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May 13, 2009

Comments

The attempt to remove the program could also just be sheer practicality, a desire to avoid white elephants. All the people whom I've seen pushing for this program (other than just as a jobs program, of course) seemed to be enthusiastic about making more and better nukes and maybe even using them (think Bunker Buster discussions, circa late 2002/early 2003). I haven't seen a lot of people who seemed to be sincerely advocating the program because they thought we couldn't figure out how to make and maintain nuclear warheads without it.

I remember when they were just speculating on Obama keeping Gates, there was a worry about Gates support for expanding the nuclear program. Some of my friends didn't want him replaced with an Obama appointee because of this; they made similar arguments against Rahm Emanuel for his centrist position on health care (seriously).

I said then, and I say it again: they answer to the President.

America's nuclear deterrent capability is critical to not only our national security but the stability of the international system. In a world totally without nukes, what is to prevent another World War II-sized conflict between major powers?

Not only that, a lot of countries, including Japan and Germany, currently live under our nuclear shield. If America disarmed, they would have every incentive to develop their own nuclear capabilities.

If we're not going to conduct actual nuclear tests, then we do need a way to reliably maintain and replace our arsenal as it ages.

Obama has been a refreshingly realist President after the delusional neocon warmongering of his predecessor. I am disappointed to see him give in to the old 1970s style woolly-headed pie-in-the-sky liberalism on this issue.

ThirdGorchBro,

If he's going to cave to the base on something, I'd rather it be this (since the size and condition of our stockpile gives us some lead time) than a full retreat from Afghanistan.

"America's nuclear deterrent capability is critical to not only our national security but the stability of the international system."

I sure hate's me some woolly-headed pie-in-the-sky liberals like Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger, George P. Schultz, and William J. Perry. And those wusses like General John Abizaid. What do they know? Why do you know more than them, TGB?

I'd seriously ask why you're stuck in woolly-headed 1980s paradigms, and not noticing that in a world where nuclear proliferation is otherwise unrestrainable if we don't work to make nuclear weapons completely taboo, you think we're safer by making the world safe for nuclear proliferation?

Also:

[...] Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in January 2007 that, as someone who signed the first treaties on real reductions in nuclear weapons, he thought it his duty to support our call for urgent action: "It is becoming clearer that nuclear weapons are no longer a means of achieving security; in fact, with every passing year they make our security more precarious."

In June, the United Kingdom's foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, signaled her government's support, stating: "What we need is both a vision -- a scenario for a world free of nuclear weapons -- and action -- progressive steps to reduce warhead numbers and to limit the role of nuclear weapons in security policy. These two strands are separate but they are mutually reinforcing. Both are necessary, but at the moment too weak."

We have also been encouraged by additional indications of general support for this project from other former U.S. officials with extensive experience as secretaries of state and defense and national security advisors. These include: Madeleine Albright, Richard V. Allen, James A. Baker III, Samuel R. Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, Warren Christopher, William Cohen, Lawrence Eagleburger, Melvin Laird, Anthony Lake, Robert McFarlane, Robert McNamara and Colin Powell.

And beyond the argument from authority, which is only sufficient to dash cold water on the notion that hard-headed realists "know better" than "liberals" how "unrealistic" it is to move towards the elmination of nuclear weapons (a step Ronald Reagan almost achieved, by the way), one might read the actual arguments, which are too lengthy to quote in full here.

It's not all beer and skittles. I'm a space enthusiast from way back(science, not scifi space exploration/colonization), and it seems that there will have to be a major cutback on missions to the outer planets sometime in the near future. It's the plutonium, you see, which has been culled from the weapons program and which is the only suitable source of energy for these sorts of missions far from the Sun. Very soon now, there won't be enough of the stuff left to fuel so much as a Vanguard.

We don't have to get plutonium for space exploration as a by-product of a weapons program. All that's needed is a breeder reactor.

Gary, all your links show is that retired statesmen like to talk about how great a world without nukes would be. I maintain, and I am certain that they recognized, that during the Cold War nuclear weapons were a paradoxically stabilizing influence on the actions of the USA and USSR. Without them, we probably would have wound up smashing each other to pieces on the North German Plain during one of the many Berlin Crises.

