Like many people, I do not find what is known as the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD to be reassuring.
Today, those most fearful seem to be those people that lived through the tumultuous 1960s and the cold war, to others this may come across as "business as usual." What the world would look like following a nuclear war is very murky, yet today it seems many people consider nuclear weapons as just another tool or option for us to use in our defense if we are attacked. The nuclear deterrent we currently hold is a hundred times larger than needed to stop anyone sane or rational from attacking America, and for anyone else, an arsenal of any size will be insufficient. This is written to help put the issue of nuclear weapons in perspective.
Mutual Assured Destruction Leaves No Winners
As a bit of a history buff, I found myself in deep discussion with a curious young lad of nine. While explaining to him how the airplane developed which included a rather important timetable, I noted that its development was pushed forward because planes could be used as a weapon in wartime. To my surprise, I found he expanded the conversation to include the nuclear bomb and this young lad had a general acceptance of its use. This could indicate people are losing some of the massive fear they had for the use of nuclear weapons. Fear was the "firewall" that kept these weapons from ever being used for many of us growing up during the cold war.
While we can only speculate as to what the world would look like following a nuclear war, it is disturbing to think using these weapons is acceptable. More troubling is that some people even view and justify using these weapons as a first strike option. The unintended consequences of bringing nuclear weapons into the world as a usable form of warfare is a dangerous escalation that no sane person wants, but by tweaking and modifying weapons, we are on that path. This acceptance of the "nuclear option" opens a Pandora's box blurring and erasing what many people have in the past seen as taboo. There have been dozens of nuclear false alarms, yet the president has a mere 10 minutes to decide whether to launch an attack when an incoming strike is reported. Something most people are unaware of is just how close on various occasions we have come to annihilation and the end of life as we know it. Below is the description of such an incident;
[In 1995] President Boris Yeltsin was informed that a nuclear missile was speeding towards the heart of Russia. Russian nuclear forces, already on a hair-trigger alert, were put on even higher alert, ready to launch at his command.
The fate of the planet hung in the balance as hundreds of millions of people were going about their daily lives.
Russian policy called for a “launch on warning.” “Use them or lose them.”
Yeltsin wisely waited. And within those fateful moments, the Russians were able to declare a false alarm. An unimaginable nuclear disaster had barely been avoided.
- Innovation In Arms Control: De-Alerting, America’s Defense Monitor, Center for Defense Information, December 26, 1999
It is no secret that at the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States hoped to maintain a monopoly on this new weapon, but the secrets and the technology for making nuclear weapons soon spread. Four years after the United States conducted its first nuclear test explosion in July 1945 and dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test explosion. The United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and China (1964) followed. In an effort to prevent the nuclear weapon ranks from expanding further, the United States and other countries negotiated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.
Since the inception of the NPT, several states have abandoned nuclear weapons programs, but others have defied the treaty. India, Israel, and Pakistan never signed the treaty and now possess nuclear arsenals. Iraq initiated a secret nuclear program under Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003 and has tested nuclear devices since that time. The countries of Iran and Libya have pursued secret nuclear activities in violation of the treaty’s terms. Today the use of nuclear power is fairly widespread, but only nine countries have nuclear weapons and only a few others are suspected of pursuing them.
A Trillion Dollar System To Maintain
The topic of these weapons quickly feeds into questions of where they play into the future of mankind and thoughts of the devastation they might wreak if they are ever used in a war. It is very likely that at some point in time the tiger will be unleashed and the potential of a dreadful result is very high. A large part of the nuclear weapons debate revolves around how many weapons are enough. Another is the costly investment needed to fund existing weapons and the upgrading of America's nuclear triad. The nuclear triad refers to the nuclear weapons delivery of America's strategic nuclear arsenal. It consists of three components, traditionally strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) is part of the Pentagon’s mammoth plan to replace all three legs of the nuclear triad. In addition to the roughly $100 billion price tag on the new crop of ICBMs, the U.S. military wants to replace its B-52 and B-2 bombers with Northrop’s new B-21 Raider (estimated cost: $100 billion). It is retiring its Ohio-class “boomer” subs with a new Columbia-class fleet (estimated cost: $128 billion), both of which are outfitted with the Northrop-powered Trident missiles. The cost of buying and operating these weapons is estimated at an eye-watering $1.7 trillion between now and 2046, according to the independent Arms Control Association.
Cato Institute!s Chris Preble wrote years ago the Pentagon should look elsewhere within the nuclear arsenal for the money it needs. Eliminating two legs of the nuclear triad is his suggestion. Doing away with intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs and nuclear bombers would save American taxpayers around $20 billion a year that could be put toward replacing the Ohio-class sub. He also claims the sea leg of the nuclear triad by itself is a more powerful deterrent than that possessed by nearly any other nation in the world. After the insane spending recently unleashed by Washington, this may not sound like a great deal of money, but it is.
We Are Ready To Launch
While Russia retains a relatively large arsenal, no other country is capable of deploying more than a few hundred nuclear warheads. A single Ohio-class submarine can carry up to 192, this is enough for one submarine to bring the earth to its knees. Ploughshares Fund, a group dedicated to eliminating the dangers posed by nuclear weapons reports, nine countries in the world possess a total of 13,125 nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia account for 91 percent of them. Since their peak in the mid-1980’s, global arsenals have shrunk by over three-fourths. More countries have given up weapons and programs in the past 30 years than have tried to acquire them. The direction is positive, but when you are fleeing a forest fire it is not just direction but speed that matters.
An important matter is far too many nuclear weapons are actively deployed on missiles, bombers, and submarines, ready to launch at a moment's notice. It is rather ironic to ponder how much we have spent to create and now maintain this massive force of devastating potential that we hang over the heads of others, a force that could kill them many times over but also render the planet unlivable for generations for everyone. Call me silly, but I would feel a lot more comfortable if a lot of the weapons were dismantled and destroyed.
Many Americans have become desensitized to human misery because of modern society's rather impersonal way of viewing anguish and death on a screen. Couple this with the hundreds of millions of people across the world playing violent video games and watching explosion after explosion in movies and it is little wonder fear of mass devastation has lessened. As noted earlier in this piece with so many nuclear weapons technical failures can and do occur, also systems can be hacked, we are at constant risk and human error exacerbates the problem. William J. Perry, Former Secretary of Defense, said in November 2015, “Far from continuing the nuclear disarmament that has been underway for the last two decades, we are starting a new nuclear arms race.” The possibility of things going "nuclear" is a situation we live with every day and it merits far more of our attention than it is given.