So I’m transferring my site from one host to another. As part of the process I’m taking a text back up of the old site and laboriously posting it to the new site. It’s not very interesting work, but one benefit is that I get to review and reread everything I’ve ever put on the site, which is mildly interesting (to me.) Some of the comments are being lost in the transfer process and not all of the links may still work.
Please have patience while this process goes forward. Thanks.
You’re troubled about the history of Latin America, right? You’re a nuclear weapons wonk (you’re reading this blog, aren’t you?) and that means that you must spend time poring over the extraordinary history of Latin America. Right?
As I’m sure you’re all aware, no Latin American countries have fought a war with each other since 1942. Seventy years of uninterrupted peace. It’s extraordinary, no? I’m sure you ponder its significance late at night as you toss and turn.
What? You don’t? You didn’t even know that there had been a Latin American Long Peace? But surely this extended period of peace has crucial significance for nuclear weapons. After all, people point to the extended period of peace in Europe and between the US and Russia and draw important conclusions from it. The Long Peace in Europe matters. So the Latin American Long … Read More »
I’ve been invited to present the case for doubts about deterrence at an invitation-only Chatham House rule event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC on April 4, 2012. Elbridge Colby will rebut and a quite impressive group of Washington nuclear weapons experts have been invited. I’m looking forward to it.
Elbridge Colby has written a piece in The National Interest titled “Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the New Logic of Deterrence” that says I’ve gotten this nuclear deterrence stuff all wrong. (He also says that the “Hiroshima didn’t win World War II” is becoming the conventional wisdom. I assume he means in certain circles inside the Beltway.) He says some interesting things and raises reasonable counter-arguments. I think his view is worth considering. I’m going to mull it and perhaps post some thoughts in a few days. (My book, Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, is due to the publisher on November 1, though, so it may be a few days before I get to it.)
People in nuclear weapons circles often say that possessing nuclear weapons is using them – possession is use. This has its roots in the idea of existential deterrence – the notion that merely by possessing nuclear weapons one gets the deterrence benefit from them. McGeorge Bundy, a man I was slightly acquainted with and liked, was one of the principle proponents of this view. I have sometimes argued that this idea was true myself.
On reflection, however, it’s a strange position to take. Imagine that I walked around all the time, in our small village, with a rock the size of a golf ball in my pocket. Last week, I took it out and threw it at you (because I was angry or we were having a dispute, let’s say.) Today, before all the village, you accuse me of using the … Read More »
The analogy between nuclear weapons and religion is particularly appropriate because nuclear weapons are so doctrinal.
The Olympics, for example, are not doctrinal. They are performance oriented. When there is a dispute about who is the fastest, they run a race, somebody wins, and then everyone says, “Ok. This guy was fastest.” Losers say, “On this day, with this set of conditions, this guy was fastest. But wait til next time.” And it’s over, at least for now.
With nuclear weapons there are no performances. Nuclear weapons never get used so their real world capabilities are never measured. So disputes are discussed almost entirely in terms of doctrine. It’s like religion. There’s no way to actually prove whether God is trinitarian or unitarian. So you have doctrinal debates to decide (or split into differing churches.)
It makes sense when thinking strategically about nuclear … Read More »
So Jonah Friedman wrote a blog post on CSIS’s Program on Nuclear Issues blog mostly rebutting my arguments. He was very fair and represented my views as well (or better) than I would have. He didn’t agree with me, but not everyone does.
Friedman admits some of the objections I have to nuclear deterrence (concerns that we don’t really know how or why it operates – if it does). But he counters that we know nuclear weapons are dangerous and isn’t that enough? Isn’t that what creates nuclear deterrence? It got me thinking.
Imagine that you were worried about keeping your house safe and I gave you a special bomb that I said would do the job. “I call it the Q bomb,” I said. “Put it in your basement, put this sign in your front yard and tell all your neighbors … Read More »
The events around Hiroshima in 1945 matter because they are the only real evidence about the political impact of nuclear weapons. -The only battlefield experience with the “unique ability to coerce and deter.” If you want to decide the matter based on facts, you must take Hiroshima into account. If you just want to believe in nuclear weapons, then I congratulate you on your faith and have nothing more to say. I understand the appeal of religion. But if you are interested in evidence, I think the new scholarship on Hiroshima requires a rethinking of nuclear weapons.
