Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Thursday, June 10, 2004
There's a lot of truth to this piece by Fred Kaplan about how the Cold War came to an end. And it cannot be stressed sufficiently that Reagan was right about nuclear weapons: they are immoral.

Well, actually, that's not 100% right. Weapons are just weapons. Guns don't kill people; people kill people. So let's rephrase that: it's not that nuclear weapons are immoral. Strategic nuclear weapons are immoral. Mutually-Assured Destruction is immoral.

This is just true. Think about what MAD means. MAD means: if you take action X - invade West Germany, say - I will kill, to a first approximation, everyone on earth. There is no plausible just-war theory that would bless such a threat. It cannot possibly be construed as a proportionate response - to any provocation. It is therefore immoral on its face. But it is also immoral because, precisely because it is an absurd threat to make, it is not credible. And therefore it will not deter effectively. And, if the threat *is* meant seriously, then it makes such an ultimate cataclysm truly possible.

Nuclear warfighting strategies - which terrified people at the time who worried MAD was all that prevented nuclear war - were actually far more moral than MAD. And remember: the same Reagan who came up with SDI, offered to share it with the Soviets, signed the INF treaty eliminating theater nuclear weapons, and proposed eliminating *all* nuclear weapons - that same President Reagan built the MX, deployed the Pershing II, deployed the neutron bomb, etc. Policy in the Reagan Administration was consistent, not divided into hawkish and dovish phases. The policy was: make nuclear war less likely by making it impossible for the other guy to *win.*

That's the key to deterrence: not the ability to inflict damage in return but the ability to deny victory. If the Soviets had invaded West Germany, America could *credibly* have eliminated the second wave at a minimum and possibly the advance wave as well. We could do so credibly because our new weapons were more accurate, highly lethal but (the neutron bomb, at least) with much smaller blast radius than previous generationgs. The lower the collateral damage, the more plausible it is that we would use the weapons; the more accurate and lethal the weapons, the more likely they would be successful; the more likely we would use the weapons successfully, the more likely the Soviets would have lost their army within hours of launching an attack. With its armor eliminated, the Soviet Union would have faced an utter debacle, and losing such a war would certainly have meant the demise of their political system. To deter strategic nuclear attack, we had not only a robust nuclear triad providing a second-strike capability but an increasingly accurate nuclear force that could eliminate the enemy's strategic weapons while still in the silo. That meant, once again, that we could plausibly refuse to submit to nuclear blackmail during a crisis, because the other side would not know, if push came to shove, whether they would be able to achieve a massive nuclear strike, or whether those weapons would be dead before they left the ground. MAD is a game of chicken, and in a game of chicken the craziest guy wins. And if both guys know this, and try to behave as crazily as possible to assure victory, the odds of total disaster go up. Successful nuclear warfighting strategies - including both offensive measures like the neutron bomb and defensive measures like the proposed SDI - far from eroding deterrance were the key to restoring it, because, if America could fight a nuclear war and win, we could be assured the Soviets would not start one.

And once you've reached that new equilibrium, it becomes rational for the enemy to start thinking about how to diffuse a situation where he's at a disadvantage. Yes, the personalities of Reagan and Gorbachev were crucial to the end of the Cold War. But Reagan was also engaging in perfectly good strategy, given American war aims (which did *not* include annihilating the Soviet Union). And so was Gorbachev. Precisely because America was thinking about the unthinkable - nuclear war - and so focused on *how to win* rather than merely on a robust strategic second-strike capability (the focus of Krushchev-Kennedy-era nuclear maneuvering), the Soviets had to think in the same terms. And once they thought in those terms, they saw they had a problem.

They turned to diplomacy because the military option was foreclosed. The military option was foreclosed because America was planning to win a nuclear war. America was planning to win a nuclear war in part because reliance on the threat of global annihilation - effectively, nuclear blackmail, rather akin to terrorism - was, in President Reagan's view, immoral.