The road to hell

is, of course, paved with good intentions. And who has better intentions than the ban-the-bomb crowd?

Carla Anne Robbins has an editorial today in the NYT advocating such a course and lining up impressive supporters:

Two decades later [after Reagan and Gorbachev had floated the idea], a who’s who of the national security establishment – George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn – is calling on the United States to lead a global campaign to devalue and eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons. …

[George Schultz] says the goal is to give the next president the political space and the technical support to launch a major initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate the world’s arsenals. “We are increasingly able to answer the question, ‘If I do this how will other people react? Will they think I’m crazy?’ ” he says.

Senator Barack Obama has embraced their proposal.

So if we eliminate nukes, do we get peace, love and the Aquarian Age?  Possibly, but what’s more likely is that the march of conventional war will resume.  As strategists from Tom Barnett to Martin van Creveld to Bill Lind have pointed out, once states get nukes, large scale warfare between them ends.  There hasn’t been an Arab-Israel war, that is between Israel and Arab state armies, since 1973 or an India-Pakistan War since 1971, or a USSR-NATO war ever.

If some well-meaning do-gooder (and I am often included in that camp) ever did succeed in eliminating nuclear weapons, large-scale conventional conflict between major powers becomes thinkable again.  To get an idea what this means, look at the escalation of casualty figures from conventional wars over the ages, paying close attention to the 20th century, where deaths went from some 20 million in WW I to over 60 million in WW II.  Now take into account the tripling of the world’s population since WW II and you see the potential.

Everybody who has studied this problem comes up with the same answer — nukes prevent wars — so the big question is:  What is the meaning of all this “no nukes” talk?

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Filed in Uncategorized | 20 responses so far

20 Responses to “The road to hell”

  1. EmeryNelsonon 30 Jun 2008 at 7:31 pm 1

    The return to conventional war would be a disaster for the United States. We no longer have the heavy industrial base (both personal and machinery) it takes to win a large conventional war. I see studies all the time that speak to a very high industrial capacity but it’s largely built on “light” machine building and very small businesses. China would easily outproduce us, not to mention Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India as equals.

    We often talk about our industrial warfighting model but it’s seldom mentioned that the if the US army ever had to do the mobilization they are always preparing for that most of us would be armed with spears. The F-22s is largely “hand made” and mass production needed in a conventional war wouldn’t be equal to the task for years, if ever. Artillery and armor production wouldn’t equal the WW II capacity of Nazi Germany… and we all know where that led.

    [CR: Very well put.]

  2. Maxon 01 Jul 2008 at 7:55 am 2

    EmeryNelson
    on 30 Jun 2008 at 7:31 pm
    CR: “Very well put”

    Yeah, I’d say he pretty much put that whole
    idea to bed.

    I’m getting a sense that the nuclear proliferation issue, maybe somewhat bogus, in the sense that the legitimacy has been undermined by the leveraging the socalled WMDs as a pretext, and excuse for wars of aggression. Although I can’t think of a single example…
    ;0)

    M

  3. rmhitchenson 01 Jul 2008 at 12:16 pm 3

    The return to conventional war would be a disaster for every developed nation. We all have ever-shrinking inventories of ever more expensive weapon systems with ever-longer replacement pipelines. It puzzles me, reading publications like Defense News every week, that countries like Sweden or Finland are expending so much anguish over purchasing new frigates or fighter-bombers. For less-developed countries it’s even more baffling: just who are Chile or Ecuador or Brazil planning to fight? As for nuclear proliferation, aren’t we doing a lot of hand-wringing over a couple of so-called “rogue” countries, both of whom apparently lean toward coming in from the cold? Like South Africa and Libya did?

    I don’t buy the idea that “nukes prevent wars.” Wars are declining for many reasons, including the terrible history of the 20th century and the broad acceptance of a peaceful international order by all major and most minor nations. Steadily rising global prosperity, maybe. In light of all this, it seems sensible to me that the US should set a positive example by negotiating a drastic nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia — well below a thousand warheads, none on alert, etc. China, France, the UK to follow suit.

    [CR: I don’t see a contradiction because, as you note, there are many factors involved. Still, if you look at the string of countries that used to fight themselves on a regular basis and see what happened when one or both got nuclear weapons, it’s a hard trend to argue against.]

