA is clearly long in need of drastic upgrade. The culture is badly in error and the relief of a single USAF General who lost positive control over war reserve weapons should not be cause for US to think that this area is not a major vulnerability.

Thanks General Ali for this thoughtful post!

Babak Makkinejad

FB Ali:

That is all fine; but has not India been prevented from gobbling up (West) Pakistan becaus she is a nuclear-armed state?

How else can security of Pakistab be guaranteed any other way?

N. Richardson is stating - in my opinion - that international arena is one of chaos populated by possibly psychotic actors.

Furthermore, and if I understand him correctly, second-strike nuclear capability is the only foundations upon which reliable state security may be predicated - outside of alliance structures based on American, Chinese, and Russian nuclear forces.

I see, therefore, no alternative for Pakistan - regardless of the levels of generalships of her military leaders.

FB Ali

Pakistan is not small enough or weak enough to be "gobbled up".

Even though Pakistan is smaller and weaker than India, its conventional military strength was sufficient to enable it to stand up to Indian threats and rule out India being able to make good on them. When India developed a nuclear capability, this equation no longer held. Pakistan also needed such a capability to cancel out India's.

Neil Richardson

Dear Brigadier Ali:

Thank you very much for your insight. Back in 1961 Glenn Snyder (who recently passed away) wrote that "the greater the stability of the strategic balance of terror, the lower the stability of the overall balance at its lower levels of violence." Your analysis certainly lends support to the existence of stability-instability paradox at least in South Asia. In your view, how high did Pakistan and India go up the escalation ladder in 1999?

Babak Makkinejad

Are you saying that in a long war of attrition - without nuclear weapons - Pakisan could wage war indefinitely against India?

Jane

What on earth would India do with Pakistan if they got control of that country? India has more than enough problems trying to help all of its citizenry -- at least nominally loyal -- attain a decent standard of living.

India will do every thing in its power to avoid invading Pakistan for much the same reasons that Israel never conquered Egypt and China does not seek to destabilize North Korea.

FB Ali

Neil, I have no direct knowledge. My estimate is that it was never a serious issue. The Indian military believed they could deal with the incursion using conventional means (though they grossly under-estimated the difficulty and their troops paid a grievous price for their victory). They did convey the warning that any attempt to reinforce the incursion or respond elsewhere would risk a nuclear response. Musharraf was probably willing to face them down, but PM Nawaz Sharif was scared enough to scuttle off to Washington for help in extricating Pakistan from the mess Musharraf had got it into.

FB Ali

This is a purely theoretical issue. Neither side can fight a prolonged war.

Babak Makkinejad

Hinuds hate Muslims and hate Pakistan at all levels of that society - the professional and college educated included.

"What on earth would India do with Pakistan if they got control of that country?"

They would rub Muslims in dirt - gloating over their misery and fantasizing about the pay-back for historical Muslim invasions of Northern India by Muslim armies.

The Want-to-Be Imperialists in India - at the strategic level - also wish to extent India's political control to all of the lands of former British Raj - including Burma.

This imperial dream informs their strategists and causes them to throw their strategic lot, as it were, with US.

So, as you have alluded above, a country of Human Development ranking of 136 (India) is currying strategic favor for a country of Human Development ranking of 3 (United States) against a country of Human Development ranking of 101 (China).

Pathetic.

You must, however, admire US diplomats for their accomplishments.

Arun

Some comments:

1. F.B. Ali has yet to show that India has any territorial designs on Pakistan, or that the nuclear button is not in civilian control in India. He merely makes an assertion.

2. Babak Makkinejad is quite wrong about "Hindus hate Muslims". Hindus, are in fact, much more tolerant of Muslims in India than Muslims are of fellow-Muslims in Pakistan, or than Arabs are of Iranians.


David Habakkuk

F.B. Ali,

If I can go around in something of a circle, I may perhaps be able to end with some comments relevant to your remarks, which I find frightening, but hardly surprising.