Of course we should be doing everything in our power to prevent nuclear proliferation, and I am no happier than anyone about nukes in the hands of unstable countries like Pakistan and North Korea. But come on, do you seriously believe that if we disarmed that China and Russia and India and Israel wouldn't keep a few nukes stashed away somewhere? For that matter, don't you think we would as well?

Absent some sort of unified planetary government, I don't see how a world without nuclear weapons is possible, or desirable. Again, nukes deter open great power conflict, and have for over sixty years now.

By law, only the Department of Energy can make the plutonium. Last year then-NASA administrator Michael Griffin wrote to then-Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman saying the agency needed more plutonium.

The National Academy report says it would cost the Energy Department at least $150 million to resume making it for the 11 pounds a year that NASA needs for its space probes.

Actually, all nuclear reactors are to some extent 'breeder reactors'. They can't help but be, the laws of physics being what they are. Breeder reactors in the common parlance are just reactors that have been optimized to produce more fuel. Iow, you don't need to build anything new, you just have to get permission. And at a cost of $150 million . . .

Physics hasn't changed from the time these warheads were built. Developing new weapon designs is unnecessary, whatever the excuse. Current designs aren't suddenly going to stop working. There is a maintenance issue, but the post hoc reasoning that this program is to to develop of a new "more maintainable" weapon doesn't hold water. We know how to maintain what we have.

The idea that canning this program is "disarming" is absurd.

"Actually, all nuclear reactors are to some extent 'breeder reactors'. They can't help but be, the laws of physics being what they are."

This is an excessive generalization to the point of being untrue. A pebble bed reactor, for instance, effectively isn't. Neither is a molten salt reactor. Neither does the Toshiba 4S.

"Gary, all your links show is that retired statesmen like to talk about how great a world without nukes would be."

Well, this is just silly, if you're going to ignore substance.

"Very soon now, there won't be enough of the stuff left to fuel so much as a Vanguard."

I'm still holding out for an Orion.

:-)

I maintain, and I am certain that they recognized, that during the Cold War nuclear weapons were a paradoxically stabilizing influence on the actions of the USA and USSR. Without them, we probably would have wound up smashing each other to pieces on the North German Plain during one of the many Berlin Crises.

The cold war is over and things that were once helpful are not guaranteed to be forever helpful.

Of course we should be doing everything in our power to prevent nuclear proliferation

If the US and other nuclear states don't move seriously to disarmament, there is no reason for other countries to avoid getting their own weapons. The NPT was a deal and we've failed to keep up our end of the bargain: we've failed to move to eliminate our stockpile. Do you think everyone on Earth is too stupid to realize that? Why should anyone participate in the NPT if we, as founding members don't even make a pretense of fulfilling our obligations?

But come on, do you seriously believe that if we disarmed that China and Russia and India and Israel wouldn't keep a few nukes stashed away somewhere? For that matter, don't you think we would as well?

Maybe, maybe not. But if China and Russia only had a few nukes, I wouldn't be too worried. Detonating a handful of nukes is something we as a civilization and as a species can survive. Detonating thousands of nukes is not.

Absent some sort of unified planetary government, I don't see how a world without nuclear weapons is possible, or desirable

Do you feel the same way about the Biological Weapons Convention?


There is a maintenance issue, but the post hoc reasoning that this program is to to develop of a new "more maintainable" weapon doesn't hold water. We know how to maintain what we have.

No, we don't. Machines have a design lifespan and when our current stockpile of warheads were designed, no one anticipated that they would still be in service fifty years later. Over time, materials age: seals become brittle and crack, wiring insulation decays, and metals fatigue to the point that simple stresses (like launching the weapon) can cause them to fracture. Our weapons are aging and in order to be assured that they will detonate on command (and will not detonate except on command), they have to be regularly taken apart and have their innards expected. But these weapons were never designed for that; they were designed to be built quickly and used in a few years. For security, they were designed so that they could not easily be taken apart or put back together. So it is very hard to take them apart and test them in order be confidant they will function.

Is the RRW program just a scam to build more and better nukes? Maybe. It is possible that passive inspection is good enough to assure the safety and the reliability of the current stockpile; I don't know. But the notion that we know how to maintain these weapons indefinitely, or that such a thing is even possible is wrong.

