Deterrence and Revenge – update
On Nov 14th, John Michael Greer offered Deterrence in an Age of Decline, a long discussion of why nuclear weapons and the missiles that deliver them are constrained to being threats rather than weapons that are actually used:
That’s the rarely discussed logic behind nuclear deterrence. None of the concrete gains a nation can achieve by launching a nuclear strike on another nation comes anywhere near the scale of the costs that would be inflicted by even the feeblest nuclear response. If the US first strike just described does not quite turn out to be quite so improbably flawless, in turn, the costs go up accordingly; ten mushroom clouds over large American cities would leave the US economy as crippled as the economies of Europe were after the Second World War, with no Marshall Plan in sight …
The same logic, by the way, applies to all weapons of mass destruction. Unless you’re the only nation in a given conflict that has the power to annihilate huge numbers of people with a single weapon, it’s never worth your while to use your weapons of mass destruction, because the retaliation will cost you at least as much as, and usually more than, the use of the weapon will gain you. …
While the idea that H-bombs are only for posturing is comforting, over at dagblog, Emma Zahn posted a news item — a WSJ book review of The Second Nuclear Age — that predicts a lot more nuclear actors in the near future:
Since their use invites devastating retaliation, many strategists today imagine that nuclear weapons can never be used to good effect and are therefore essentially worthless. This perception doesn’t just shape American thoughts about our own arsenal; it impels American leaders to underestimate the difficulties of nonproliferation because they don’t fully grasp the size of the gains that nonnuclear powers can achieve in joining the Bomb Club. Our strategists, says Mr. Bracken, are in a state of denial: “An older generation wants to make the nuclear nightmare go away by inoculating the young with protective ideas. Nuclear weapons are useless and we should get rid of them. Strengthen the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty]. Get rid of ballistic missiles. Deterrence will work.”
These ideas, very much at the heart of the present administration’s strategic thought, are fantasies, Mr. Bracken believes. His central contention is that we are in a second nuclear age. While there were several nuclear powers in the previous one, the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union overshadowed the others. The dynamics then were largely bipolar. We live in a multipolar nuclear world. And there are nine nuclear powers today: the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. More will likely emerge.
There are even more actors that can’t afford nukes, though. In a reaction to fourth-generation warfare (4GW) tactics, the US and its allies use predator drones, targeted missiles and even car bombs for the extrajudicial killings of enemy leaders. So far they behave as if they have a monopoly on targeted weapons. Despite inflicting significant collateral damage, attackers don’t seem to be concerned about future retaliation in kind.
Since the current Gaza hostilities flared after Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, his entourage and a child were blown up during a cease-fire, it seems worth discussing how we are going to feel if or when our own families are under a retaliatory threat. On Nov 16th, Scott Adams recalled his prediction that predator drones would become a common weapon and in Predicting Israel, asks where it will lead:
In my book The Religion War, written ten years ago, I predicted a future in which terrorists could destroy anything above ground whenever they wanted. They simply used inexpensive drones with electronics no more sophisticated than an Android app.
Fast-forward to today, Iran is sending drones to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah has training camps right next to Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. Meanwhile, Hamas has its own drone production facility, or did, until Israel found it. One presumes Hamas will build more. How long will it be before Israel is facing suicide drones that only cost its enemies $100 apiece, fit in the trunk of a car, and can guide themselves to within 20 feet of any target? I’d say five years.
So what happens when the drone attacks start happening in volume? Let’s game this out. My assumption is that the coming inevitable wave of hobby-sized suicide drones will be unstoppable because they will fly low to their target and be so numerous that no defense will be effective. I predict it will be too dangerous to live above ground in Israel within ten years unless the trend is reversed. But what could stop the trend?
One can imagine a 4GW scenario in which a state-sponsored organization launches predator drones at targets close to home. Is there any sort of deterrent, or do we simply accept that collateral damage as well?