Quote of the Day

One factor complicating a nuclear terrorist attack is the need for the aggressor to maintain command and control over their weapon at all times. Letting a nuke out of sight of a terrorist leadership cell is the supreme act of faith in the attacking cell. The nuke can be turned against them in a leadership struggle; diverted for sale or used to extort vast amounts of money. Fanatics can seize them to use against another faction. Much terrorist violence in the world is faction-on-faction. They can even be intercepted and made to blow up in their own faces. Unless used immediately nukes must be secured in a heavily guarded, hard to conceal place. If used immediately they cannot be stockpiled into a decisive amount. Missile delivery systems were ideal solutions to all the problems of command and control problem. That is why North Korea and Iran sought a missile capability immediately. Anti missiles defenses were therefore an immense discouragement against nuclear terrorism in their own right.
The most likely reason for Russia’s objections to US missile defense is not that it degrades their vast and unstoppable arsenal, which remains effective in any case, but it reduces the effectiveness of sock puppet proxies who threaten the US. Russia is not about to threaten the US directly. But wouldn’t it be convenient if others would? And wouldn’t it be even more convenient if the US could not defend against them.

Richard Fernandez

7 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. Unilateral disarmament has been a fervently desired goal of the left since the 1950’s at least. Why would anyone be surprised when an ardent leftist who attains a position allowing him to embark on that policy does just that.

    I am more concerned that allegedly knowledgeable and sophisticated people are now shocked that a regime run by new left Mcgovernites is doing exactly what that ideological school has always said was desirable—weaken the US militarily and withdraw from any possible confrontations around the world.

    Over and over again I read these shocked reactions when the US cancels military programs, insults allies like Britain or Poland, caters to or gives unilateral advantages to hostile nations like Russia or Iran, sides with a Chavez acolyte against the clearly legitimate government of Honduras, torpedoes promised aid for Columbia, pokes China in the eye, grovels before the assembled dictators at the UN, etc., etc.

    What did you expect?

  2. Thanks for the comments. I perhaps should have quoted only the first of Wretchard’s two paragraphs because it elegantly explains why defense against ballistic missiles remains important. The point about Russia is good too, but it’s a bit of a distraction from the first point, which I think is the stronger one. It’s worth reading the entire Belmont Club post as well as the reader comments on it.

  3. Thanks to modern communications there are several easy ways to monitor and control a nuclear device being delivered by a terrorist network. GPS for example, is completely passive. The bomb could be programmed to monitor its own location and to detonate or self-destruct if taken somewhere it was not supposed to be. One could also equip a bomb with a satellite phone that could track and control it everywhere in the world. Granted monitoring the bomb would expose it to discovery by signals intelligence agencies like the NSA but that is true of any modern operation.

    I think the nightmare scenario for nuclear weapons would one in which the weapons are fired from pods left drifting under the sea. Both the Soviets and the U.S. Navy experimented with such sub towed pods in the 1950’s. With modern technology, even a lightly industrialized nation could pull it off.

    The pods would be towed into location and left drifting at a depth of a few hundred feet. At a preprogrammed time, they would rise fire. The pods could be placed just a couple of hundred miles off the coast with little fear of detection. It would be impossible to determine who fired the missiles and therefore who to retaliate against.

    To prevent an accidental gotterdammerung in response to the attacks, the missiles could be fired one at a time over a period of hours or days. The target country would be whittled down city by city with no means of striking back or even of determining who was attacking.

    The days of a starkly bipolar world with clear responsibility are long gone. It’s to bad Obama is still stuck in the 70’s.

  4. Easy to monitor but not control. The attacker must either use his own forces to emplace the weapon, and be vulnerable to detection, or use a proxy and be vulnerable to theft and extortion.

  5. Jonathan,

    Easy to monitor but not control.

    Oh, it could be done. For example, you could (1) threaten to remotely detonate the bomb, which would make it a hot potato to hold onto (2) simply freeze the bomb rendering useless while at the same time triggering booby traps that would destroy the weapon if it was tampered with (3) you could asymmetrically detonate the conventional explosives in the weapon which would turn the fissile material into useless but dangerous dust.

    You have to remember that we now have a planet-wide, highly-secure communications blanket that can reach anywhere. The hardware needed to receive communications even out in the middle of the ocean would fit in a small briefcase. A powerful computer and and a 6 month power supply could be squeezed into the space of a large hardback book. The system could rely on just receiving communications and tracking its own location by GPS and internal accelerometers. In such a case, the bomb itself could not be located by signal intelligence.

    Plus, as I have observed before, our enemies have a long history of miscalculating our responses and in engaging in highly risky attacks. Most terrorism experts dismissed the possibility of a mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil almost entirely based on their understanding that it would be suicidal for any group to carry out such an attack. An opponent in the grip of delusion, especially a religious delusion, might easily believe they could reliably deliver a bomb via a terrorist network.

    We should always make security plans based on what potential hostiles could do if they choose to instead of trying to get inside their alien mindsets.

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