Physics hasn't changed from the time these warheads were built. Developing new weapon designs is unnecessary, whatever the excuse. Current designs aren't suddenly going to stop working.

Yes, current warheads will stop working and when that happens, we might not even know it. If we to keep nuclear weapons indefinitely and if the current designs make long term inspection and verification too difficult, we may need a new design.

Also, "not funding the RRW program" is not necessarily the same as "total nuclear disarmament".

I get the feeling the former is more of a cover for continued weapons development funding rather than just to maintain the existing stockpile of warheads. Which is why I think it's unsupportable.

I would like (large) coordinated reductions in warheads and ending the US program to replace warheads is a good start there.

But... I think in the absence of another plausible mechanism for keeping the major industrial powers from going to war, total disarmament is not a realistic or even desirable goal.

The main reason is that any conventional war between industrial powers would rapidly go nuclear anyway. It's easy to produce nuclear weapons, and the losing side would have a strong incentive to make & use them. If you look at the escalating vengeance bombing in WWII between Britain & Germany, once both sides had bombed civilians in cities they both made extreme efforts to retaliate for the rest of the war (thousand-bomber raids, the V1 & V2).

And I do think disarmament would make conventional war much more likely, and the end result would be a nuclear war anyway.

I know that sane and thoughtful people can come to different conclusions from looking at the same evidence, and I respect that. But I just can't say that I think total disarmament is a good idea.

If there was a plausible mechanism for global security in the absence of nuclear weapons, that would be another thing, but right now I can't imagine what that would look like. China, the USSR, and the US are not about to enter into a political union, for instance.

I missed the following paragraph from the Global Security Newswire article:

"However, the new budget would include $143 million for advanced certification activities to ensure the viability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without explosive testing."

Which is what really matters, anyway. It may be that Obama is discontinuing the RRW program for reasons of diplomacy, i.e., to avoid a new arms race and/or in exchange for considerations from Russia. If so, then I retract my accusation that he may be harboring DFH tendencies.

On the larger issue of nuclear weapons in general, I stand by my contention that the balance of power is well-served by the fact that China, Russia, and the US all possess nukes. Unless you think humanity suddenly became vastly more moral after 1945, I can think of no better explanation for the lack of major international wars since then.

" I don't see how a world without nuclear weapons is possible, or desirable."

You know what I find interesting? Most of the people who say this live in countries holding lots of nukes. The rest of us feel a little differently on the topic, and frankly if that really is your attitude, I would feel inclined to vote to build our own nukes to deter you lot.

This is a significant and excellent action in the right direction, something to put in the collection of positive election consequences.

Andrew R.: If he's going to cave to the base on something, I'd rather it be this ... than a full retreat from Afghanistan.

As if that were any more likely than snowballs in hell.

Obama's doubling down there, expanding our covert and overt involvement in Pakistan, and putting in command a man who ran the torture and assassination squads in Iraq as head of Joint Special Operations Command.

To build on what others have said, I don't have a problem with the notion of most countries keeping a couple nukes around. I don't like it, but for reasons that have been adequately articulated already total disarmament is neither possible nor desirable with current-day technology. Better, in my view, to permit having a few around to deter anyone from getting frisky and make war too dangerous to want to wage, but have an inspection regime stringent enough to ensure that no one develops the massive world-ending inventories we have now.

"Better, in my view, to permit having a few around to deter anyone from getting frisky and make war too dangerous to want to wage"

Because our massive military structure isn't sufficient? Having nukes that we are highly unlikely to use is apparently a deterrent, but having a navy large enough to take on all other navies(etc) isn't?

"On the larger issue of nuclear weapons in general, I stand by my contention that the balance of power is well-served by the fact that China, Russia, and the US all possess nukes. Unless you think humanity suddenly became vastly more moral after 1945, I can think of no better explanation for the lack of major international wars since then."

There are certainly plenty of historians who say the same thing (John Lewis Gaddis for example). But how, in the absence of nukes, do you explain the long period of comparative peace in Europe during the 19th Cen., specifically from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the wars of German unification? Does the present era really seem to you as if MAD and the balance of terror are the only things keeping the USA, Russia and China from tearing at each other's throats? That seems very unlikely to me - instead it appears that none of these major powers view the other two as an existential threat, and conventional war (destructive as it is) is no longer an attractive option for resolving great power conflicts which can be managed by other means, in a fashion broadly comparable to the Concert of Vienna.

