Friday, November 28, 2003
Steven Den Beste has an interesting post on what happens if terrorists get access to working nuclear weapons. The whole thing is well worth a read, but I just want to concentrate on this conjecture:
In the aftermath of a nuclear attack against the US, the US would issue the following directives:

1. All nations we do not fully trust which have nuclear weapons, or programs to develop them, will cease all development immediately, and will turn over to us all completed weapons and all fissionables and all other equipment and material used in those programs by a certain deadline, a small number of weeks.

2. All nations will fully cooperate with us in finding the attackers and all other militant groups we consider dangerous to us. All nations will immediately and totally cease providing any kind of support to such groups. All nations will immediately and vigorously work to prevent their citizens from providing any kind of support.

3. All nations will fully answer any significant questions we ask.

4. Any nation whose cooperation is not considered adequate will be assumed to be an enemy, and may be the target of a saturation nuclear strike at a time of our choosing, without any warning. There will be no negotiations, no second chances, no obfuscation, no delay, no deception. Nothing less that full and unstinting and rapid cooperation will be considered acceptable.
That's an interesting policy, but I am wondering if we might go farther than that. There is no need to wait for the first attack to occur and give anyone a freebie. Our doctrine could be more proactive (and pre-emptive). Something like this:

There are several nations in this world that we know or suspect have nuclear weapons, and whom we do not trust with such weapons. As of today, the list of those nations is as follows:

  • Pakistan
  • North Korea
  • Iran
This list will be modified continuously.

We cannot know what any of these nations will do with their nuclear arsenal, and whether such arsenal might be made available to non-state groups, whether by official act, rogue operatives within the government, or sheer incompetence. Once loose in the nominally-civilian population, it is nearly impossible to stop such weapons from reaching U.S. territory. At any rate, we consider possession of nuclear weapons by these countries to be an unacceptable risk.

Therefore, any nuclear detonation within the the United States, including any of its Territories or Possessions, will be met with a three-stage response, in this order:

  1. Conduct a quick investigation to ensure that the source of the device was not in the United States.
  2. If the source was foreign, a saturation nuclear strike will be delivered against every country on the list above. No official denials will be accepted, and no negotiations forthcoming. All diplomats of the listed countries will be subject to deportation; all other nationals will be subject to arrest and detention. In other words, the detonation of a foreign nuclear device within the United States will automatically place the United States into a state of nuclear war with any country on the list.
  3. A thorough investigation will be conducted, to determine the source and supplier of the nuclear weapon. Any country that is found to have contributed to or facilitated this act, will likewise be subject to a saturation nuclear strike.
In order to get off the list, a country must fully dismantle its nuclear program, prove to the satisfaction of the United States that the program has been shut down, and turn over all demanded materials to the custody of the United States. Cooperation with the UN and IAEA will not be a sufficient substitute; the United States must be satisfied directly and without conditions. Removal from the list will be subject to congressional approval.

The main advantage of this policy, in my view, is that it presents all current and aspiring nuclear nations with a prisoner's dilemma: Pakistan could never be certain that Iran's actions won't get them nuked, for example. North Korea might start thinking twice about selling its nuclear weapons or technology to others, knowing that one stupid action by their customers might result in nuclear devastation of their own territory. By the same token, this policy gives all these countries a very good reason to disarm: suddenly their weapons are less of a deterrent, and more of a liability.

The only component necessary to really make this work would be the SDI missile shield -- otherwise, we might lose more of our own cities to retaliation from the listed countries. There isn't any hope of designing a shield capable of blocking all the missiles launched by Russia or China, but we can handle Pakistan or North Korea's few nukes just fine.

An ethical argument can be made against this policy, in that it is founded on the notion that we will destroy countries that are completely innocent of any wrongdoing against us. This is true, but somewhat pointless: in every war, lots of perfectly innocent people are killed. Even if we limited our saturation strike to the country that was guilty of supplying terrorists with nukes, we'd still be killing millions of people who had nothing to do with the act. It's heartbreaking, but there is nothing we can do: all nations pay the price for the stupid actions of their leadership. If we had other options, we'd use them -- but we don't. Still, it's important to point out that just as with the MAD doctrine, the idea here is not to get revenge through mass killing, but rather to deter the leaders of other nations and encourage them to disarm, by threatening to take away the only things they value: their lives, power, and privilege. It's unlikely the even Kim Jong-Il relishes the idea of being the dictator of a radioactive wasteland.

Anyway, yes, this is all quite scary. But it's a scary world we live in, and trying to paint a happy face of "international cooperation" on it is simply delusional. We'll simply have to deal with the threats that exist, and ultimately, the only way to deter an enemy is to make it clear that an attack will cause him to lose more than he gains.


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