Last month, Andrew Bacevich published in Harper’s an open letter to Paul Wolfowitz, a central concern of which was the influence of the very well-known nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter in shaping the assumptions which led to the invasion of Iraq. In the course of this, Bacevich quoted Wolfowitz claiming that Wolhstetter was ‘so insistent on ascertaining the facts.’ This is actually simply false.

(For Bacevich’s ‘Open Letter’, see http://harpers.org/archive/2013/03/a-letter-to-paul-wolfowitz/ )

In fact, both Wohlstetter’s work, and also critical parts of post-war Western ‘strategic studies’, like critical parts of post-war Western economic theorizing, attempted to apply the kind of axiomatic reasoning found in the hard sciences to problems to which it is ill-suited. A corollary of this was that, like many theoretical economists, many practitioners of ‘strategic studies’ were happy to base large theoretical structures on claims which tedious empirical analysis would have shown to be questionable.

The famous paper on ‘The Delicate Balance of Terror’ which Wohlstetter produced in 1958, provides two classic examples. In it, he lists a range of obstacles which must overcome -- 'hurdled' is the word he uses - by any system providing a capability 'to strike second, that is, to strike back.' 'Prizes for a retaliatory capability,' he wrote, ''are not distributed for getting over one of these jumps. A system must get over all six.' Among the hurdles listed is that of 'making the decision to retaliate and communicating it.'

(See http://www.rand.org/about/history/wohlstetter/P1472/P1472.html )

What the ‘Delicate Balance’ paper implicitly assumes is that the master theorists like Wohlstetter can hand the problem of devising a command and control system which is robust under thermonuclear attack to lesser mortals who cope with such tedious practical problems. But it really was bizarre to assume that such a system could be devised. And if it could not – as I think turned out to be the case – then the logic of Wohlstetter’s argument is turned on its head: the implication is that strategic stability based upon an assured second strike capability is a mirage.

Elsewhere in the ‘Delicate Balance’ article, Wolhstetter writes that ‘the many critics of the massive retaliation policy who advocate a capability to meet limited aggression with a limited response are on firm ground in suggesting that a massive response on such an occasion would be unlikely and the threat to use it therefore not believed.’

But this again is simply irrational. On the one hand, ‘deterrence’ theory places the ‘signalling’ function both of declaratory strategy and actual force deployments at the heart of its concerns – but then, rather than taking an interest in problematic issues as to how signals are perceived by adversaries, it expects to solve them on the basis of armchair theorising. Once again, what purports to be brilliant speculation is revealed, on closer inspection, to be characterised by a combination of shoddy logic and intellectual incuriosity.

Ironically, at the time Wohlstetter was writing, empirically-minded analysts were coming up with conclusions which called the whole intellectual bases of abstract theorising about ‘deterrence’. In the same year as the ‘Delicate Balance’ article was published, Wohlstetter’s erstwhile RAND colleague Raymond Garthoff, who had just joined the CIA, published his study of ‘Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age’. In it, Garthoff discussed an article by a Major-General V. Khlopov, published in June 1950 in the confidential Soviet journal Military Thought.

Despite American strategic air power and plans for its use against the Soviet Union, Khlopov had argued, there was a fatal flaw in the assumptions underlying such plans. The combination of greater air capabilities in Europe and 'powerful offensive operations on a large scale with a high tempo of advance', he suggested, would mean that 'the bridgehead on which the American militarists count to concentrate and deploy their forces for land engagements will be liquidated and their plans for [winning] the war will be buried with it.'

At the same time, a British naval officer by the name of Michael MccGwire was puzzling over the question of why such a large part of the vast submarine fleet which the Soviets had started building in 1950 was equipped with an 100mm gun, rather than anti-aircraft weapons, and was based in the Baltic and Black Sea. Such characteristics would have made these submarines particularly ill-suited to attacking convoys in the Atlantic. The following year, MccGwire realised that they would be particularly well-adapted to countering D-Day type amphibious operations striking at the Soviet LOC into Germany, and ‘soft underbelly’ in the Ukraine.