I think it is more likely that MAD contributes to geopolitical stability during a time of intense ideological competition (e.g. during the Cold War), and is a minor factor at best during periods of semi-consensus on the ideology. So the key question regarding nukes today is, how long do we expect the current state of affairs to continue, and how suddenly might it change? It seems to me that at some point our post Treaty of Paris world will become unstable and we will have another episode of what Philip Bobbitt calls “epochal wars” where the very basis for constituting the legitimacy of the state is at issue, such wars being notably larger and more vicious, ruthless and intractable because they represent an existential crisis for the states involved.

At that point nukes will have a larger role to play in enforcing stability between the major powers. But I don’t think they help much now, and we need to take care that we don’t mishandle them in a way which contributes to instability and break down in the very system we are currently trying to stabilize. It seems to me that relationships between the largest powers are less important than relationships between major and minor powers in that regard. Virtually all of the global hotspots today involve minor power conflicts, or cases where relations between a major and minor power are involved. If we can strengthen the NPT by reducing great power arsenals, that should help to stabilize our current system.

Obama has made another little noted (yet) move on nukes -- his State Department seems bent on bring the Israelis out of the closet about theirs. Link to article by Helena Cobban. Since Israeli nuke dominance is a back story to the whole Mid East mess, this is ambitious, to say the least.

The guy remains interesting ...

I've always thought that we should make ratification of the NPT a requirement for all countries that receive US aide.

But I think we all know why that isn't likely to happen.

Personally I'd think a pragmatic approach could be that the major powers keep a very limited number of nukes (stationed at sea preferably), just enough to punish any single rogue nuker but not enough to wipe out mankind. That way they would be as secure from a first strike as possible (and stealing a missile from a submarine should be also quite tricky.
The bioweapon convention is imo a toothless tiger. The major powers (I believe) all have the capacity to go into large-scale production in a short period of time (much faster than a nuclear arsenal could be rebuilt) but noone really knows how a real attempt at biowarfare (not just some anthrax letters) would develop (while we pretty well know what nuclear war would look like).

eya@12:19, after quoting me:
"Most of the people who say this live in countries holding lots of nukes."

I live in the US, yes. But I grew up in the UK in the 80s. My mother protested the basing of nuclear-armed cruise missiles at Greenham Common (rightfully, I still feel - brinkmanship was not a good policy). My grandmother lived through the Blitz. I'm not trying to make an argument from credentials here, but I am saying that my background is not one of complacency about war.

That's also why I strongly support programs of nuclear arms reduction, although not below the level of a credible second-strike deterrent capability.

The need to retain a deterrent is not a position I feel happy and comfortable about, or one from which I think I have some unimpeachable moral superiority, or one in which I dismiss or impugn anyone who hasn't come to that same conclusion.

It's just where I've unhappily come to myself, given the available information about what happened during the 20th century, both before and after 1945. The early 20th century was the story of how powerful leaders love to use the rest of us as pawns in their games of war, and how this can befall even countries that were at one point democracies. It also showed how small conflicts would almost inevitably build to larger ones in a globalized world. It showed the enormous loss of life that would be involved in any future conventional wars between industrial powers. Post-1945 history showed that ideological divisions between states would continue to exist even under the existential threat of destruction. And Vietnam & Iraq (just for starters) showed that in the absence of deterrence, there is nobody that can be trusted not to throw their weight around.

And all of that doesn't make nuclear weapons sane, or good, or mean that they reflect our sophistication as a species. But since they can be built, it is a certainty that in any future conventional war they would be built, and used, something disarmament is powerless to prevent. (Interwar Germany is a good example of the limited effectiveness of disarmament.) We need to figure out another way to prevent war. We obviously are not there yet.

I say all of this because I think this is an issue where those who think total disarmament is an obviously-desirable goal are going to run into people of similar ideological stripes who strongly disagree with them, and it's best that we keep that in mind from the beginning. I don't think that wanting total disarmament reflects naivete or stupidity. It reflects a different judgment, but it's one that I held for many years. I don't any longer, but I respect it. In return I'd prefer that those who favour (minimal) deterrence not be characterized unfairly.