  4. JRBehrmanon 02 Jul 2008 at 9:31 am 4

    Conventional (3GW) Warfare seems to be self-limiting today owing to many factors, including the utility and proliferation of precision-guided munitions available to, say, Israel or Iran, probably not including the necessity or sufficiency of nuclear deterrence.

    If 3GW is truly obsolete, then, does it matter why, other than that 4GW is … dominant and immune to nuclear deterrence?

    Recent hostilities between Israel as our proxy and Hizb’allah as Iran’s proxy in the Lebanon seemed to approach conventional levels of warfighting, with both sides using precision-guided munitions. And, yet, the results seem not to have been decisive.

    I do not know, other than Freeman Dyson, who has given much thought to the nuclear disarmament end-game: Would it be (a) zero nuclear weapons, (b) a few under multinational auspices, (c) a few distributed equally among large and small powers (US = CIS = China = Israel = Iran = India = Pakistan = … XYZ).

    The most pressing problem to me seems to be the present situation (US = CIS >> China = Israel = India = Pakistan = Iran? … ???)

    This seems to me to support two grim possibilities:

    First, the use of a stolen or improvised nuclear weapons by a 4GW entity such as AQ that would seem to take responsibility but … from where?

    Second, the clandestine/provocative use of a nuclear weapon by a nuclear power that would not be reliably attributable to that state.

    These are not even mutually exclusive possibilities.

    Therefore, I would like to move from the status quo with a robust national and international deliberation of (a) – (c) above.

    [CR: Interesting, thanks. Any idea how to get such a debate going, throwing in options d, e, f, etc., whatever they may be? I’ll start it off: Option a appears neither feasible nor desirable, unless WW II seems like so much fun in retrospect that we’re ready to start up WW III.

    Also, can anybody comment on the technical feasibility of an “untraceable” nuke? (I dimly remember something about signatures of isotopes.) Still, it would probably take some time to do the analysis and determine who built the weapon, so it’s worthwhile to discuss whether one can deter a one-off “rogue” attack and, if not, the role of our own nukes in responding to it.]

  5. Maxon 02 Jul 2008 at 11:41 am 5

    Interesting and thought provoking thread so far.

    Nuclear dis-armement stared out as a serious business, with
    noble merit, and a lot at stake. Never the less if didn’t
    go too far.

    More recently undermined to some degree by
    some of those who are arguably some manner of war criminals
    themselves, and who late in life advocate for the cause,
    perhaps out of concience.

    Also severely undermined by those who have used it
    and continue to, as a pretense for socalled premetive war,
    and conquest.

    Moreover, if one takes the position that Nukes can never be used again,
    without catastrophic retaliation and conciquence, they are therefore
    in the largest sense, the refuge of the terminally stupid.

    Apart from 4GW entities getting their hands on “devices”
    which we can all agree on, is nuclear dis-armement amoung major powers, and even among second and third rates, although perhaps desirable, really that relevent, and given other issues ?

    M

  6. Maxon 02 Jul 2008 at 4:44 pm 6

    “It puzzles me, reading publications like Defense News every week, that countries like Sweden or Finland are expending so much anguish over purchasing new frigates or fighter-bombers. For less-developed countries it’s even more baffling: just who are Chile or Ecuador or Brazil planning to fight?”

    I’m tempted to say, it’s fairly obvious.
    “We The Pepole.”
    Now go look in the mirror, JR.

    Good stuff. Let’s grade the US’s overall stature and capability
    in various catagories of warfare.

    1) Nuclear Deterence ? Maybe an A, if not we wouldn’t be here.

    2) Conventional capability against a credible opponent.
    Highly suspect, against the likes of mainland China or Russia.
    Say a B or a C ?
    We no longer have the numbers to deal with a real protracted
    serious campain.

    3) 4th Generational warfare and insurgency ?
    I give a D-.

    Anyone else ?
    MaX

  7. Maxon 02 Jul 2008 at 4:57 pm 7

    “The F-22s is largely “hand made” and mass production needed in a conventional war wouldn’t be equal to the task for years, if ever.’

    Yeah, ok, but you forget, the F-22 is the “ultimate,” the greatest, best-est, mighty, invincible, astonishing, unbelievable, mightest, most capable, advanced, sofisticated, untouchable, insurmountable, uncannyest, most invisible, nearly invisible, undetectcable, unseeable, unknowable, agressive, best armed, fastest, quickest, most manuverable, indistructable, untouchable, ever.

