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mcnamara on nuclear proliferation
May 10, 2005 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Robert McNamara is worried.
posted by threehundredandsixty (43 comments total)

 
Interesting article. I'm not sure though, that the US and Russian warheads are on quite as much of a hair trigger as they were in McNamara's day. As I recall, Russia and the US detargeted their missiles a few years ago, meaning that before launch actual people would now have to select targets and feed them to the missiles. So there isn't quite as much of a chance of a mistaken launch. Launching intentionally, but for the wrong reasons, is of course as much of a risk as ever.
posted by unreason at 1:21 PM on May 10, 2005


It is time—well past time, in my view—for the United States to cease its Cold War-style reliance on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool

Duh.

America to N. Korea and Iran: "How dare you try to make nuclear weapons."
*ignores own nuclear stockpile*
posted by C17H19NO3 at 1:21 PM on May 10, 2005


there isn't quite as much of a chance of a mistaken launch

I beg to differ. I'm sure that there's at least a nuke or two that could "accidentially" launch in the direction of Tehran or Pyongyang...
posted by C17H19NO3 at 1:26 PM on May 10, 2005


Given his history - both ethical and intellectual - who the f&%* cares what McNamara thinks!?!

He came to my university years ago as a paid speaker and flat out refused to discuss *anything* regarding Vietnam, mightily pissing off the hundreds of students and professors in the room. ("We didn't pay you to come here and discuss gardening...") His later comments in "Fog of War" were too little, too late as far as I'm concerned.

I know, I know, ad hominem attacks are never the best response to a thoughtful commentary, so thank you for letting me vent...
posted by twsf at 1:31 PM on May 10, 2005


It takes a worried man to sing a worried song
Oh, yes, it takes a worried man to sing a worried song
It takes a worried man to sing a worried song
I'm worried now but I won't be worried long
posted by kozad at 1:35 PM on May 10, 2005


thedevildancedlightly is hungry.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:48 PM on May 10, 2005


If the United States continues its current nuclear stance, over time, substantial proliferation of nuclear weapons will almost surely follow.

I accept that a pro-nuclear US posture makes it more likely to some degree that other nations will pursue nuclear weapons, but are people doing more than just exaggerating when they say that it will inevitably produce proliferation? Does hypocrisy/severely unpopular actions by the most powerful nations inevitably leads to its logical result? We've negotiated tons of Article 98 treaties, even though the rest of the world hates them.

Look, I'm not saying this is all a really good idea, or that there are no negative consequences to the US and the world of disregarding the ability of other countries to take actions that we don't like as a result of our doing things they don't like... I'm just wondering if you can really claim that our policy will "almost surely" lead to greater proliferation, especially when we've had some success in recent extra-legal, multilateral counterproliferation efforts.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:49 PM on May 10, 2005


FYI, this may be better in MeTa, but theres a huge space between the linked text and the post info Does it happen in IE? On topic, who wrote that song Kozad? I often hear it.
posted by wheelieman at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2005


By the way, i'm using firefox
posted by wheelieman at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2005


Does it happen in IE?

In IE on XP it looks fine once posted.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:05 PM on May 10, 2005


Given his history - both ethical and intellectual - who the f&%* cares what McNamara thinks!?!


I didn't even know he was still alive.

I would love to see the US scale back its nuclear arsenal. We surely don't need such an immense total. A few of them do the same as too many. The cost of ownership on all of them, not too mention the nuclear powered fleet the USN has, has got to be costing us many wampum. And for what? A weapon unused, is a useless weapon (not my saying, cannot remember where it came from, though I believe it was in a movie). And why pay for useless weapons? And with all the smart weapons available these days, you can pretty much still posture about with those.
posted by a3matrix at 2:12 PM on May 10, 2005


Doesn't McNamara understand that 9-11 changed everything?!?!
posted by wfrgms at 2:18 PM on May 10, 2005


A weapon unused, is a useless weapon

I agree with you for the rest of the post, but this comment struck me pretty hard. The whole POINT of the nuclear arsenal during the Cold War was that they would never be used. You really don't want a nuclear weapon to be used, but most people think that having a nuclear arsenal to match that of the USSR during the Cold War would prevent either side's weapons from ever being used. The theory (which was pretty much accepted as gospel) was Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and the point was that both sides had to have huge arsenals in order to prevent them from ever having to be used. Deterrrence, not use, was the point of the weapons. The USSR knew that if they attacked the US then they would face a hail of nuclear weapons, and vice-versa. Neither side ever wanted to use their weapons, but both sides had to have them to ensure global stability.

So, the point is that the threat of overwhelming force (not its actual use) can have a pretty strong mesasge.

Today MAD is pretty useless, but the broad generalization that "deterrence is useless" is pretty weak.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:18 PM on May 10, 2005


"Does hypocrisy/severely unpopular actions by the most powerful nations inevitably leads to its logical result?"