And on arms reduction, non-proliferation, confidence-building mutual inspections, nuclear security, and so on, we're agreed. On the evil of war we certainly are agreed. I hope that's clear and I would like it to be kept in mind.

Jacob, I appreciate your thoguhtful comments. I have two questions though: (1) why should non-nuclear weapons states remain in the NPT if the US/Russia/China/UK/etc are all committed to keeping large nuclear stockpiles indefinitely? Also, (2) how do you weigh the national security costs of non-nuclear weapons states bailing out of the NPT and proliferating up a storm compared to the national security benefits of deterrence?

What I'm groping towards here is that I can easily imagine that in a world where only a half dozen countries were capable of building nuclear weapons, deterrence with large stockpiles indefinitely might be the best we can hope for. But in a world where many countries could become nuclear weapon powers, perhaps total disarmament is a better equilibrium point than having many states engage in deterrence. Deterrence might destabilize as the number of parties using nuclear deterrence increases, just like New England small town town-meeting governance doesn't really scale to communities larger than small New England towns.

It is fine to say that we need nuclear weapons for their deterrent effect, but that policy has real national security costs.

Turbulence: "(1) why should non-nuclear weapons states remain in the NPT if the US/Russia/China/UK/etc are all committed to keeping large nuclear stockpiles indefinitely?"

Starting from the premise that the danger of a nuclear war increases with the number of states that possess them, which I think is uncontroversial: if the primary interest of the non-nuclear states is avoiding nuclear war anywhere in the world, they have a strong interest in non-proliferation. That interest is not decreased (that I can see) by the existing nuclear weapons states retaining weapons. They'd rather that we didn't have them, but lacking that choice, they'd still rather that the number of other people having them remains as small as possible. That's the situation that has existed for the past 65 years and except for a very few exceptions that's what has happened.

Most of the non-nuclear part of the world lacks either the ability to build nuclear weapons or any reason to do so or both. They should stay in because there is no reason for them to want more nuclear-armed states and a strong preference for fewer.

The non-nuclear NATO & US-aligned states should remain in because they are protected by the US/UK deterrent, and they also prefer a world where fewer other states have weapons.

Any states closely allied with Russia or China are in a similar position.

The existing "unrecognized" nuclear powers - mainly India, Israel & Pakistan - are now in the tent pissing out, as it were, and it's in their interest to keep the number of people in the tent as small as possible, for the same reasons as everyone else.

That leaves places like Iran and North Korea, who have or believe they have 1. an enemy likely to attack them with powerful forces and 2. no big brother to back them up should that occur. The question there is whether they would behave differently if the other nuclear powers disarmed. I'm not sure that they would, because they would (rightfully) believe that an opponent who once possessed the technology to build and deliver nuclear weapons could recover that capability in just a few months (or even shorter periods if all you do is take the weapons apart). And in the case of the North Koreans, even if they believed the US had disarmed, they would still (rightfully) fear its conventional power. Finally, there don't seem to be many other places than Iran & NK that desire nuclear weapons. The NPT clearly doesn't work perfectly, but it works to some extent.

I guess I addressed the second question too, as best I can. God knows I am not an international relations theorist or necessarily even well-informed, but there it is.


It's hard to know what might provoke a global conventional war, because we do seem to have learnt some things from the bloody wars of the 20th century. But I keep thinking about the early period of WWII. Germany began by thinking that Britain might even be a potential ally, and certainly might agree to peace once Germany's control of mainland Europe was complete. But once the program of city terror bombings was underway, there was such hatred and anger on both sides that both of them went all-out to kill as many civilians on the other side as they could.

I can't imagine any future conventional war that doesn't go to that place almost immediately, and I can't see any outcome from that spiral except global nuclear war. As soon as you're at war, little things like disarmament agreements would seem secondary to the possibility of being invaded and destroyed by conventional armies. As soon as civilian atrocities occur, the other guy is obviously so immoral that anything would be justified to hurt those bastards. That's exactly what happened in WWII, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons. I don't think we've changed much since then.

M.A.D. forces you to run that entire scenario before you take any action. Admittedly, in a completely insane way, akin to teaching children not to run with scissors by suspending a concrete block over their head with a thread looped back to the ground - "Now, dear, don't trip!"