    Moreover, It’s certianly making a big, big difference in these days in Iraq.

    I know I sleep better at night, just knowing,,,,.

    MaX

  8. Sven Ortmannon 02 Jul 2008 at 7:11 pm 8

    I still don’t buy this “nuclear weapons prohibit conventional war” thing.

    I know that Russian fighter pilots were involved in the Korean War.

    It’s perfectly possible that the future will not only see LCI, proxy wars – but also nuclear power on nuclear power wars. There’s little reason to resort to nuclear weapons if the conflict doesn’t happen on either nation’s terrain or on terrain of their official allies.

    Another – historical – example calls for extreme caution about the prediction in the article; everyone expected poison gas wars in the inter-war years – but poison gas was not used in WW2. Hitler had the first nervous poison gases – and didn’t use that stuff.

    Emery and rmhitchens are right; a look at the industrial base of the West reveals a terrible situation. We lack the traditional industries for large-scale conventional war, our available equipment wouldn’t last long and we’re even inferior in some of the presumed new war economy critical industries to Asian countries.

    Furthermore, we’re short on manpower.

    Let’s stay out of needless major conventional warfare – but don’t assert it won’t happen anyway. That could make us careless and launch some needless war (again).

    http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2008/03/shocking-shipbuilding-industry.html

    http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2007/10/national-security-and-economy.html

    http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2007/08/no-major-war-in-europe-in-next-ten.html

    http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2007/07/sustainability-of-military-power.html

    [CR: I didn’t say that there wasn’t some occasional sparring, but it didn’t develop into anything that could remotely be called a conventional war. Nothing can ever be ruled out, of course, but the question comes down to this: Of all the things to spend money on, how important is the possibility of conventional war between major powers? Sorry for the delay in posting, but you got caught by the spam filter …]

  9. Sven Ortmannon 02 Jul 2008 at 7:19 pm 9

    I forgot to mention that Germany was not involved in a European war between 1871 and 1914. A precedent to our past “peaceful” decades, shared with Germany by most major power of Europe at that time (there were just some conflicts about the unification of Italy and a very short conflict between Italy and Ottomans very shortly before 1914 that involved major powers in the time frame).

    Small, low intensity, expeditionary military operations and wars were the norm between 1871 and 1914 for European major powers.

    That’s familiar, isn’t it? They just lacked the illusion that technology had banned the threat of war between major powers.

  10. EmeryNelsonon 02 Jul 2008 at 7:59 pm 10

    No one used Chemical Warfare in WW II. At least not on the battlefield. There’s a lot to be said for the idea that all sides have it, but won’t use it. The problem comes about when one side had it and the other doesn’t. How you can monitor who has what? Especially when one group is actively trying to fool the other side. Both the Soviet Union and NATO continually ran exercises in how we would both fight a war without Nukes. The end was always the same. The terrific damage caused by conventional weapons would always lead to the losing side going nuclear.

    I’m not convinced that PGMs have changed anything. It looks impressive but the US is losing in Afghanistan despite the constant stream of video fun with PGMs. Perhaps it will limit 3GW, but I doubt for very long. The density of Artillery in the First World War was eventually overcome as the Germans well know. Armor and countermeasures will easily defeat PGMs and in the case of countermeasures, at far less cost than the original PGM. This is an old back and forth argument but what isn’t arguable is that everyone has learned how to overcome all but the Nuke.

  11. Maxon 04 Jul 2008 at 7:08 am 11

    Chet in the Headlines !

    Wow !! Congradulations !!

    Getting results ! Better late than never.
    In relation to what he’s been up against this is a
    PHENOMINAL ACCOMPLISHMENT !

    Something we can all take real pride in, through this
    casual association.

    M

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/03/different-kind-of-war/

    “”It’s not something I ever expected to see in my lifetime,” said retired Air Force Col. Chester Richards, a strategist who has studied and written about military power for three decades. “

  12. Maxon 04 Jul 2008 at 10:24 am 12

    And, the next day,

    “USAF Still Doing Bussiness as usual.”

