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White Elephant
Now Let’s Try Nuclear Blackmail
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  • qet

    There is only one way to respond to such provocations, and that is to live and act “as if”–as if nukes did not exist. Nuclear weapons are unusable. The moment Russia or Iran or North Korea or anyone actually uses a nuclear weapon, every prior analysis and calculation ever made by policy think tanks and strategic consulting firms will be instantly obsoleted. It will prove impossible that only one such weapon is detonated. Others will inevitably follow, bringing about the actual end of history and not Fukuyama’s metaphorical version. The radiation will be carried into every nook and cranny of the planet surface. Even if humanity is not made extinct, even if a dystopia a la The Road does not eventuate, civilization and history as we have known it will end for all people everywhere. Putin’s continual upping the ante in order to protect his own vulnerable domestic political flank will have to be recognized as just that, and his nuke threats ignored in substance even as formal responses and reproaches must still be delivered.

    • f1b0nacc1

      An interesting idea, but hardly convincing. Why is it impossible that one nuke use would inevitably lead to others? It might very well be the case (and in fact I would consider it likely), but it is hardly an automatic escalation that would lead inevitably to ‘the end of history’. The US has used two, and we have come frighteningly close (in the Cuban Missile Crisis and in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war) to seeing others used. We didn’t, but the very fact that we didn’t suggests that even in the gravest of crises, rational thought would prevail.
      This not to suggest that things could NOT spiral out of control (WWI is a wonderful example of how that happens, and we have had plenty of others to point to), but rather that suggesting that it would be inevitable is more than a bit unreasonable.

      • qet

        Certainly it is merely a hypothesis. I would argue that the close calls are evidence in favor of it. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons were relatively low powered, and there was no chance then of another nation using theirs in retaliation or preemptively. Seeing the extreme improbability (on my view) of Putin actually using a nuke, I don’t know how significant, except as a sort of diplomatic shot across the bow, are his threats to the Danes, for instance.

        • f1b0nacc1

          The number of close calls we have had with nukes in the past 70 years is somewhat chilling, yet also somewhat comforting in that it suggests that there is a clear understanding that using them is a fairly serious thing, not to be taken lightly. I worry more about the Pakis or some other third world kleptocrat using them when they believe that they have nothing to lose. This is part of the danger of some of these pestholes getting bombs in the first place…they have little to lose by using them (imagine a civil war scenario in Pakistan, for instance, where a losing faction had one or two bombs) and perhaps much to gain. However, if bombs WERE used, it is unlikely in the extreme that this would escalate into the sort of ‘wargasm’ scenario you described in your previous comment.
          We agree that Putin is EXTREMELY unlikely to use a nuke. If this is the case, and we also assume that the Danes are not stupid, we must conclude that they won’t find this sort of bellicose rhetoric credible either. With that in mind, this ‘shot across the bow’ sounds more like loose talk that nobody takes seriously.

      • Corlyss

        “Nuclear weapons are unusable. The moment Russia or Iran or North Korea or anyone actually uses a nuclear weapon, every prior analysis and calculation ever made by policy think tanks and strategic consulting firms will be instantly obsoleted.”

        I dispute that. There’s been improvements in the sophistication of the systems that make them more plausible. You can, however, bet that the crappy designs NK has been proliferating on China’s behalf to chaotic black holes like the Mideast and Pakistan are not the sophisticated kind. They will be messy.

        • f1b0nacc1

          We agree. Those of us who have labored in the dark satanic mills of the think tanks are not unaware that these scenarios would play themselves out, and in fact have been devising plans to cope with them for decades. The idea that once the weapons are actually used that magically all of this thought will immediately become worthless strikes me as a bit more pessimistic than is necessary….
          Though, on the other hand, I am reminded of the old Arab saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”

  • Dan Greene

    Total nonsense.

    What’s happening is that the US is working to place an ABM system in Europe that will potentially reduce Russia’s deterrent capability–to what extent is not yet clear. Russia is working to prevent any substantial erosion of said capability, which includes warning those who may take part in the US (“NATO”) ABM deployment that the ABM infrastructure that they agree to host, whether on land or shipboard, will be subject to Russian targeting.

    Russia will probably use cruise missiles to target ABM systems and protect its ICBM capability from being rendered useless and prevent itself from then being subject to the threat of choosing between submission or nuclear destruction. And given conditions of prevalent in an escalation scenario, Russia might use nuclear tipped cruise missiles to target ABM infrastructure, especially at sea where less precise targeting is possible, in order to ensure the job gets done. It doesn’t matter how many times we say that the ABM systems will not be directed at Russia. We will have the capability to do so and that’s enough. We certainly wouldn’t accept the argument if some other power were trying to foist it on us.

    Now, there is an attempt to take Russia opposition to the ABM system deployed in pursuit of strategic nuclear dominance and use it propagandistically to paint Russia as the aggressor. It’s worth noting that a similar though lower-profile contention is taking place in East Asia. We want South Korea to agree to a US THAAD deployment ostensibly to counter the North Korean threat. China is opposing such a deployment, suspecting, just as Russia does, that it is cover for achieving nuclear dominance vis-a-vis China.

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