An almost nuke-free world

May 31, 2009 · Posted in Blogroll, Uncategorized 

no_nukesPavel Podvig asks a fairly provocative question: What if all the nuclear states gave up their warhead inventories and N.Korea was the only nuclear-armed state left?

To begin with, existing nuclear weapon states’ arsenals (and the U.S. arsenal in particular) have already failed in what many believe is one of their primary missions–dissuading countries such as North Korea from building a nuclear weapon. The key premise of the “dissuasion” theory is that if the United States maintains its large nuclear arsenal and extensive nuclear infrastructure, no country will try matching it. Yet, it never worked that way, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it didn’t work that way with North Korea.

The question is, of course, a rhetorical experiment but one that does challenge many of the conventional wisdoms about the value of nuclear deterrence. Definitely worth a read.


8 Responses to “An almost nuke-free world”

  1. Bundy on May 31st, 2009 7:55 am

    Nice article however don’t believe the US maintains its arsenal to dissuade the have nots but to deter the haves. The numbers are a product of a half century nuclear arms race with Russia and for the most part have risen or fallen on the basis.

    I think the truth is there is no way to stop any power from becoming a nuclear power if it chooses to do so. Best bet is to influence them to be responsible once the genie is sprung.

  2. wintermute on May 31st, 2009 3:27 pm

    I must be missing something, but that article possibly is the dumbest thing I’ve read this year.
    The entire argument seems like a big straw man, what happens when NK is the only country with Nuclear-ICBMs, 10-15 of those babies and then they get South Korea or Washington, Moscow and Beijing is glowing dust?

    The only reason one would wish to match the US arsenal is for a MAD scenario, but I have a hard time seeing the US accepting its 10-15 largest cities as acceptable collateral in any other scenario than if they were under nuclear attack.

  3. Tukey on May 31st, 2009 3:42 pm

    South Africa, Brazil, FRG and Japan have been kept under the threshold by economic or political influence, with Germany and Japan also kept in check by the atrocities of yore. And yes, it was not the nukes that did that. Agree with P.L.P.

    Will be a pity if Japan goes nuclear.

  4. Dimitris on May 31st, 2009 4:33 pm

    Wintermute Have a look at this thread

    Do a text search for “Slade to the rescue” on that page. The last two paragraphs address precisely your concern. I tend to agree with Slade on this; dictators want to hold on to their kingdom as much as the next guy, and using up their nuclear trump card is not helpful.

  5. Tukey on June 1st, 2009 10:08 am

    Sean O’Connor asks the simple question here ( are the North Koreans really keen on using ballistic missiles as prime delivery means, and not some clandestine backpack? Supplemented by excellent imagery, as usual.

  6. wintermute on June 1st, 2009 4:22 pm

    Thanks for the link Dimitris, lots of good stuff in that post.
    I’m a bit short on time here, but I’ll try to formulate something coherent.

    In Slades “scenario” the super (and former) powers still has their nukes and they have a nuclear umbrella that they enforce.

    In the Article scenario and if I use the terminology from Slade, and extremely simplified, see it as a exercise in game theory.

    If NK was the only country with nukes, they can’t be defeated. (As in Slade)
    And if no other country has nukes they can’t be destroyed.
    In this simple scenario the winning strategy (esp if your people are starving, so you get penalized for doing nothing.) is to attack those weaker and force the stronger to stay out with the threat of nuclear retaliation. Obviously the would need a delivery system that could reach the US mainland and so on, which is probably beyond them. Possibly they could force the US to
    stay away by threatening to nuke every country that has US forces in it?

    In the real world there are infinite reasons why it might not work, but is has gone from a bat shit crazy strategy to something that someone who is mildly crazy might try.

  7. Dimitris on June 2nd, 2009 1:52 am

    What you suggest might work if the only US attack options were nuclear. It cannot work, because numerous countries (including the US) have a wide range of both pre-emptive and retaliatory non-nuclear options.

    With or without US nukes, if you nuke US assets your life expectation sharply drops.

    No matter how crazy a dictator (and one must be sane enough to become a dictator and hold on to power), this fundamental reality is sufficient to deter aggression.

  8. wintermute on June 3rd, 2009 6:05 pm

    Maybe, but that seem to assume that status quo will be maintained. What is the probability that a preemptive non-nuclear strike 10-15 years (assuming NK could get its shit together) from now will completely disable NK ability to launch? And without giving them enough warning to launch before everything is disabled.

    I’m no expert in military hardware, far from it, but that seems like it could be a tall order if you give them enough time to prepare.

    Now NK is such a backward country in many ways so they would possibly remain contained. But how industrialized / technological would a dictatorship have to become before it became a problem that they were the sole nuclear power?

    I’m not so sure about that “fundamental reality”, especially not when the dictator more or less inherits his post, there have been some more or less insane dictators throughout history and to believe that none of them would have launched nukes if they ability was theirs seems doubtful to me.

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