It's not necessarily inevitable, but it does have some effect on proliferation. Check out the Foreign Affairs article Against Nuclear Apartheid, by Jaswant Singh.
posted by russilwvong at 2:26 PM on May 10, 2005


Well, wheelieman, I had to Google my way to an answer to the authorship of "Worried Man," and came up with one Tom Glazer.

I thought the song was applicable to McNamara because although he never gave off much of a worried air during the Vietnam War, he is definitely worried now, and if his worries come to pass, he won't be worried long. He's old anyway.

I always loved that song, and grew up hearing it sung by people like Burl Ives and Pete Seeger and maybe even Leadbelly.
posted by kozad at 2:33 PM on May 10, 2005


theres a huge space between the linked text and the post info

This has been a known problem in (with?) Mozilla for as long as i can remember; when the 'posted by xxx at ...' line is close to filling up the whole column, it gets pushed down below the sidebar. As a work-around, you can either make your window wider or collapse the sidebar.
posted by boaz at 2:36 PM on May 10, 2005


Adapted by Tom Glazer from traditional American Folk song. Kingston Trio had most played version.
posted by mss at 2:38 PM on May 10, 2005


Mr. McNamara's War
His regret cannot be huge enough to balance the books for our dead soldiers. The ghosts of those unlived lives circle close around Mr. McNamara. Surely he must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by platoon, for no purpose. What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late.
McNamara's by now usual routine of trying to play elder statesman re: nuclear weapons comes a bit late, too little too late -- as always in his post-1968 life. pretending to complain about Bush-era, 3-year-old Nuclear Posture Review
is at least disingenous.
The most bitter irony of this all is that, of all people, it's Mcnamara who should be the least worried now. He managed to live in good health and financial security until old age, and this Mesopotamian ill-conceived adventure, if anything, has a good chance of erasing McNamara's own war from the top spot in the Pentagon's Hall of Shame. who knows, maybe Rumsfeld's war will turn out to have damaged America more than McNamara's ever did. this is no small feat, and he should at least be grateful.
posted by matteo at 2:47 PM on May 10, 2005


Re: worried man
Adapted by Tom Glazer from traditional American Folk song. Kingston Trio had most played version.

Seen the DEVO version as a music video? In the video, DEVO is transporting nuclear waste! Synchronicity!

When his parents gave him the middle name "Strange" they set him on his natural course of mutually assured distruction, eh? Here's hoping people listen to him.
posted by schyler523 at 3:33 PM on May 10, 2005


thedevildancedlightly: The whole POINT of the nuclear arsenal during the Cold War was that they would never be used. ... The theory (which was pretty much accepted as gospel) was Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) ...

MAD was not accepted doctrine at all until the mid to late 1960's, and according to wikipedia it was McNamara himself who developed the idea.
posted by Chuckles at 3:47 PM on May 10, 2005


What I should have said... The concept of MAD was not even proposed until the mid to late sixties...
posted by Chuckles at 3:49 PM on May 10, 2005


Perhaps one more person will listen because of McNamara ?
I don't know. But clearly this is the biggest issue. It's the only one that can really end the game.

*hoists glass*
Here's to comrade Col. Stanislav Petrov.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:51 PM on May 10, 2005


russilwvong-- Against Nuclear Apartheid is from the perspective of a great power with a nuclear great power on its border.

(And, FWIW, of a non-party to the NPT).

India, seeing that the nuclear weapons states weren't in any great hurry to move toward disarmament, realized it couldn't count on anyone else in the final analysis against China. Pakistan's whole schtick is that it doesn't get along with India, so that's where that one comes from.

My argument about India's unique situation doesn't help explain Iran or North Korea, tho.

Also, of course anyone will cite the nuclear powers' failure to disarm in pursuing a nuclear program-- it's an argument available to them, so why not.
posted by ibmcginty at 3:52 PM on May 10, 2005


.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:56 PM on May 10, 2005


twsf, which uni was yours? He came to mine (Cambridge, UK) a few years ago, and seemed pretty far gone (although he did discuss 'Nam). The article is probably ghost-written.
posted by runkelfinker at 4:15 PM on May 10, 2005


matteo: interesting article. I can't help not thinking that McNamara untimely ( much late) condemnation of Bush admin decision to say the world ' we can have nukes, you can't except maybe our allies but not many ' could be the start of background and consesus preparation of a marketing strategy : selling U.S. public the grave next danger of nuclear proliferation, with an additional sense of urgency.

By restoring the stance of non-proliferation some could "sell" the notion the U.S. govt is doing its part in reducing the threat (while stuffing bunkers with ready-2-go nukes or whatnot) thus giving a sense of moral superiority..which is much needed when one needs to attack another country to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation.

What seems incredible is that a person with the experience of McNamara, well versed in the cutthroat business of governing, really expects somebody to believe other nations will stop getting their nukes because the U.S. will set the example ; if governments were to blindly follow U.S. example China should be invading taiwan as we speak.

What worrying is that he may be right about people getting bait, line sink and hooker.
posted by elpapacito at 4:18 PM on May 10, 2005


Hey, did anyone get to page 4?
Experts have little doubt that terrorists could construct such a primitive device if they acquired the requisite enriched uranium material. Indeed, just last summer, at a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry said, "I have never been more fearful of a nuclear detonation than now.… There is a greater than 50 percent probability of a nuclear strike on U.S. targets within a decade."
!!!

