Dr. Strangelove is alive and well
December 19, 2003 11:38 AM   Subscribe

The Bush Administration has advocated, and Congress recently approved, the repeal of a 1994 ban on U.S. research and development on new, low-yield nuclear weapons, setting the stage for pursuit of a new generation of such weapons. "The Administration had sought to remove this restriction because of the chilling effect it has had on nuclear weapons research and development," wrote Linton F. Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in a December 5 memo(PDF). A detailed Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on "Nuclear Weapon Initiatives: Low-Yield R&D, Advanced Concepts, Earth Penetrators, Test Readiness" was updated last week. (PDF)
posted by dejah420 (32 comments total)
 
Looks like we might be needing this after all.

Just remember, when in a nuclear attack, be sure to have plenty of bottled water, and avoid radioactive materials.

Why aren't the rich as scared of him as the rest of us are? Do they think being rich will shield them from the nuclear war?
posted by benjh at 11:46 AM on December 19, 2003


Previously discussed here, complete with Dr. Strangelove reference.
posted by Espoo2 at 11:54 AM on December 19, 2003


Previously discussed here, complete with Dr. Strangelove reference.

The defense bill was discussed, but the memo and congression records happened weeks after that FPP. The Strangelove reference, I'll grant you, is an easy one when discussing blowing up the planet. :)
posted by dejah420 at 12:00 PM on December 19, 2003


Before everyone gets their panties all in a bunch, here is the case for looking into earth penetrating small nukes:

Say, Kim is holed up in his bunker deep beneath Pyongyang and, in the midst of an international crisis, flings a chemical warhead at, say Tokyo (or Seattle) and kills 35,000 people in a single day. How does Washington respond? By using a conventional nuclear weapon and incinerating 2 million people, the vast majority of which had no role in the decision? If the answer is or might be "no," Kim now has an advantage, or at least perceives that he controls the chain of escalation. Not good.

Now, say the US had a small nuke that could penetrate the bunker and kill him and his leadership coterie and only kill an additional 1000 innocents. If this option existed, Kim is certainly in a worse position than in the previous example, and might be deterred not only from gassing Tokyo (or Seattle), but also from putting himself in a position where gassing Tokyo (or Seattle) becomes a reasonable move. Avoid this whole chain of escalations bud, you can't win it.

Sure, it is bizarre Strangelovian game theory, but what part of nuclear weapons isn't?
posted by ednopantz at 12:00 PM on December 19, 2003


What about a Planet of the Apes reference instead? Damn them! Damn them all to hell!
posted by psmealey at 12:03 PM on December 19, 2003


Poor Kim! I knew his parents. The issue is not whether or not it is strategically wise to develop but rather why we as a nation should tell North Korea, Saudi Arabia, et al that they can not develop nuclear weapons because of a treaty that we now want to modify for our own purposes. If we can do it, why can't they? (to protect against our Kims)
posted by Postroad at 12:05 PM on December 19, 2003


ednopantz, your scenario assumes that we know where Kim is holed up. Recent events make that a highly suspect assumption, wouldn't you agree?
posted by Wulfgar! at 12:09 PM on December 19, 2003


I'm not an expert in game theory, but it would seem to me that ednopantz's situation would just require Kim to think it was likely that we knew where he was holed up.
posted by COBRA! at 12:15 PM on December 19, 2003


Postroad,
cuz life ain't fair? If it is a choice between being fair and being safe, I choose safe. (Trusting rational choice and game theory to keep you safe isn't a great bet, but it looks like the best one on the board.)

The "know where he is" issue is important, but we do know where lots of the instruments of power are: naval installations, missiles, airfields, etc. Hiding in a hole, as we have found, requires one to lose control over most instruments of power.

Nobody says this is a desirable option, just the least bad one available. After all, what better means is there of dealing with megalomaniacal revisionist fascist dictators with and appetite for NBC weapons? If given a choice of having this in my holster or not, I choose to have it. It gives us more options and the bad guys fewer. Deterrence: because you the tools you never need to use them.
posted by ednopantz at 12:16 PM on December 19, 2003


Hiding in a hole, as we have found, requires one to lose control over most instruments of power.

Could you tell that to like every reporter and pundit in America, please?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:21 PM on December 19, 2003


How does the creation of more nuclear weapons make me safe? As far as I can tell, it does exactly the opposite.

Suddenly the lines between conventional warfare and nuclear warfare are blurred, and our "tactical" nuke generates a full-size nuclear response...

We have weapons of deterrance, and we have conventional weapons that are in the niche that Dubya allegedly wants to explore... Why must we become power hungry hypocrites in the eyes of the world? How will that make the world safer?
posted by mosch at 12:25 PM on December 19, 2003


But they're so cute and small!
posted by homunculus at 12:31 PM on December 19, 2003


"The Administration had sought to remove this restriction because of the chilling effect it has had on nuclear weapons research and development,"

which, of course, was exactly the point of enacting the restriction in the first place.
posted by jpoulos at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2003


Certainly I can see the application endopantz mentioned for using small nukes.

My concern is that the US developing this technology will only raise the stakes with the other nuclear powers on the planet -- and many of the non-nuclear powers. To catch up they will need to develop similar programs or have their scientists. And since this we've recently seen security breaches at Los Alamos someone with deep pockets can buy the technology.

Just as the small nukes can "smoke out" bad guys. Bad guys can use them against bunkers where the good guys are hiding.
posted by birdherder at 12:45 PM on December 19, 2003


What about a Planet of the Apes reference instead?

That fits.
posted by homunculus at 12:45 PM on December 19, 2003


So, the answer to the democratization/proliferation of weapons and tools with mass impact should be met by building more of the same? And threatening to use them in more and more scenarios?