What emerged from these analyses were a range of complex problems, which did not lend themselves to easy solutions. To suggest that the very evident ‘capabilities threat’ posed by Soviet forces postured for a blitzkrieg into Western Europe might be a response to the need to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massively superior American military-industrial potential could be deployed did mean that one could regard it with insouciance. Taken in conjunction with MccGwire’s discovery, however, it did raise the question of whether the Soviets were likely to accept the claim that Western strategies of ‘deterrence’ were genuinely defensive at face value. And if they did not, then the possibility of radical misconception became real, with potentially catastrophic results in a crisis.

Twenty-five years later, Garthoff and MccGwire had both ended up at Brookings, where they would be colleagues of Bruce Blair, to whom I referred in a comment on the previous thread. Using the same techniques they had applied back in the Fifties – close textual study in Garthoff’s case, analysis of the properties of weapons systems and patterns of deployment, training and exercising in MccGwire’s – they established that the move away from ‘massive retaliation’ in American strategy had had paradoxical results.

Intended to boost the ‘credibility’ of ‘deterrence’, it had actually triggered a change in Soviet planning assumptions, whose eventual outcome was a complete abandonment of the kind of strategies of nuclear pre-emption which had so concerned Wohlstetter. Again, however, Wohlstetter’s own logic then turned against him. If the Soviets were to eschew the notion of attacking the – massively superior – military-industrial potential of the United States, the imperative of eliminating the bridgeheads on which it could be deployed reacquired the salience it had had in 1950. Accordingly, the actual effect of the abandonment of ‘massive retaliation’ had been to increase the ‘capabilities threat’ on the Central Front.

Again, the analysis did not generate any simple conclusions about what was a prudent Western force posture. What however it did imply was that any clear indication that the Soviets were seriously interested in negotiations over conventional forces in Europe was likely to herald a radical revision of their whole strategic posture, as a successful blitzkrieg demanded clear conventional superiority. So when these signs began clearly to emerge – in mid-1987 – Garthoff and MccGwire were pointing out to anyone who listen that momentous changes were likely to be afoot. I picked up the story at the end of that year, and after frustrating months trying to find some interest from British television companies, ended up producing a couple of programmes for BBC Radio on the subject at the start of 1989.

One moral of this, unfortunately, is that misperception may not be a problem which arises simply because of the ‘intellectual poverty’ of generals. It may endemic, and to be found quite as much among people who manage to persuade the world of their intellectual brilliance as of people who are better at fighting than thinking. Serious strategic thinking demands something Albert Wohlstetter – and indeed his wife Roberta – never seriously attempted: an attempt to understand societies radically different from one’s own, and the nemesis of their failure has been the catastrophic outcome of Wolfowitz’s programme for American ‘world domination’. In such an attempt, commonly, the ability to put technical military analysis together with other forms of analysis is critical. Unfortunately, it is not so very common.

David Habakkuk

F.B. Ali,

(This response is too long, so it ended up in spam. I will divide it into two, in the hope of getting it through.)

If I can go around in something of a circle, I may perhaps be able to end with some comments relevant to your remarks, which I find frightening, but hardly surprising.

Last month, Andrew Bacevich published in Harper’s an open letter to Paul Wolfowitz, a central concern of which was the influence of the very well-known nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter in shaping the assumptions which led to the invasion of Iraq. In the course of this, Bacevich quoted Wolfowitz claiming that Wolhstetter was ‘so insistent on ascertaining the facts.’ This is actually simply false.

(For Bacevich’s ‘Open Letter’, see http://harpers.org/archive/2013/03/a-letter-to-paul-wolfowitz/ )

In fact, both Wohlstetter’s work, and also critical parts of post-war Western ‘strategic studies’, like critical parts of post-war Western economic theorizing, attempted to apply the kind of axiomatic reasoning found in the hard sciences to problems to which it is ill-suited. A corollary of this was that, like many theoretical economists, many practitioners of ‘strategic studies’ were happy to base large theoretical structures on claims which tedious empirical analysis would have shown to be questionable.

