May 5, 2005
Pre-emption, Deterrence, or what?
An article in Reason, "All Nukes Are Good Nukes: Can the U.S. cobble together a new deterrence for a new world?" leads us to believe that US combatant commanders may be given wide latitude in the employment of nuclear weapons:
Now as a result, the U.S. is reworking its nuclear doctrine to persuade non-nuclear states that getting nukes is not a reasonable course of action. Via an updated Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, U.S. theater commanders may soon get tacit, preemptive approval to use nukes against any foe who seems poised to use nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons against U.S. forces. In other words, the new big booming message will be: Fight a conventional war you are sure to lose, or we'll nuke you and not even think very hard about it before we do.Going to the source article, we learn
The U.S. military is considering allowing regional combatant commanders to request presidential approval for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against possible attacks with weapons of mass destruction on the United States or its allies, according to a draft nuclear operations paper.If this is true, it will be a fundamental shift in the civil-military relationships of nuclear strategy, and shows that the doctrine of pre-emption is far from dead, even if pre-emptive invasions have been discredited in Iraq.
The March 15 paper, drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is titled "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations," providing "guidelines for the joint employment of forces in nuclear operations . . . for the employment of U.S. nuclear forces, command and control relationships, and weapons effect considerations."
"There are numerous nonstate organizations (terrorist, criminal) and about 30 nations with WMD programs, including many regional states," the paper says in recommending that commanders in the Pacific and other theaters be given an option of pre-emptive strikes against "rogue" states and terrorists and "request presidential approval for use of nuclear weapons" under set conditions.
Pat Buchanan writes in RealClearPolitics of the presumptive failure of pre-emptive war:
Under it, we invaded Iraq. To our eternal embarrassment, we found Iraq had none of "the world's most dangerous weapons." But our invasion did concentrate the minds of Tehran's mullahs and Kim Jong Il, the surviving twins of the axis-of-evil triplets.Buchanan has always been on the realist-isolationist wing of US politics, and he is true to form here:
Kim reacted by withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicking out U.N. inspectors, pulling the plutonium rods out of his Yongbyon reactor and cobbling together an atom bomb. Iran appears to have ratcheted up its program for enriching uranium.
With a threat of retaliation, we deterred a nuclear-armed Stalin and Mao Zedong. And neither Kim Jong Il nor the Iranian mullahs has ever attacked us. Though both detest us, they fear us. If nonproliferation fails us, not to worry, deterrence still works.But does deterrence still work? For all the press that missing Russian nukes, or lax security at Russian nuke facilites gets, one must wonder if deterrence was completely effective: certainly it prevented a nuclear exchange between rival powers. But those nukes are still out there, and can be sold, traded, or stolen.
Moreover, particularly in the case of North Korea, for every story about its nuclear program, there is another one like this one, from December: Cell Phones Spark 'Communication Revolution' in N.K.
In reality, the introduction of Chinese mobile communication technology to the reclusive state has helped pierce through its Iron Curtain and break down a regime that insulates itself through isolating citizens, renting families apart and curbing the spread of information.In other words, if Russian nukes are hard to account for now, North Korean nukes will be equally so if that regime fails to hold itself together. Perhaps even more so, given advances in the ability of people to move goods around the world in the past 15 years. So perhaps deterrence will work if you can guarantee that the states on the opposing end will always be around . . . but what if those states fail?
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Philip C Bobbitt, who has served as a nuclear strategist, warned of the futures of such proliferated states as North Korea, Iran, or Iraq, and what they mean for traditional concepts of deterrence:
Those who believe that the status quo can be indefinitely extended through inspections, then, have an obligation to tell us how the inspectors would prevent Saddam Hussein from buying a weapon from, say, North Korea which would be a rather dramatic change in the status quo.Bobbitt has written extensively on nuclear strategy and details the concepts of deterrence, compellance, and assurance, in the Introduction of his masterpiece, The Shield of Achilles:
Supporters of an indefinite inspectors' presence focus on large weapons like missile launchers that they say we will be able to detect . . . But are they also considering that in the future we might have to detect and capture weapons no larger than a case of beer?
. . . I recognize that we are running a terrible risk if we put Saddam Hussein's back against the wall. But unless we are willing to eventually grant him a free hand in the Persian Gulf, he is bound to act in a way that will put his back against the wall in the future after he does acquire nuclear weapons. At that point, however, the United States would have a significantly diminished capacity to prevent his aggression. One certainly cannot imagine an operation like Desert Storm if Iraq were to acquire nuclear warheads and accurate missiles.
Deterrence is more problematic, however, when the calculations on which ir relies become more complex, or when these calculations are cloude by cultural differences and varying attitudes toward risk, or when the facts on which such calculations depend are uncertain or colored by wishful thinking. In other words, the idea of deterrence is itself so much a part of human nature that it can be applied only as it is affected by the various fallacies and shortcomings to which human nature is prey.Bobbitt also warns of the dangers of continuing
to think and plan as though the stable relations that attended the possessors of weapons of mass destruction in the Cold War are somehow intrinsic to such weapons.And finally,
A failure to take seriously the new strategic environment can have costly consequences in the domestic theater as well. Should the use of a weapon of mass destruction occur, the state in which this happens will undergo a crisis in its constitutional order. How it prepares for this crisis will determine the fate of its society, not only its sheer survival, but the conditions of that survival. Some societies may become police states in an effort to protect themselves; some may disintegrate because they cannot agree on how to protect themselves.All the old ideas, whether deterrence, compellance, assurance, or even pre-emption, linger in the air as the final breaths of a world that no longer exists. All is new and our solutions to proliferation must be equally novel.
Posted by Chester at May 5, 2005 1:16 AM
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