I sometimes really wish the rapture would come and those who talk with god would just leave already.
posted by infowar at 1:24 PM on December 19, 2003


Call it Cold War, Part Deux.

Many forget that mutually assured destruction during that part of the 20th Century allowed the western nations to, in the end, win.
posted by linux at 1:41 PM on December 19, 2003


we have conventional weapons that are in the niche that Dubya allegedly wants to explore...

Name one: FA explosives are huge and not adapted to ground penetration. Ground penetrators top out at a couple thousand pounds. Chemistry won't get you there without huge size.

Oh, and I love the term "democratization" to describe the acquisition of NBC weapons by mid level tyrants.
posted by ednopantz at 1:45 PM on December 19, 2003


It's kind of ironic that mini-nukes are being justified as being useful in a War on Terror (TM), when a large part of that war is concerned with the danger posed by the proliferated descendants of the previous War on Terror (TM) (i.e. the War on the Evil Empire (TM)).

Great. I just can't wait for mini-nukes to proliferate too, and then in twenty years time to see what the military comes up as a justification for the dangers posed by widespread mini-nukes.
posted by carter at 2:15 PM on December 19, 2003


Many forget that mutually assured destruction during that part of the 20th Century allowed the western nations to, in the end, win.

Does MAD work against a foe with no fear of destruction?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:30 PM on December 19, 2003


Actually, I mean democratization in the sense that a wider variety of people have access to tools that can cause a greate level of disruption to an environment. Similar to how my boss's computer would have been a supercomputer just a few years ago despite only running Notes, IE and Excel.

But you were probably just being sarcastic, right?
posted by infowar at 2:39 PM on December 19, 2003


Does MAD work against a foe with no fear of destruction?

Better question, does it work against a decentralized foe that wants to get the technology you develope and mess you up a piece at a time. Todays new mini-weapon, tomorrow's new terrorist WMD.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2003


The world will be a safer place when only the US has WMD.
posted by Blue Stone at 2:50 PM on December 19, 2003


Think about this for a second. The President appears to have established as fact, for the majority of the American people, that even the threat of future violence is just reason and cause for a pre-emptive strike to thwart that ambition. Have I fairly stated that? If that is indeed the case, then keep in mind that's what's good for us is good for them (you know, them, the enemy, the bad guys, the ones that ain't "us").
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:51 PM on December 19, 2003


Spot on observation, Blue Stone, but I keep being reminded of the phrase: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Now precisely where is that world safety to be found again?
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:53 PM on December 19, 2003


Conventional anti bunker weapons like the GBU-28s mass in at 5000lbs (4400 of which is explosive) and are capable of penatrating 100ft of earth and 20 ft of concrete. They can be launched by lowly F-15s.

A B2 can deliver 40,000 lbs over 10,000 miles away. An optimized penetrating bomb is probably volume limited but the US has hardly reached the limits of what can be done without resorting to tactical nukes.

'Course conventional earth penetrating weapons don't do much in the "Shock and Awe" category. Whereas tacical nukes let one say "I'm just as crazy as you".
posted by Mitheral at 2:56 PM on December 19, 2003


Keep in mind that the U.S. and other nuclear powers have a range of low-yield nuclear weapons, or at least had them during the cold war. They served different purposes than bunker-busters (there were nuclear depth charges or surface-to-air missiles), but they were still tactical nukes. They addressed the threat of the day. If the threat of today is terrorists or dictators who hide in extremely hardened bunkers, then why not develop a weapon to deal with them?

The reason that it's okay for some countries to do this kind of research and not others is that not all countries are the same. Some are controlled by unpredictable, unstable or undemocratic regimes that would pose a threat to peace if they possessed these weapons, whereas others wouldn't. So it's okay for Israel or, say, Japan to develop the bomb, not okay for Iran or North Korea to do it. We have no reason to worry that the U.S. is going to use nuclear weapons to target Tehran; we have every reason to worry that Tehran might use nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map.
posted by Dasein at 4:41 PM on December 19, 2003


The world will be a safer place when only the US has WMD.

Right. And that's going to happen how precisely?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:26 PM on December 19, 2003


cuz life ain't fair? If it is a choice between being fair and being safe, I choose safe.

And such only works when 'you' are making the rules. Safe for you most likely means you will step on someone else for that 'safety' you now enjoy.

When 'you' are no longer in position to make the next set of rules, human nature is to have the new party who wants to be safe to not step on you, but to STOMP on you.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:12 PM on December 19, 2003


ednopantz: the EGBU-28.

I find myself wondering if the people taking the 'pro' viewpoint in the debate about nuclear weapons are trolling, or if they really think that what the world needs is a greater quantity of smaller nuclear weapons.
posted by mosch at 9:35 PM on December 19, 2003


This paper, published in the Federation of American Scientists Public Interest Report, points out exactly why low-yield nuclear "bunker-busters" that wouldn't kill thousands of innocent bystanders if dropped on a city are physically impossible. Either the missile melts on its way into the earth, or the explosion blows out a huge crater and spews radioactive dust over the surrounding area, which means that perhaps tens of thousands of Pyongyang residents in ednopantz's scenario would die a slow and horrible death from radiation poisoning.

This seems like another missile-defense-shield plan - practically impossible, and tending to further isolate the United States in the world community, but it keeps our military-industrial complex people happily employed. Too bad hijackers and suicide bombers -- the only actual, demonstrated threat to the United States in the last 20 years -- can't be stopped with nukes.
posted by skoosh at 10:49 AM on December 20, 2003


Right. And that's going to happen how precisely?

Blue Stone, I wish you would come back and answer this.
posted by mcsweetie at 6:43 AM on December 21, 2003


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