    MaX

    http://wiredispatch.com/news/?id=239408

    US-led air raid kills 22 civilians-Afghan official

    REUTERS
    Reuters North American News Service

    Jul 04, 2008 09:28 EST

    “ASADABAD, Afghanistan, July 4 (Reuters) – Twenty-two civilians, including women and children, were killed in an air strike by U.S.-led forces on Friday in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nuristan, an official said.”

    “The attack happened on a road in Want district while the noncombatants were traveling in two vehicles, the district chief, Zia-Ul Rahman, told reporters.”

    “”The civilians were evacuating the district as they were told by the U.S.-led troops to do so because they wanted to launch an operation against the Taliban,” he said.”

    “”The civilians were in two vehicles when killed by the air raid,” he added.”

  13. Maxon 07 Jul 2008 at 11:33 am 13

    Still bussiness as usual in the USAF
    in the battle for hearts and minds.

    It really dosn’t matter who’s lieing here,
    in 4GW perception is 9/10th of reality.
    If it’s percieved that the US IS targeting
    and killing civilians, (Yes, Muslims) intentional, or by incompetence, the bad press remains
    the same, and we lose in the battle for hearts
    and minds, to pacify, & contain, and encourage
    retaliation.

    The other problem is how can this be sustained, and continue to be sold to the American public ?

    Or, have attitudes towards this changed so radicaly? That we no longer care, and care only about the price of gasoline ?

    M

    http://tinyurl.com/6fdqt9

    SNIP

    Witnesses said at least 20 civilians, travelling to the wedding in Nangarhar on Sunday, were killed. Women and children were among the dead and injured.

    The US said the air assault was targeting fighters. It comes a day after at least 15 people were killed and seven injured in an air raid in Nuristan.

    Captain Christian Patterson, the coalition media officer, said: “It was not a wedding party, there were no women or children present. We have no reports of civilian casualties.”

    SNIP

    James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Afghanistan, said the incident would cause deep concern for Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, as it was the second time in two days that residents had reported civilian deaths at the hands of the US military.

    “This latest attack claimed the lives of between 20 and 30 people. The Americans claim they were militants, but in the local hospital there are women and children.”

    SNIP

  14. Mycophagiston 16 Jul 2008 at 6:47 pm 14

    There is a lot of half completed logic in this thread.

    No one wants a nuclear war, no one expects to fight a major conventional war. Ahh, the truimph of peace… :)

    And this thread tells me that we CAN’T fght a conventional war. Meaning, that the only thing we can fight is a nuclear war. Which to one degree or another is a form of suicide.

    Our high tech delicate economy had a hard enough time with Katrinna, can anyone visualise a hundred simultanious Katrina’s or 9/11’s?

    Before reading this thread I have thought casually about the subject, and am under the impression that a Nation that Cannot fight a conventional war, doesn’t deserve to fight any war. Simply saying our industry, went away, is not an answer. If a nation chooses to “disarm” in THIS manner, it’s a statement about it’s leadership, not about war.

    The moral implications are damning. Trust that no one wants to fight, and if there is a fight, let it be fought by the button pushers – Which is to say, let the civilian population fight the war, because no one is ready to risk their butt’s in the military.

    India and Pakistan came very close to fighting a nuclear war. Israel WILL fight a nuclear war if they’re conventional forces lose.

    Getting rid of nukes seems to me a sane goal. My only problem with such a goal is the feasibility.

    Murphys law, while not recognised by the military comes into play here. If nuclear war is possible, then eventually it will occur.

    Or Murrays law, “Murphy was an optimist.”

    We’ve been lucky. If it’s possible to eliminate nukes, then let us do so.

    Dave

  15. Maxon 16 Jul 2008 at 8:50 pm 15

    ” this thread tells me that we CAN’T fght a conventional war.”

    Ya think ?

    A country that can’t fight limited wars decisively
    and to win, and win quickly, has no bussiness, in
    that “bussiness.”

    Particuarly a country with the resourches and capacity that the United States flaunts, brags, and brags, and brags some more about, incesently.

    The hobby wars the US currently fights apprently for “fun and profit” are an afront to our country, all we aspire to, and imagine we stand for, the services, our pepole, and a crime against humanity and every living thing.

    MaX

  16. Mycophagiston 17 Jul 2008 at 12:13 pm 16

    Max Wrote:

    ” this thread tells me that we CAN’T fght a conventional war.”