Comments like that (especially by former secretaries of defense!) make me want to move back to rural Michigan. Yikes.
posted by rkent at 4:24 PM on May 10, 2005


I'm not sure though, that the US and Russian warheads are on quite as much of a hair trigger as they were in McNamara's day.

In line with this, wasn't it recently discovered that the nukes had been set to an authorization code of "00000" and that everyone in the line knew this so as to facilitate launch? Not hard to be more prudent these days if that's the standard.

Anyway, far from just being a "mainstay" of U.S. military might, it's the discussions of pre-emptive use that get me riled. I wonder, again, if there are former Soviets shaking their heads at being right.

As for the "never to be used" meme, are they not currently working on "strategic" nuclear bunker-busters? These are for use, folks.
posted by dreamsign at 4:28 PM on May 10, 2005


"... [W]asn't it recently discovered that the nukes had been set to an authorization code of "00000" and that everyone in the line knew this so as to facilitate launch?"

Really? Where did that piece of information come from? That seems too silly to be real but then ...
posted by bz at 4:49 PM on May 10, 2005


The concept of MAD was not even proposed until the mid to late sixties...

Maybe not by that name (I don't know), but in the book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (a fantastic read by the way), the scientists that developed it are pushing for other nations to have the technology as a hedge against use within just a few years of dropping the first one. Smart guys those scientists.
posted by willnot at 4:52 PM on May 10, 2005


dreamsign: my guess is the "bunker buster" nuke and others like the fuel-air bomb and alike abominations are technically possible, but more valuable as psycological weapon then as "everyday" weapon. For instance if you nuke Osama you'll never find the remains of the guy..so no proof of annihilation..that of course assuming that one government needs to give proof to citizens (which implies accountability)
posted by elpapacito at 4:54 PM on May 10, 2005


runkelfinker: McNamara's stonewalling was at Yale in the early 1980s. He has since been more willing to discuss Vietnam and his role, but at the time he was pugnacious in his refusals.
posted by twsf at 5:15 PM on May 10, 2005


In line with this, wasn't it recently discovered that the nukes had been set to an authorization code of "00000" and that everyone in the line knew this so as to facilitate launch?

i remember reading that on MeFi...of course, I can't find it. Searching sucks, at I do.
posted by graventy at 5:27 PM on May 10, 2005


> this Mesopotamian ill-conceived adventure, if anything, has a good chance
> of erasing McNamara's own war from the top spot in the Pentagon's Hall of Shame.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: 7 August 1964
Last American troops out of Viet Nam: 29 March 1973

Iraq has some years to go yet even to become a ranked challenger, let alone number one. In that long golden afternoon even matteo will have more than enough time time to grow up and turn into a good bourgeois fascist. (Actually I expect that to happen in, oh, six months.)
posted by jfuller at 6:23 PM on May 10, 2005


The curious thing is the question of why does America follow a policy that is actually going to endanger itself.

If America were to take honest steps to reduce it's own arsenal, while still retaining a huge advantage in numbers and technology over everyone else, and to coerce Israel, India and Pakistan to the table then the world would listen.

However, the current system, based on US hypocrisy and protection of allies has no hope.

The US policy has also not changed. In Australia people were furious 10 years ago under Clinton when effectively the same policies were followed during the renegotiation of that treaty.
posted by sien at 6:23 PM on May 10, 2005


Here's the MeFi post about the "00000000".
posted by ltl at 6:24 PM on May 10, 2005


More on permissive action links by SMB. Link.
posted by jba at 9:25 PM on May 10, 2005


Ah, 00000000. Guess we had nothing to worry about. Here I would have been three digits short.

Seriously, if I wrote that into a novel, it would never achieve suspension of disbelief.
posted by dreamsign at 10:21 PM on May 10, 2005


If there were any justice, he'd be worried about a War Crimes trial.
posted by orthogonality at 10:24 PM on May 10, 2005


If there were any justice, he'd be worried about a War Crimes trial.

That's the way it goes when you're a bully on the biggest team of bullies in the world.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:30 PM on May 10, 2005


rkent: "Hey, did anyone get to page 4?"

I barely made it to the fourth paragraph. McNamara being worried about foreign policy is as irrelevant as me being worried about the Huffington Post. It's the beginning of the end of the Blog by the way. Just so's ya know. Arianna Huffington is "immoral, illegal, and dreadfully dangerous."
posted by ZachsMind at 11:14 PM on May 10, 2005


Blame to go around on nonproliferation [NYT link, reg reqd].
posted by ibmcginty at 5:05 AM on May 11, 2005


In line with this, wasn't it recently discovered that the nukes had been set to an authorization code of "00000" and that everyone in the line knew this so as to facilitate launch?

"That's the kind of combination an idiot would have on his luggage!"

/spaceballs
posted by nyterrant at 6:05 AM on May 11, 2005


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