But we're apparently a completely insane species when it comes to war and violence. There's no "We might win!" with M.A.D. Without a deterrent, I think there will always be that temptation to think that you can have a Glorious Little War. And frankly even a war that remained conventional would be devastating to us as a species and the planet as a whole. WWII's industrial capacity was nothing compared to what exists now.

If there was a way to disarm and to verify disarmament, and if nuclear disarmament was accompanied by conventional disarmament, and if there was an overarching political organization that could plausibly resolve international conflicts peacefully, I'd be all for it. I think it's possible, and I hope that day comes. But I don't think total nuclear disarmament is a plausible first step. It certainly has to be accompanied by conventional disarmament and there is no sign that any major country is willing to do that.

(Sorry this comment was so long. I (still) need an editor.)

if the primary interest of the non-nuclear states is avoiding nuclear war anywhere in the world, they have a strong interest in non-proliferation.

But it isn't, necessarily, it is in maintaining their own territorial integrity and waving a keep off my property sign. That becomes much less justified if they can't point to other nations doing the same thing.

And while some have said that the goal is total nuclear disarmament, anything that reduces stockpiles is a good thing, not only because of the message it sends but because it reduces a whole host of problems connected including environmental and terror related ones. Furthermore, the notion nuclear disarmament must be tied to conventional disarmament seems a bit strange. An obvious first step in disarmament must be taken somewhere and it is in the nuclear arsenal that seems the most likely place.

@Jacob. My apologies.

I didn't realise that you'd used the same phrasing. I'd intended the quote to refer to ThirdGorchBro's 11:13 comment, which is part of an argument (continued in the comment at 12:14) to the effect that "the balance of power is well-served by the fact that China, Russia, and the US all possess nukes", which does rather interpret the situation from a "great powers only" point of view, and got under my skin for exactly the reason I mentioned -- if the nuclear armed nations don't think realistically about the interests of the non-nuclear countries when setting their policy, then inevitably they'll start inadvertently encouraging proliferation.

The argument that you've put forward, on the other hand, though similar to some extent (i.e., both argue against total disarmament on pragmatic grounds), is much more careful in terms of interpreting US policy in light of the rest of the world and not just the other big nuke-holders (plus some fairly simplistic assumptions about the foreign policy concerns of other countries). In contrast, your argument seems totally reasonable to me: it seems to me if the manner in which the US acts is consistent with your reasoning, the rest of the planet is much less likely to to consider tooling up themselves. DFH-style arguments such as those from ThirdGorchBro have the opposite effect (even though they argue for the same thing), because they suggest a certain carelessness about the interests of the non-nuclear nations, and make the "American nuclear shield" seem like an unsafe bet.

Call it a credibility argument. If you offer protection to someone, it has to be the case that you have some real understanding of what their real interests are. TGBs comments don't suggest that; yours do. Sorry for the confusion.

I just imagine an Iran or North Korea in a world where Israel or even the US have enacted nuclear disarmament, and I am not sure I think they would care all that much. The conventional threats would remain, and other than invading them, we don't have any way of stopping them from doing what they're doing. (And I should say that I am not totally convinced that Iran has any intention of developing nuclear weapons, but in light of their attempts to gain enrichment technology I think it cannot be ruled out.)

If we want to invade them, we can do that right now, whether or not we have nukes. If we don't want to invade them now, would we want to do so in a nuclear-disarmed world? What would we do in that world if they kept on working on nuclear weapons? I don't think, for Iran and NK, they care much about feeling justified on the world stage. Their programs - certainly NK, Iran is more dubious - come from feeling paranoid about external threats that are both conventional and nuclear.

As for mentioning conventional disarmament being strange - I think conventional disarmament has to go hand-in-hand with nuclear disarmament for some very practical reasons. To begin with, Russia is not going to disarm below a certain (high) level of ready weapons if that means conceding conventional military control of the world to the US, which it essentially would. They feel, justified or not, that their guarantee of independence and noninterference is their missile arsenal.

