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  • No Nukes or New Nukes?

    Posted by Jonathan on April 10th, 2010 (All posts by )

    This presentation by the Center for Security Policy is worth watching. The points that most impressed me were made by the former head of the Defense Nuclear Agency, the bureaucracy that manages our nuclear-bomb inventory. He pointed out that the inventory is old and that weapons need to be tested from time to time to insure their reliability, and that any test ban would therefore be incompatible with our maintenance of a reliable arsenal.

    Furthermore, our nuclear weapons were designed to destroy cities and large, hardened missile installations and airfields and the like, and are much too powerful to be useful in today’s world. For example, we can’t plausibly threaten to blow up Tehran to discourage the mullahs from building nukes. Everyone knows we wouldn’t follow through. But if we had very-low-yield nukes built into penetrating warheads we could actually use them, and it would become possible for us to change the Iranians’ behavior without attacking (or by attacking conventionally and then threatening to use nuclear penetrators on Iranian R&D and production facilities if the Iranians didn’t scuttle their nuke program). But we aren’t building these small nukes, because Obama doesn’t want to, and even if he wanted to it’s difficult to produce a new generation of reliable nuclear weapons if we forbid ourselves the ability to test them.

    (After the CSP video, C-SPAN showed video from a Global Zero PR event, perhaps for comic relief. Global Zero wants to apply the logic of domestic gun prohibition to global nuclear armaments. I am sure this concept will work as well with the Iranian mullahs as it does with common criminals.)

     

    12 Responses to “No Nukes or New Nukes?”

    1. onparkstreet Says:

      Good link, thanks.

      I’ve read the same at other sites, too – that even simple maintainance requires testing, etc.

      Very strange.

      – Madhu

    2. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Ghandi told the British that they should use passive methods to resist the Germans. When asked what good that would do after they were defeated and Germans were raping women and destroying cities, he replied, “You will know your moral superiority over the Germans.”

      I think Obama is the last of a long line begun by Bertrand Russell, and often encouraged by the Soviets, of pacifists who opposed nuclear weapons. I have never concluded whether they would really accept the consequences or if they always assumed that more serious people would protect them.

    3. Lexington Green Says:

      No new nukes.

      If be prevents us from maintaining what we have and developing credible new ones, he achieves unilateral disarmament without saying so.

    4. Robert Schwartz Says:

      No Nukes is a slogan. It is not, nor can it ever, be a reality. Nuclear weapons are a fact of war and strategy, now and forever more.

      The reason nuclear weapons did not exist before 1945 was that the fundamental physics did not exist until the 1920s. The physics now exists, it cannot be unlearned. Uranium is ubiquitous.

      The good news is that it is not easy to build nuclear weapons. If it were, Iran would have tested one already.

      Even if every nation in the world entered into a solemn treaty to disassemble all of its nuclear weapons, and adhered to the treaty. Nuclear weapons would merely be sleeping until someone aggressive enough, or in enough defensive trouble, decided to cheat on the treaty. Strategic planners, therefor, would be required to assume that nuclear weapons still existed, even if there were actually none then existing.

    5. Jonathan Says:

      No Nukes is a slogan. It is not, nor can it ever, be a reality.

      It can be a reality WRT our own nukes, which I think was Lex’s point. Obama is pursuing a tacit policy of incremental unilateral disarmament.

      WRT Iran, building a gun-type uranium bomb is relatively easy. All the mullahs need is enough refined uranium, and a Boeing airliner to use as a delivery system. I assume that they are putting most of their efforts into smaller bombs, i.e., missile warheads.

      Good times ahead.

    6. sol vason Says:

      Obama is the guy who brags that he “brings a gun to a knife fight”. Why? Because he wants to win.

      Now he announces he is going to leave the gun at home. Why?

    7. Shannon Love Says:

      I think Obama et al have a very simple model when it comes to anything touching on foreign policy or warfare.

      (1) The controlling factor in all foreign conflicts is actually the selfish and destructive actions of the western non-leftists.
      (2) In any circumstance, there exist a magic set of words that if spoken can turn any enemy into a friend.
      (3) Moral example is the strongest force in the world. If you want the entire world to behave in some manner simply behave that way yourself and everyone will eventually copy you.

      So, in the case of nuclear weapons:

      (1) Other countries want nuclear weapons only because the evil western non-leftists have insisted on creating these needless monstrosities. With non-leftists out of power the rest of the world will not want these weapons.
      (2) We will resolve all remaining conflicts with our magic words.
      (3) If we get rid of our nuclear weapons everyone else will mimic us because we’re so great.

      What they are actually doing is expressing their own narcissism and hubris. They are defining both the problem and the solution of nuclear weapons in ways such that increasing the power of status of articulate intellectuals within our own society will eliminate all external threats.

