START raises question: Will I be a mutant cannibal or fight the mutant cannibals in the post-apocalyptic wasteland?
So first, a little history. In the 1940’s we found ourselves at war with the nazis and, more significantly for the purpose of this conversation, the Japanese.
The wars were dragging on, and there was a lot of chatter about the potential for a really big bomb in the study of nuclear fission. So top scientists were recruited…
and they made a really big bomb.
Naturally, geopolitically it was awesome for us, as we now had a weapon with the potential to make all other weapons obsolete. It had quite the opposite impact for those with interests divergent from our own.
This led to the development of atomic weapons by the Soviet Union, although it was probably inevitable they’d develop it on their own anyway. This raised tensions to the brink of complete nuclear annihilation, but it was quickly realized that each side valued not getting nuked by the other side more than they valued nuking the other side. This was the birth of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
This means they have formed a relatively stable equilibrium where it is never rational for either side to be the first to nuke the other and there is a very marginal cost for each irrational action.
An aspect of Mutually Assured Destruction leftist college professors who are unfortunately allowed to play roles in shaping foreign policy often willfully ignore is the word Assured. This only works because both sides know that they can kill the hell out of the other under any circumstances.
There are always going to be scientific advances. There are always going to be advances that could be applicable to nuclear warfare. And both sides have guys who will see how these advances could apply to nuclear warfare and knows that the other side has guys like these too. As soon as you see the potential for development, you also know there’s potential for the other guy to make the same development. This means we need to continue to develop bigger, better, deadlier nuclear weapons and bad ass missile defense mechanisms if we’re going to have any confidence (aka assurance) that the mutual destruction is still mutually assured.
Which takes us to the issue of what assurance is in this practical application. We can have good relations with the Russians. We can believe very deeply that they are a good and honorable people. We can believe that Putin is a man of his word and that the treaty provides for unimpeachable verification mechanisms. It’s never going to be 100%.
What we are talking about here is organized irrational behavior away from the stable equilibrium. With total annihilation at stake. In exchange for at best nothing.
I mean think about it. No one’s talking about taking MAD off the table deliberately. We’ll still have nukes pointed at every major Russian city and they’ll still have nukes pointed at all of ours. We are talking about undermining the equilibrium that has kept us alive ever since the development of the nuclear weapon in order to draw down the weapons that represent a marginal threat of zero. We’re talking about the leftovers after everybody’s been killed.
I think it’s more realistic that this treaty is totally ineffective and doesn’t accomplish anything substantive than it leads to all of our destruction, but hey, I’m an optimist.
That said, we should recognize that we’ve engaged in this kind of thing before, and it led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Back in the 1950’s the United States and the Soviet Union engaged the world in an effort to make the nuclear buildup responsible (defined arbitrarily) and controlled. The only reason the Soviets ever took the chance on putting missiles in Cuba is they thought we didn’t have enough clout to protest internationally after getting caught and rebuked for putting missiles in Turkey.
The only reason the Soviets questioned our strength was because of our efforts towards organized irrationality. As the Soviets saw it, they’d have no hesitation putting missiles in Cuba if they thought we’d tolerate it, they just knew we had the power to keep them out. The only reason they questioned our strength enough to try it is because we voluntarily bought into an organization with the express purpose of making us weaker. While they used the UN as a tool for their strategic advantage, we treated it as a source of dutifully weakening ourselves. That didn’t make sense, and so it undermined the Soviet confidence in the equilibrium. That nearly caused the world to end.
This kind of thing introduces politics into the issue of our mutually assured destruction. That’s never a good thing when you’re trying to deal with the objective reality.
I’m not saying the President is going to start a nuclear war. I am saying he is needlessly increasing the risk of nuclear war for a feel-good garbage treaty.
- US, Russia own 90% of world’s nukes (redantliberationarmy.wordpress.com)
- Don’t delay START (sfgate.com)
- With Fair Game, Into Eternity and Skyline, it’s mutually assured destruction month at the box office (guardian.co.uk)
- Letters: What the New Arms Treaty Would Do (nytimes.com)
- Is the New START treaty a dead duck in lame duck session? (slate.com)
- “Winning” A Nuclear War By Timothy V. Gatto (dandelionsalad.wordpress.com)
- 5 times we almost nuked ourselves by accident [Video] (io9.com)