The famous paper on ‘The Delicate Balance of Terror’ which Wohlstetter produced in 1958, provides two classic examples. In it, he lists a range of obstacles which must overcome -- 'hurdled' is the word he uses - by any system providing a capability 'to strike second, that is, to strike back.' 'Prizes for a retaliatory capability,' he wrote, ''are not distributed for getting over one of these jumps. A system must get over all six.' Among the hurdles listed is that of 'making the decision to retaliate and communicating it.'

(See http://www.rand.org/about/history/wohlstetter/P1472/P1472.html )

What the ‘Delicate Balance’ paper implicitly assumes is that the master theorists like Wohlstetter can hand the problem of devising a command and control system which is robust under thermonuclear attack to lesser mortals who cope with such tedious practical problems. But it really was bizarre to assume that such a system could be devised. And if it could not – as I think turned out to be the case – then the logic of Wohlstetter’s argument is turned on its head: the implication is that strategic stability based upon an assured second strike capability is a mirage.

David Habakkuk

(Continuation of earlier comment.)

Elsewhere in the ‘Delicate Balance’ article, Wolhstetter writes that ‘the many critics of the massive retaliation policy who advocate a capability to meet limited aggression with a limited response are on firm ground in suggesting that a massive response on such an occasion would be unlikely and the threat to use it therefore not believed.’

But this again is simply irrational. On the one hand, ‘deterrence’ theory places the ‘signalling’ function both of declaratory strategy and actual force deployments at the heart of its concerns – but then, rather than taking an interest in problematic issues as to how signals are perceived by adversaries, it expects to solve them on the basis of armchair theorising. Once again, what purports to be brilliant speculation is revealed, on closer inspection, to be characterised by a combination of shoddy logic and intellectual incuriosity.

Ironically, at the time Wohlstetter was writing, empirically-minded analysts were coming up with conclusions which called the whole intellectual bases of abstract theorising about ‘deterrence’. In the same year as the ‘Delicate Balance’ article was published, Wohlstetter’s erstwhile RAND colleague Raymond Garthoff, who had just joined the CIA, published his study of ‘Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age’.

In it, Garthoff discussed an article by a Major-General V. Khlopov, published in June 1950 in the confidential Soviet journal Military Thought.

Despite American strategic air power and plans for its use against the Soviet Union, Khlopov had argued, there was a fatal flaw in the assumptions underlying such plans. The combination of greater air capabilities in Europe and 'powerful offensive operations on a large scale with a high tempo of advance', he suggested, would mean that 'the bridgehead on which the American militarists count to concentrate and deploy their forces for land engagements will be liquidated and their plans for [winning] the war will be buried with it.'

At the same time, a British naval officer by the name of Michael MccGwire was puzzling over the question of why such a large part of the vast submarine fleet which the Soviets had started building in 1950 was equipped with an 100mm gun, rather than anti-aircraft weapons, and was based in the Baltic and Black Sea. Such characteristics would have made these submarines particularly ill-suited to attacking convoys in the Atlantic. The following year, MccGwire realised that they would be particularly well-adapted to countering D-Day type amphibious operations striking at the Soviet LOC into Germany, and ‘soft underbelly’ in the Ukraine.

What emerged from these analyses were a range of complex problems, which did not lend themselves to easy solutions. To suggest that the very evident ‘capabilities threat’ posed by Soviet forces postured for a blitzkrieg into Western Europe might be a response to the need to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massively superior American military-industrial potential could be deployed did mean that one could regard it with insouciance. Taken in conjunction with MccGwire’s discovery, however, it did raise the question of whether the Soviets were likely to accept the claim that Western strategies of ‘deterrence’ were genuinely defensive at face value. And if they did not, then the possibility of radical misconception became real, with potentially catastrophic results in a crisis.

Twenty-five years later, Garthoff and MccGwire had both ended up at Brookings, where they would be colleagues of Bruce Blair, to whom I referred in a comment on the previous thread. Using the same techniques they had applied back in the Fifties – close textual study in Garthoff’s case, analysis of the properties of weapons systems and patterns of deployment, training and exercising in MccGwire’s – they established that the move away from ‘massive retaliation’ in American strategy had had paradoxical results.