    Ya think ?

    “A country that can’t fight limited wars decisively
    and to win, and win quickly, has no bussiness, in
    that “bussiness.”

    No argument from me Max, but we are dealing with the concept of a major conventional war, as oppossed to a nuclear war…

    Should we at least try to get rid of Nuclear weapons?

    As for these hobby wars, since all the premises are false, they are unwinnable on the terms in which they are fought.

    Dave

  17. Dr_Vomacton 17 Jul 2008 at 12:29 pm 17

    I still don’t buy this “nuclear weapons prohibit conventional war” thing…

    It’s perfectly possible that the future will not only see LCI, proxy wars – but also nuclear power on nuclear power wars. There’s little reason to resort to nuclear weapons if the conflict doesn’t happen on either nation’s terrain or on terrain of their official allies.

    I think the assertion in question is that the mutual possession of nuclear weapons makes a major war between two powers suicidal. In other words, nukes have prevented a reprise of the world wars, but they certainly have not prevented various other, smaller, varieties of conflicts. But no such conflicts have threatened the vital interests of a nuclear power. So far, so good.
    However, anyone who believes that such statements represent immutable absolute guarantees hasn’t read much history. If history teaches us one thing, it is that we should never underestimate the human capacity for irrational behavior. All we can say is that “total” wars between nuclear powers would be suicidal, and that this fact seems, so far, to have deterred the occurrence of such wars.
    It should also be mentioned that wars involving the limited use of nuclear weapons are not out of the question. Bill Lind pointed out a scenario some months ago where the employment of a single nuclear missile might bring decisive advantages to a belligerent, without inviting massive retaliation: if the U.S. were involved in hostilities with China, the Chinese have the option of striking a devastating blow against U.S. power in the region: a single medium-yield nuclear detonation could destroy a carrier task group (or several). The repercussions on morale in the U.S. would be horrendous—not to mention the actual loss in terms of men, ships, and planes. Would the U.S. retaliate with a nuclear strike against a Chinese city? I doubt it, for that would raise the possibility of a similar strike against our cities.
    The above may be a low-probability contingency, but it is an example of how nuclear weapons could still be used to advantage in a limited conflict involving a Great Power. (If it came to war, I would expect the Chinese to do their carrier-sinking with more conventional means.)

  18. ikester8on 19 Jul 2008 at 3:02 pm 18

    There are good reasons for all of this “no-nukes” talk. Strategic value aside, they are horribly expensive to manufacture, maintain, and clean up after (if you bother to do so, which the USSR largely did not). We can be somewhat relieved that the USSR was able to gain a defensive capability through mutually assured destruction. What otherwise might have prevented Truman from using them on Moscow, and with what eventual consequences? As it was, Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the end of a long and brutal hot conflict, but the end was coming soon anyway. I cannot imagine the results of starting a war with a nuclear strike.

    The likelihood of returning to conventional war once nukes are abolished is, as always, only as likely as a nation’s belligerence allows. Free trade is a much better preventive measure than nukes ever were. And yet we must rely on ideological frameworks to prevent the rise of socialism and protectionism from taking shape in the twenty-first century as they did in the nineteenth, with all of the attendant consequences for the twentieth.

  19. Cheton 19 Jul 2008 at 4:00 pm 19

    The likelihood of returning to conventional war once nukes are abolished is, as always, only as likely as a nation’s belligerence allows. Free trade is a much better preventive measure than nukes ever were.

    Well … the problem is that that argument has been made before. Before WWI, for example. When the drums of war start to beat, nationalist fervor always seems to trump economic rationality.

    I believe it was Goebbels who pointed out that one can always manufacture an external threat to keep the internals ones in line.

  20. Maxon 19 Jul 2008 at 7:00 pm 20

    “Well … the problem is that that argument has been made before. Before WWI, for example. When the drums of war start to beat, nationalist fervor always seems to trump economic rationality.”

    “I believe it was Goebbels who pointed out that one can always manufacture an external threat to keep the internals ones in line.”

    Good wisdom there Chet.

    It is however before the Walmart era.

    Here’s an example of all the BS retoric, and luntic agendas,
    being trumped by economic reality.

    http://wiredispatch.com/news/?id=258277

    It’s an interesting equation, isn’t it ?

    MaX