Gareth Cook has a really well written article titled “Why Did Japan Surrender?” about whether bombing Hiroshima was the event that triggered surrender in the Boston Globe today.
The question isn’t “Are you afraid of a city being destroyed?” Or course we all fear that. But that is not what determines whether nuclear deterrence works or not. The question that determines whether nuclear deterrence works or not is: “Are leaders willing to accept civilian suffering in war?”
And here the answer of history is unequivocally “yes.”
I’ve argued that the fact that chemical weapons were not used in World War II is remarkable. Here is a weapon of last resort that was not – in the last resort in Germany or Japan – resorted to. What accounts for this?
A number of people have rejoined that it is not surprising that chemical weapons weren’t used because the Germans were simply deterred. They knew allied forces had chemical weapons and could use them against Germany, so they didn’t use the chemical weapons they had.
There is a certain plausibility to this argument. But it raises a question. If the Germans were deterred from using chemical weapons, why weren’t they deterred from using city bombing? City bombing was the subject of considerable discussion before the war, I think there were pledges made (or even an agreement?) not to use city … Read More »
A couple of friends of mine are working on issues connected with nuclear weapons in Europe and so I’ve been thinking about the problems (in a second-hand sort of way). I was reminded of this again because it came up at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington. (The ACA meeting was very impressive with two Senators – Shaheen and Casey – and one Assistant Secretary of State – Tauscher and a collection of very smart scientists and commentators. Fascinating stuff.)
The problem in Europe is that the Russians have a lot of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. The United States and it’s allies are building missile defenses in Eastern Europe (they claim) in order to be able to shoot down missiles launched by Iran when Iran gets longer range missiles (supposedly in 2015). The Russians are worried (not … Read More »
Below is a two minute clip from a 15 minute video titled 6 Mistakes That Change Everything. The film was shot when I was in Great Britain last year by an outfit called TalkWorks. They have been making remarkable short films in which prominent people (Baroness Shirley Williams, Bishop Desmond Tutu, etc. etc.) talk about nuclear weapons. They asked me to sit for an interview. The video was shot in the President’s private apartment of the Royal Society.
To watch the full 15 minute clip, visit TalkWorks here and scroll down to the third video. While you’re there, look at the excellent interviews of some of Great Britain’s leading politicians and thinkers about nuclear weapons. (Especially see Paul Ignram’s interview. The guy just makes sense.)
People often point to various nuclear crises in order to prove that nuclear deterrence exists and works. Unfortunately, the evidence in these crises is often chosen selectively and analyzed from only one point of view. In the next few weeks I’ll be publishing a series of posts that examines four such crises carefully and draws conclusions different from what most observers (in the United States, at least) usually draw from them. I’ll be looking at Berlin in 1948, Cuba in 1962, the Middle East in 1973 and the Gulf War in 1990-1991.
(I apologize for the lack of posting here lately. I’ve been working feverishly on my book, which is tentatively titled Inescapable, Irreconcilable Contradictions: Five Fundamental Challenges to Nuclear Orthodoxy. Almost done, though, and hope to get back to regular blogging soon.)
There are, apparently, two kinds of civilians.
Realists often scoff at the efficacy of sanctions, pointing out that Saddam Hussein ignored the deaths of an estimated 500,000 civilians caused by US-led sanctions. And they’re right. His policies and decisions seem to have been largely unaffected by the civilian deaths these sanctions caused. Threats aimed at this kind of civilian clearly don’t affect political decisions.
But there is another kind of civilian with significantly different characteristics. Threaten a country with the death of half a million civilians as a result of bombing – particularly bombing with nuclear weapons – and “realists” are certain such threats will work.
I’m confused. Why is one kind of civilian easy to sacrifice for national goals but the other not? And I can’t seem to tell the difference between the two. What’s going on here?
The next important debate about nuclear weapons – as people begin to think what comes after the New START Treaty – is how low can we go? The two major nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, have now reduced their arsenals to about a third of their highest numbers. And most of these are reserve or tactical weapons – the actual forces ready to be launched are much smaller.
So how small can our nuclear arsenal be? How low can you go and still be safe? What is the minimum number of nuclear weapons needed to assure that no one will launch a nuclear attack against your cities?
One way to get at this question, it seems to me, is to ask ourselves why large arsenals failed. What was wrong with having arsenals with lots of weapons in them? If nuclear … Read More »