Intended to boost the ‘credibility’ of ‘deterrence’, it had actually triggered a change in Soviet planning assumptions, whose eventual outcome was a complete abandonment of the kind of strategies of nuclear pre-emption which had so concerned Wohlstetter. Again, however, Wohlstetter’s own logic then turned against him. If the Soviets were to eschew the notion of attacking the – massively superior – military-industrial potential of the United States, the imperative of eliminating the bridgeheads on which it could be deployed reacquired the salience it had had in 1950. Accordingly, the actual effect of the abandonment of ‘massive retaliation’ had been to increase the ‘capabilities threat’ on the Central Front.

Once more, the analysis did not generate any simple conclusions about what was a prudent Western force posture. What however it did imply was that any clear indication that the Soviets were seriously interested in negotiations over conventional forces in Europe was likely to herald a radical revision of their whole strategic posture, as a successful blitzkrieg demanded clear conventional superiority. So when these signs began clearly to emerge – in mid-1987 – Garthoff and MccGwire were pointing out to anyone who listen that momentous changes were likely to be afoot. I picked up the story at the end of that year, and after frustrating months trying to find some interest from British television companies, ended up producing a couple of programmes for BBC Radio on the subject at the start of 1989.

One moral of this, unfortunately, is that misperception may not be a problem which arises simply because of the ‘intellectual poverty’ of generals. It may endemic, and to be found quite as much among people who manage to persuade the world of their intellectual brilliance as of people who are better at fighting than thinking. Serious strategic thinking demands something Albert Wohlstetter – and indeed his wife Roberta – never seriously attempted: an attempt to understand societies radically different from one’s own, and the nemesis of their failure has been the catastrophic outcome of Wolfowitz’s programme for American ‘world domination’. In such an attempt, commonly, the ability to put technical military analysis together with other forms of analysis is critical. Unfortunately, it is not so very common.

David Habakkuk

(As the continuation got put into spam, I have split the comment into three.)

Elsewhere in the ‘Delicate Balance’ article, Wolhstetter writes that ‘the many critics of the massive retaliation policy who advocate a capability to meet limited aggression with a limited response are on firm ground in suggesting that a massive response on such an occasion would be unlikely and the threat to use it therefore not believed.’

But this again is simply irrational. On the one hand, ‘deterrence’ theory places the ‘signalling’ function both of declaratory strategy and actual force deployments at the heart of its concerns – but then, rather than taking an interest in problematic issues as to how signals are perceived by adversaries, it expects to solve them on the basis of armchair theorising. Once again, what purports to be brilliant speculation is revealed, on closer inspection, to be characterised by a combination of shoddy logic and intellectual incuriosity.

Ironically, at the time Wohlstetter was writing, empirically-minded analysts were coming up with conclusions which called the whole intellectual bases of abstract theorising about ‘deterrence’. In the same year as the ‘Delicate Balance’ article was published, Wohlstetter’s erstwhile RAND colleague Raymond Garthoff, who had just joined the CIA, published his study of ‘Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age’. In it, Garthoff discussed an article by a Major-General V. Khlopov, published in June 1950 in the confidential Soviet journal Military Thought.

Despite American strategic air power and plans for its use against the Soviet Union, Khlopov had argued, there was a fatal flaw in the assumptions underlying such plans. The combination of greater air capabilities in Europe and 'powerful offensive operations on a large scale with a high tempo of advance', he suggested, would mean that 'the bridgehead on which the American militarists count to concentrate and deploy their forces for land engagements will be liquidated and their plans for [winning] the war will be buried with it.'

At the same time, a British naval officer by the name of Michael MccGwire was puzzling over the question of why such a large part of the vast submarine fleet which the Soviets had started building in 1950 was equipped with an 100mm gun, rather than anti-aircraft weapons, and was based in the Baltic and Black Sea. Such characteristics would have made these submarines particularly ill-suited to attacking convoys in the Atlantic. The following year, MccGwire realised that they would be particularly well-adapted to countering D-Day type amphibious operations striking at the Soviet LOC into Germany, and ‘soft underbelly’ in the Ukraine.