Strictly from a pro-peace position, I think it would be an uncomfortable new world in which there were few or no nuclear weapons but where the US retained a conventional military force superior to that of the rest of the world combined. What would have happened in South Ossetia in that world, for instance? In the absence of a deterrent, the barriers to direct conventional confrontations between the US & Russia or China seem much lower. A belief that there could be a controlled, regional conflict could emerge that I think would be very dangerous, because I think air attacks on civilians would rapidly follow, and those would be used to justify nuclear re-armament and use of nuclear weapons. Once city bombings start, there is no way to calm the outrage other than victory or defeat. (And while the US can defend itself well against bombers, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles can carry conventional warheads too, and even "collateral" civilian casualties would be enough to bring about huge outrage here. After all, the US felt justified in dropping nuclear weapons on Japanese civilians, even though Japan had never made significant attacks on the US mainland.)

None of which means arms reduction is not a good idea! Or that the RRW program should be funded, which I think it should not. We agree, just not on how far to take it. And I could be persuaded - one thing that could come from arms reductions would be an apparent reduction in international tensions, and if that really looked like it was taking place, I might see things differently.

Thanks, eya.

For the record, eya, I largely agree with Jacob's positions, and he certainly articulated his arguments better than I did. I don't mean to suggest that the interests of non-nuclear powers are irrelevant or that some reduction in America's nuclear arsenal is not desirable.

I do think that nations like Japan, South Korea, and various Western European nations, which have the capability to develop nuclear weapons, don't need to because they can remain confident that the US will meet its mutual defense treaty obligations to them. (I also realize that the record of the Bush administration may have shaken that confidence for many citizens of these nations).

"I do think that nations like Japan, South Korea, and various Western European nations, which have the capability to develop nuclear weapons, don't need to ..."

Though this suggests that if the US were to really strip down its arsenal, other developed nations having basic turnkey ability to create nuclear weapons should be an effective deterrent. A lot of it depends on how quickly a nation can ramp up production of nuclear weapons. I tend to think that it is rather quickly, so reducing the arsenal drastically still leaves a deterrent, though I'm not sure how long it would take a country like Japan to make a nuclear weapon.

My impression as a German is that Germany would mot seek nuclear weapons even if it were allowed and the US 'shield' would weaken or be removed. Even at the height of the Cold War there was a broad popular consensus about that. That did not stop right-leaning administrations to try to participate by getting access to US bombs within the frameowrk of NATO but only fringe figures (including Franz Josef Strauß though)wanted an independent German nuclear force.
I think that any attempt in that direction today would cause a political firestorm (the German public is very 'anti-atom' in general, including power plants).

There have been a number of trial balloons here in Japan, and the outcry has not been as vociferous as I would have expected. Here is a good overview

http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/the-end-of-japans-nuclear-taboo

"On the larger issue of nuclear weapons in general, I stand by my contention that the balance of power is well-served by the fact that China, Russia, and the US all possess nukes. Unless you think humanity suddenly became vastly more moral after 1945, I can think of no better explanation for the lack of major international wars since then."

Um, there is this body called the UN...it just so happened to be signed into being in 1945.

I think the UN is not much more credible than the League of Nations. If the Big Ones disagree, the rest is helpless. And all the 'small' wars since 1945 combined have killed likely more than the two world wars by now (internal genocides a la Pol Pot or Great Jumps Forward not even included).

Actually, I think the Treaty of Paris and the various follow-ons, are more responsible for the historical miracle of no war between France or Germany or the UK or Italy or Spain, involving any of their allies, in over sixty years.

But, as Hartmut notes, just because there hasn't been a World War since 1945, doesn't mean the "small wars" in which big countries throw small countries up against the wall and kill large numbers of people who never get fancy war memorials with their names engraved in stone, doesn't mean they didn't die, by the millions.

Of course according to the neocons we had several world wars since 1945 (and I am not sure how many there are at this very moment).
[/snark].

I do believe that the use of nukes in 1945 was a major factor in no nuclear war having happened since then. I fear, if there had not been a 'large test on humans' when only one power had a very small number of bombs then there would have been a major exchange between the US and the Soviet Union some time in the 50ies [this is not to be construed as an ex post justification. Same with Hitler as the involuntary enabler of Israel].

At the moment Germany would have difficulty with taking Luxembourg or Liechtenstein by force (something our minister of finances joked about when it became clear how much taxes were lost to Germany by people using those countries as tax haven).

We have a similar problem with the Channel Islands.

Jersey's actually a lovely place to live, if you're a multimillionaire who likes rich cream and gorgeous beaches.

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