Sunday, December 16, 2018 -
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Pentagon’s new nuclear weapons, and updated ones: Does this make any sense?

Russia, the US and China can already destroy the world many times over. Why does the US need new nuclear weapons?

Do not Russia and the US already possess enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet many times over? Each country’s nuclear stockpile numbers in the four digits. Even the number of weapons in the smaller nuclear powers, such as France, Britain and Pakistan, number in the double digits — also enough weapons to destroy civilization. Why on earth would the US be planning a multi-decade upgrade of all of its nuclear weapons, not to mention two new sea-based nuclear weapons?

The official reason is to keep up with Russia and China’s own robust nuclear programs. But does this not just beg the question? Why a new arms race when the current weapons can destroy the planet?

Actually, there is a logic — a logic for peace, no less — in the US response. In the mad nuclear world of MAD — “mutually assured destruction” — an updated nuclear stockpile serves as a deterrent against a first strike by an enemy, while an outdated nuclear stockpile may not serve as a deterrent.

It works like this: Each nuclear power wants to retain enough power to survive a massive first strike. If that capability is known to the enemy, the enemy will not launch a first strike, because it knows it will be destroyed. On the other hand, if the US nuclear stockpile has degraded, it might not be able to survive a first strike — thus stoking the motivation of an enemy to launch a first strike.

Ghoulish and sick as all this sounds, it has worked. MAD — mutually assured destruction — has prevented both Russia and the US (and others) from launching a first strike since the dawn of the nuclear age. Hence, the obscenely expensive US nuclear strategy, and the even more obscene Russian one — worse because of  the relatively higher price to be exacted from the average Russian citizen beset by an inferior economy and a declining population.

The problem with all this, besides the obvious moral dilemma, is that MAD is not so assured as it once was, due to a contemplated diversification in the type and locale of nuclear weapons. Indeed, the business of all out war becomes all the more frightening to contemplate because of technological advancements, current and envisioned.

For example, the command centers for nuclear weaponry, at least those of the US and Russia, are substantially in outer space. If it were possible to disable the American command centers via an attack in space, or via a cyber attack, then a first strike against the US would yield no counterattack.

Lest all this sound like science fiction, it is being pursued. It could undermine mutually assured destruction. Cyber attacks and similarly conceived technologies would become destabilizing factors.

Another such destabilizing technology would be far more powerful ICBMs, which would also threaten a guaranteed nuclear response. Add to new ICBMs far more sensitive response mechanisms, some operating in milliseconds, which could launch a nuclear response in the face of a false alarm or a conventional attack mistaken for a nuclear one.

Notwithstanding these and other challenges to the neat symmetry of mutually assured destruct- ion, the US really has no choice for now but to update its nuclear weaponry, and to develop new weapons, given the Putin-era Russian belligerency and the economically driven Chinese drive to replace the US as the world’s superpower.

All in all, we have a very lugubrious scenario, dashing the high hopes for peace in the immediate post-Cold War, when the USSR dissolved. Such, however, is the world the US finds itself in. It would be suicidal for this country not to think ahead and to act accordingly.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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