What emerged from these analyses were a range of complex problems, which did not lend themselves to easy solutions. To suggest that the very evident ‘capabilities threat’ posed by Soviet forces postured for a blitzkrieg into Western Europe might be a response to the need to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massively superior American military-industrial potential could be deployed did mean that one could regard it with insouciance. Taken in conjunction with MccGwire’s discovery, however, it did raise the question of whether the Soviets were likely to accept the claim that Western strategies of ‘deterrence’ were genuinely defensive at face value. And if they did not, then the possibility of radical misconception became real, with potentially catastrophic results in a crisis.

David Habakkuk

(The spam filter is once again causing trouble, so I have further split the comment.)

Elsewhere in the ‘Delicate Balance’ article, Wolhstetter writes that ‘the many critics of the massive retaliation policy who advocate a capability to meet limited aggression with a limited response are on firm ground in suggesting that a massive response on such an occasion would be unlikely and the threat to use it therefore not believed.’

But this again is simply irrational. On the one hand, ‘deterrence’ theory places the ‘signalling’ function both of declaratory strategy and actual force deployments at the heart of its concerns – but then, rather than taking an interest in problematic issues as to how signals are perceived by adversaries, it expects to solve them on the basis of armchair theorising. Once again, what purports to be brilliant speculation is revealed, on closer inspection, to be characterised by a combination of shoddy logic and intellectual incuriosity.

Ironically, at the time Wohlstetter was writing, empirically-minded analysts were coming up with conclusions which called the whole intellectual bases of abstract theorising about ‘deterrence’. In the same year as the ‘Delicate Balance’ article was published, Wohlstetter’s erstwhile RAND colleague Raymond Garthoff, who had just joined the CIA, published his study of ‘Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age’.

In it, Garthoff discussed an article by a Major-General V. Khlopov, published in June 1950 in the confidential Soviet journal Military Thought.

Despite American strategic air power and plans for its use against the Soviet Union, Khlopov had argued, there was a fatal flaw in the assumptions underlying such plans. The combination of greater air capabilities in Europe and 'powerful offensive operations on a large scale with a high tempo of advance', he suggested, would mean that 'the bridgehead on which the American militarists count to concentrate and deploy their forces for land engagements will be liquidated and their plans for [winning] the war will be buried with it.'

David Habakkuk

At the same time, a British naval officer by the name of Michael MccGwire was puzzling over the question of why such a large part of the vast submarine fleet which the Soviets had started building in 1950 was equipped with an 100mm gun, rather than anti-aircraft weapons, and was based in the Baltic and Black Sea. Such characteristics would have made these submarines particularly ill-suited to attacking convoys in the Atlantic. The following year, MccGwire realised that they would be particularly well-adapted to countering D-Day type amphibious operations striking at the Soviet LOC into Germany, and ‘soft underbelly’ in the Ukraine.

What emerged from these analyses were a range of complex problems, which did not lend themselves to easy solutions. To suggest that the very evident ‘capabilities threat’ posed by Soviet forces postured for a blitzkrieg into Western Europe might be a response to the need to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massively superior American military-industrial potential could be deployed did mean that one could regard it with insouciance. Taken in conjunction with MccGwire’s discovery, however, it did raise the question of whether the Soviets were likely to accept the claim that Western strategies of ‘deterrence’ were genuinely defensive at face value. And if they did not, then the possibility of radical misconception became real, with potentially catastrophic results in a crisis.

Twenty-five years later, Garthoff and MccGwire had both ended up at Brookings, where they would be colleagues of Bruce Blair, to whom I referred in a comment on the previous thread. Using the same techniques they had applied back in the Fifties – close textual study in Garthoff’s case, analysis of the properties of weapons systems and patterns of deployment, training and exercising in MccGwire’s – they established that the move away from ‘massive retaliation’ in American strategy had had paradoxical results.

