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Jim Henley on Deterrence
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Have a look at this post by Jim Henley.

"Deterrence," making damn sure that Iraq or any other country knows that we will retaliate with overwhelming force if we are attacked with WSDs, is perfectly workable. "Containment," meaning measures short of war to prevent Iraq from acquiring WSDs, is indeed a losing proposition. It is the geopolitical equivalent of gun control. As Perry de Havilland remarked last winter, we're talking about 1940s technology here. Nonproliferation, even the militarized nonproliferation of the so-called Bush Doctrine, is a lost cause. The incentives for states to acquire WSDs are too great. We are going to have to learn to live in a world of proliferation.

And here I have to respectfully, but vociferously, disagree with Henley.

You should go read the entire entry, since it's at least an honest, comprehensive alternative course of action (actually, inaction).

Anyway, I've argued here before why nonproliferation is our only viable option, and why old-fashioned Cold War deterrence simply won't work anymore. We're not in the 20th century anymore...we're in the 21st.

Deterrence works against rational, self-interested state actors, who also care to a certain extent about their populations. One could argue whether or not leaders like Jong-Il or Hussein fall into this category, but there are definitely others who do not. There are non-state actors who don't mind self-immolating for the sake of destroying large numbers of Americans. The ubiquity of nuclear weaponry increases the probability that non-state terrorist organizations will be able to acquire nuclear weaponry.

Another problem: Imagine the scenario where a nuclear weapon is delivered, not via a conventional delivery system (an ICBM), but via a cargo crate or boat or the infamous "suitcase nuke". Now let's say a nuclear explosion went off in Boston tomorrow. Think about it, because it's not a Hollywood contrivance's a very real possibility. If you didn't learn to practicably envision such scenarios as probable, then you didn't learn much from 9/11.

I've asked this before, with regard to the above scenario: What would we do? There is, as far as I know, no way to verifiably confirm the source of a nuclear weapon. We'd have tens of thousands of people dead, tens of thousands more burned and poisoned with radioactivity, and a molten, radioactive slagheap for downtown Boston. What do we do then? Do we nuke every country that has nuclear weapons? Who do we start with?

Does Henley mark as an utter impossibility the acquisition of nuclear weapons by groups like al Qaeda? And even if they didn't, if a rogue state delivered a weapon this way, is it incomprehensible that they would do so? How exactly would deterrence function with respect to a covert nuclear attack?

Finally, as I've also argued here, the use of nuclear weapons doesn't only come from attacking with them. What exactly would we do if North Korea invaded South Korea. Or if a nuclear-capable Iraq reinvaded Kuwait. Emboldened with nuclear weaponry, rogue states could gamble that the international community and the U.S. in particular are not willing to play a game of nuclear chicken. You don't have to fire a gun in order to use it. You can rob and rape without ever pulling the trigger, and this works because the other person isn't quite sure if you might use it.

The point is, there are plenty of reasons why Cold War deterrence is a fool's game. It's an outmoded, misconstrued interpretation of contemporary world affairs.

We have to follow a course of nonproliferation, the entire international community in concerted cooperation.

Or guess what? We're fucked.

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