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31 August 2015


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David Habakkuk


Of some relevance, I think, is the opening of a review by Bruce Blair of the 2013 study: 'Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety' by Eric Schlosser.

'For public consumption, the official narrative of the Cold War celebrated nuclear weapons as the bulwark of US security. By deterring the Soviets from initiating a nuclear attack, and vice versa, the superpowers built strategic stability on a solid foundation of mutual terror. By credibly threatening devastating retaliation by survivable nuclear forces under the firm control of the US president and his Soviet counterpart, nuclear war would be prevented. And although the US and Soviet operational postures ran risks of accidental, mistaken, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, the public and the major institutions of government and society were solemnly assured that they were negligible risks.

'Eric Schlosser offers a compelling repudiation of this entire narrative. His investigation shows definitively that the risks were far greater than officially admitted. The perceived need for nuclear weapons to be readily usable overrode concerns for their safety, and a combination of human and technical factors led to near disaster countless times. Thick secrecy, fact twisting about the US nuclear arsenal, and subterfuge aggravated the risks and allowed them to escape the control of the democratic process, and even to escape notice and remedial action within the inner precincts of the government. Even defense secretaries and presidents often floundered in the dark, unaware of the variety and magnitude of the dangers. A cloistered nuclear priesthood, largely unaccountable, created an illusion of safety that masked the systematic potential for tragedy on a monumental scale.'

(See http://www.globalzero.org/files/bb_mad_fiction_2014.pdf .)

Before becoming one of the world's leading academic experts on nuclear command and control, Blair had been a Minuteman launch control officer in the Seventies. The starting point of his work was that, if indeed U.S. force employment policy was what the academic theorists said it was, he should have been practising launch following a Soviet nuclear attack. But instead the whole focus of their exercises was on getting their missiles off before they were hit.

Accordingly, the Fachidioten were blind to two central facts. The first is that the whole notion of strategic stability based upon a secure second strike retaliatory capability was a load of old cobblers, in particular because it presupposed command and control which is robust under thermonuclear attack. The second, that a suspicious Soviet observer would be eminently prone to conclude that the United States was actually envisaging a 'first strike'.

(For links to many of Blair's writings, see his Wikipedia entry, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_G._Blair .)

I would have only one quibble with William Polk's characteristically admirable reflections. He writes:

'We are moving back toward a confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. And, while Russia is not so formidable as it appeared a generation ago, it still has a nuclear arsenal as large and as deployable as ours.'

Actually, in one sense the situation is more dangerous. In late Soviet times – again, contrary to the conventional wisdom among many of the academic Fachidioten – Soviet operational planning was based upon the premise that 'first use' of nuclear weapons was to be eschewed. Unsurprisingly, given the collapse of their conventional power, their Russian successors have moved to Western-style strategies of nuclear 'deterrence'.

Ironically, as so often, the Fachidioten were quite precisely wrong. When the Russian Government shifted to strategies of 'first use', one of the leading theorists behind late Soviet military strategy, Makhmut Akhmetovich Gareev – an old Tatar cavalryman from Chelyabinsk, apparently Sunni Muslim by religion – had more or less to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the change. From a 1995 discussion of his views by the invaluable Jacob W. Kipp, then with the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Office:

'Gareev strongly disagrees with the new Russian military doctrine's open proclamation of possible first-use of nuclear weapons and points out the serious political dangers associated with such a declaratory policy. Dismissing the need for such actions against a wide range of states and noting the terrible risks associated in the use of such weapons against another nuclear power, Gareev concludes that a defensive military doctrine and first use of nuclear weapons amount to a dangerous contradiction. It can lead to confusion in times of crisis that could result in dangerous miscalculations. The path to stable deterrence is to be found through "the rejection of the concept of global nuclear war and through planning only deterring nuclear strikes."'

(See http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/rusrma.htm .)

William R. Cumming

Obama should be the first American President to announce nuclear weapons strike policy of no first use.


I agree with GEN Gareev, unfortunately the Russian government appear to have been convinced by long experience of attempted cooperation that the only way to persuade the USG to respect the Russian government's views and interests is by keeping a nuclear torch in the USG's face.

FB Ali

William R Polk is right to be worried about the nuclear risks arising from the situation between India and Pakistan.

He would be even more concerned if he realised that the comfort he derives from his belief that "Pakistan took much punishment in three wars without using its nuclear weapons" is entirely misplaced - the two countries had no nuclear weapons when those wars were fought!