Intended to boost the ‘credibility’ of ‘deterrence’, it had actually triggered a change in Soviet planning assumptions, whose eventual outcome was a complete abandonment of the kind of strategies of nuclear pre-emption which had so concerned Wohlstetter. Again, however, Wohlstetter’s own logic then turned against him. If the Soviets were to eschew the notion of attacking the – massively superior – military-industrial potential of the United States, the imperative of eliminating the bridgeheads on which it could be deployed reacquired the salience it had had in 1950. Accordingly, the actual effect of the abandonment of ‘massive retaliation’ had been to increase the ‘capabilities threat’ on the Central Front.

Again, the analysis did not generate any simple conclusions about what was a prudent Western force posture. What however it did imply was that any clear indication that the Soviets were seriously interested in negotiations over conventional forces in Europe was likely to herald a radical revision of their whole strategic posture, as a successful blitzkrieg demanded clear conventional superiority. So when these signs began clearly to emerge – in mid-1987 – Garthoff and MccGwire were pointing out to anyone who listen that momentous changes were likely to be afoot. I picked up the story at the end of that year, and after frustrating months trying to find some interest from British television companies, ended up producing a couple of programmes for BBC Radio on the subject at the start of 1989.

One moral of this, unfortunately, is that misperception may not be a problem which arises simply because of the ‘intellectual poverty’ of generals. It may endemic, and to be found quite as much among people who manage to persuade the world of their intellectual brilliance as of people who are better at fighting than thinking. Serious strategic thinking demands something Albert Wohlstetter – and indeed his wife Roberta – never seriously attempted: an attempt to understand societies radically different from one’s own, and the nemesis of their failure has been the catastrophic outcome of Wolfowitz’s programme for American ‘world domination’. In such an attempt, commonly, the ability to put technical military analysis together with other forms of analysis is critical. Unfortunately, it is not so very common.

David Habakkuk

At the same time, a British naval officer by the name of Michael MccGwire was puzzling over the question of why such a large part of the vast submarine fleet which the Soviets had started building in 1950 was equipped with an 100mm gun, rather than anti-aircraft weapons, and was based in the Baltic and Black Sea. Such characteristics would have made these submarines particularly ill-suited to attacking convoys in the Atlantic. The following year, MccGwire realised that they would be particularly well-adapted to countering D-Day type amphibious operations striking at the Soviet LOC into Germany, and ‘soft underbelly’ in the Ukraine.

What emerged from these analyses were a range of complex problems, which did not lend themselves to easy solutions. To suggest that the very evident ‘capabilities threat’ posed by Soviet forces postured for a blitzkrieg into Western Europe might be a response to the need to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massively superior American military-industrial potential could be deployed did mean that one could regard it with insouciance. Taken in conjunction with MccGwire’s discovery, however, it did raise the question of whether the Soviets were likely to accept the claim that Western strategies of ‘deterrence’ were genuinely defensive at face value. And if they did not, then the possibility of radical misconception became real, with potentially catastrophic results in a crisis.

David Habakkuk

Twenty-five years later, Garthoff and MccGwire had both ended up at Brookings, where they would be colleagues of Bruce Blair, to whom I referred in a comment on the previous thread. Using the same techniques they had applied back in the Fifties – close textual study in Garthoff’s case, analysis of the properties of weapons systems and patterns of deployment, training and exercising in MccGwire’s – they established that the move away from ‘massive retaliation’ in American strategy had had paradoxical results.

Intended to boost the ‘credibility’ of ‘deterrence’, it had actually triggered a change in Soviet planning assumptions, whose eventual outcome was a complete abandonment of the kind of strategies of nuclear pre-emption which had so concerned Wohlstetter. Again, however, Wohlstetter’s own logic then turned against him. If the Soviets were to eschew the notion of attacking the – massively superior – military-industrial potential of the United States, the imperative of eliminating the bridgeheads on which it could be deployed reacquired the salience it had had in 1950. Accordingly, the actual effect of the abandonment of ‘massive retaliation’ had been to increase the ‘capabilities threat’ on the Central Front.