      (1) Other nations want nukes because of the political dominance of the ignorant and morally inferior people who are not articulate intellectuals. Putting articulate intellectuals in charge of their inferiors will eliminate this problem.
      (2) Articulate intellectuals have fantastic powers of persuasion and can always, in every circumstance, solve every problem by talking. Therefore we can solve all problems by putting articulate intellectuals in charge and letting them talk things out.
      (3) Articulate intellectuals are so amazing and wonderful that everyone wants to be like them so if we in the West venerate them as is their natural due, then everyone else will emulate us and all problems will be solved.

      Obama and friends simply cannot conceive of a world in which they are not the solution to every problem. They live in a fantasy world in which they are the hub of all existence. This causes them to create elaborate and unrealistic models of human behavior whose only function is to justify their own power and status. This is just one more example.

      The best way to bring this all up short is ask: “Would this have worked with Hitler?” i.e. suppose the person you were trying to convince not to acquire or use nuclear weapons was Hitler resurrected. Would this disarmament tactic work? Would Hitler refuse to lay hands on the greatest weapon ever just because we decided not to?

      The sad truth is that Hitler was not, in terms of behavior and outlook, an unusual political leader. Indeed, most authoritarian leaders behave and believe as Hitler did, it is just that most of them do not have the equivalent of pre-war Germany at their backs and so have to play things a little cooler. If a tactic would not work against Hitler it will not work against them either.

      Even if a particular leadership is not as ruthless or capable as Hitler we still have to make long range plans that another Hitler could appear. We have to plan for evil. We have to plan for irrational evil. We have to plan for powerful and capable evil.

      We cannot secure the existence of the entire human species on the premise that smooth talkers can resolve every conflict. Obama and crew will just have to take the ego hit.

    8. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “No Nukes is a slogan. It is not, nor can it ever, be a reality.

      It can be a reality WRT our own nukes, which I think was Lex’s point. Obama is pursuing a tacit policy of incremental unilateral disarmament. ”

      Not as far as the way others must plan for us. Even then the specter does not vanish.

    9. Jonathan Says:

      Robert, let’s hope so.

    10. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The political left certainly seems to be well equipped with talkers. The old fashioned Democrat, like my father, worked with his hands. Students and teachers seem enthusiastic leftists. Manual laborers may, to the extent that they vote, vote for old fashioned benefits. Beyond them, the Democratic Party seems dependent on talk. I remember Madeline Albright protesting that the Clinton Administration took terrorism seriously. She said they had meetings at least once a week. I wonder if Obama knows anyone who does not earn his or her living by talking.

    11. renminbi Says:

      One of the assassins in Richard III: “Talkers are no good doers”

      Maybe a requirement for office should be that the officeholder have shown the ability to do something other than bullshit people. Implementing this would be difficult,but we wouldn’t be saddled with the cretins we now have ruling us.

    12. Helian Says:

      The remarks of the former head of the DNA are typical of what you hear in the weapons community. They amount to easy rationalizations by people who aren’t thrilled at the prospect of serving as the custodians of a stockpile of old weapons, and would love to return to the glory days of building and testing new bombs. Unfortunately, these arguments don’t hold water, for reasons that have nothing to do with the philosophy of Gandhi or the idealism of aging hippies.

      Take, for example, the claim that are arsenal needs to be tested from time to time to maintain its reliability. In fact, our bombs are far more robust than the weaponeers would have us believe, and it is quite possible to maintain them into the indefinite future without testing. One thing such arguments always ignore is that every other nuclear power faces the same problems that we do when it comes to maintaining their arsenals. The main difference between us and them is that we possess above ground experimental facilities for studying weapon physics that all the others can only dream of, in the form of the National Ignition Facility with its 192 laser beams, the Z pulsed power machine at Sandia, and a host of other smaller but extremely capable facilities. When it comes to maintaining our arsenal, they give us a tremendous advantage. What the proponents of a resumption of nuclear testing would really have us do is throw away this massive advantage over our potential adversaries and needlessly hand them the moral high ground in the process for no sound reason whatsoever.

      The “low yield nuke” argument is so absurd it hardly bears repeating. It can only sound convincing to someone who is ignorant of elementary and unclassified facts concerning the design of the weapons in our arsenal. I can only suggest to anyone who takes it seriously that they buy one of the many good books on the market about the building of the arsenal and think about it a little. I’m sure Iran’s nuclear scientists are sufficiently competent to see this argument for the red herring it truly is. As for the notion of using such a weapon in an attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, it would be an act of mindless stupidity. After 65 years, the nuclear genie would be out of the bottle once again, thanks to us. Far from making ourselves safer, we would have justified nuclear retaliation by our enemies, and greatly increased the nuclear danger to every citizen in this country, making ourselves into international pariahs in the process.

      I am no admirer of Gandhi, and I reject the notion of nuclear disarmament. I am in favor of maintaining a powerful nuclear arsenal, and, if justified, in using it. However, I welcome the recent NPR’s explicit rejection of a resumption of nuclear testing or the design of new weapons for the reason that such actions would be a grave threat to national security, and would amount to playing into the hands of our enemies.