We should all be worried - as has been shown, a nuclear war in South Asia would have dire consequences for the whole planet, causing famines and mass deaths across vast areas.

William R. Cumming

Thanks for this excellent comment!

Mark Kolmar

I have worked with peculiar, precise, unglamorous machinery for many years in systems analysis and troubleshooting. The required precision and complexity of attempted nuclear missile attack today probably would fail. One probable outcome in the highly unusual case of an ICBM launch is a smoking pile of dirt around a hole near the launch site.

David Habakkuk


That is very much my view. A key point, however, is that Western elites learned all the wrong lessons from the retreat and collapse of Soviet power. Those who became the neocons really believed that all this was to be explained by the demonstration of 'strength' and 'will' embodied in the Reagan-era military build-up. And this has been the basis of American – and British – policy ever since.

The results have been catastrophic, and may well become even more so.

David Habakkuk

F.B. Ali,

An ignorant question. It seems reasonably clear that it is an aspiration of China to, in collaboration with Russia, consolidate as much as possible of Eurasia as an integrated economic sphere from which American influence is excluded. What implications, if any does this have for Chinese (and Russian) perceptions of the tensions between Pakistan and India?

David Habakkuk


It was obvious, back in 1989, that technological changes with which a command economy and a political system dependent on the control of information could not hope to keep up were shifting the balance of conventional power decisively towards the United States. Accordingly, it was likely that precisely the kind of arguments which had made nuclear 'deterrence' attractive to the West would become attractive to powers that felt threatened by American conventional strength.

This should have provided a further impetus for listening to the arguments of figures like William Polk who had actually thought about the problems with 'first use' strategies. But it didn't happen.


Brig. Ali,

Sir, a great many ought to be glad thus far that cool & rational heads have prevailed during these antagonistic decades on both sides of the LoC... regardless of the Passions that were fueled & stoked by lovely Kashmir.

Gratitude ought to be expressed towards the Pakistani govt that it has demonstrated much Resilience over the years inspite of all the nightmare scenarios that were conjured in the minds of many on both sides of the Atlantic (i.e. state failure & WMDs in the hands of extremist factions).

How animus between rival factions/blocs since the end of the Second World War - starting with the acquistion of said WMDs by various actors - must have inevitably caused sleepless nights innumerable & aplenty for many a Head-of-State...

But I worry that in this Crepusular Dawning of the 21st. century, the pace of episodes/events seem all-too-ripe a fertile ground for an epic replay of the Mahābhārata: with all the players now enacting rôles much veering towards the extreme of self-righteousness.

Allen Thomson

> For years, as former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara observed, we have had at least 500 missiles armed with nuclear weapons on “hair trigger” alert in Europe.

I think that should be "had" rather than "have had"; since the 1990s, the only US nuclear weapons in Europe have been approximately 200 B61 gravity bombs stored in bunkers at a few allied airfields. No missiles.





FB Ali


AS far as I can see, China would like Pakistan to act as a counter to India becoming too ambitious regionally, by keeping the latter's attention focussed on the 'danger' from it. However, I think they would not like to see this get out of hand and become a physical conflict. I hope that they have moved beyond just wishing, and actually ensure that this does not ever happen.

India, as you know, was very close to Russia, but has now moved away by developing closer relations with the US. In response, Russia has started to improve ties with Pakistan, including in the military sphere. However, their relations with Pakistan will always remain subordinate to those of the latter with China.


China and India are No-First-Use (NFU) states. Pakistan is a first-use-against-conventional-retaliation-against-terrorist-attack state. Israel will not "formally introduce" nuclear weapons - i.e., it is materially a first-use state.
About Russia, NATO and Ukraine: Would it have to be considered fair to propose a package including a) lifting of sanctions and recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, b) relative autonomy, demilitarization and a right-to-secede for the contiguous Russian-majority part of Ukraine, c) mutual NFU-declaration by Russia and NATO?
At least that is what I would come up with if I had Nuland's job.


I wish you had her job... your suggestions, if implemented, would change the world for the better overnight.

FB Ali

That's why you don't have Nuland's job!


only tangentially related ...

China's anniversary parade from Xinhua/New China Media. THE WHOLE THING.


@ 46:00 Who was NOT there and significance thereof

Max Baucus from US and Kenneth Clark from UK.

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