Again, the analysis did not generate any simple conclusions about what was a prudent Western force posture. What however it did imply was that any clear indication that the Soviets were seriously interested in negotiations over conventional forces in Europe was likely to herald a radical revision of their whole strategic posture, as a successful blitzkrieg demanded clear conventional superiority. So when these signs began clearly to emerge – in mid-1987 – Garthoff and MccGwire were pointing out to anyone who listen that momentous changes were likely to be afoot. I picked up the story at the end of that year, and after frustrating months trying to find some interest from British television companies, ended up producing a couple of programmes for BBC Radio on the subject at the start of 1989.

One moral of this, unfortunately, is that misperception may not be a problem which arises simply because of the ‘intellectual poverty’ of generals. It may endemic, and to be found quite as much among people who manage to persuade the world of their intellectual brilliance as of people who are better at fighting than thinking. Serious strategic thinking demands something Albert Wohlstetter – and indeed his wife Roberta – never seriously attempted: an attempt to understand societies radically different from one’s own, and the nemesis of their failure has been the catastrophic outcome of Wolfowitz’s programme for American ‘world domination’. In such an attempt, commonly, the ability to put technical military analysis together with other forms of analysis is critical. Unfortunately, it is not so very common.

FB Ali

David Habakkuk,

Thank you for that exposition of the perils of too much abstract theorising on such issues.

In the case of confrontations between lesser nuclear powers (such as Pakistan and India) there really is not much to be gained by getting involved in such complications as second strike capability as a means of deterrence. In their case the simple logic is that neither side can be sure that in a first strike they can neutralize all the opposing weapons, and that their own country may not be able to survive whatever retaliation arrives.

The danger lies in the inclination of generals on both sides to discount simple logic in favour of 'hunches'.

FB Ali

I did not assert that India has any territorial designs on Pakistan. What I said was that there exists a long history of animosity between the two sides, and each feels threatened by the other.

I am sure that, nominally, the civilian government has the final say in India on the use of nuclear weapons -- as it does in Pakistan. However, I doubt whether in practice they would overrule their generals if the latter presented it as a life-and-death necessity.

Babak Makkinejad

Why did not Mr. Vajpayee impose Presidential Rule in Gujarat when Hindu mobs were killing, burning, and raping their way across Muslim communitie and households?

I can see the mutual animosity very clearly among Indians - Muslim Indians rarely interact with Hindu Indias - they prefer anyone else but.

David Habakkuk

Sorry, I left out a crucial not.

What I meant to say was that:

'To suggest that the very evident ‘capabilities threat’ posed by Soviet forces postured for a blitzkrieg into Western Europe might be a response to the need to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massively superior American military-industrial potential could be deployed did not mean that one could regard it with insouciance.'

The point is that the often-quoted maxim 'judge capabilities not intentions' is a half truth. In relation to the criteria for a prudent force posture, intentions are, very commonly, a secondary variable -- and certainly not a decisive one. In relation to assessing how other powers are likely to act -- and, critically, how they are likely to react to one's own actions -- they are a critical variable.

jonst

If I may stick my western oar in to this Babak.....even if India did "gobble up" Pakistan...how would it ever "digest it'? I think they would be buying themselves a century of instability. To say the least. Not a sound idea for an entity that aspires to be a world economic power. And I am sure China et al will be more than glad to fund the fight.

Babak Makkinejad

27% of Indian population, 37% of Pakistani population, and 12 % of Chinese population are urbanized.

Of the 3, clearly China could sustain her society and civilization in case of a generalized nuclear war far better that either India or Pakistan.

On the other hand, US and Russia, with an urbanization rate of 75% clearly do not enjoy such an advantage.

More than 14% of UK's total population is in Greater London, Greater Tokyo is about 25% of total Japanese populatuion and Greater Seoul has half the population of South Korea.

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

There can be no axiomtic constructions pertaining to empirical (and human) phenomena - in the sense of Mathematics.

I think David Hilbert tried to improve plane Euclidean Geometry and went from 5 axioms of poor Euclid to 24 axions - which were later found not to have covered alll contingencies.

All such attempts in Physics have failed - and rightly so - as the phenomena of world cannot be so simplified.

One has to wait for empirical information; to wit: one has to wait for a war in which both side use nuclear weapons to be able to draw some useful conclusions.

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