On Herman Kahn

|

Louis Menand has a fascinating review of the latest bio of Herman Kahn, nuclear strategist at the RAND Corporation and probably one of the models for Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.

As Norman Podhoretz later wrote of Kahn's opus On Thermonuclear War: "If I wanted to convince a skeptic that there is no security in the balance of terror which American policy is committed to maintaining, I would send him to the works of Herman Kahn far sooner than to the writings of the unilateralists and the nuclear pacifists."

But the balance of terror finally did work–a fact some might want to ponder, if not necessarily reproduce, when considering how to deal with the North Korean and possibly Iranian nuclear weapons programs.

NEXT: Ahmadinejad and the Poor

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But the balance of terror finally did work–a fact some might want to ponder, if not necessarily reproduce, when considering how to deal with the North Korean and possibly Iranian nuclear weapons programs.

    I’m not really excited about getting into a pissing contest with a urinal.

    Or rather: Nuclear ‘balance of terror’ worked against the USSR because the US was able to force them into total economic collapse, and because they were badly governed, but their government was essentially sane.

    North Korea is already in a total economic collapse. What more can we possibly do? Large swaths of NK are essentially at Neolithic levels already.

    And, as has been made apparent by his every action vis-a-vis the nuclear issue, Kim Jong Il is not sane.

    Getting into a conflict of nerves with an insane man with nothing to lose sounds… dangerous and useless.

  2. I’m pretty much on the same page as Isildur. If I understand Micheal correctly, he’s suggesting that we engage in Cold War Parts II & III with Iran & DPRK, since, after all, Cold War Part I turned out well for us.

    The ultimate problem with nuclear brinksmanship is that, no matter how many good outcomes you have, no matter how many Cold Wars you win, all it takes is one bad outcome to cancel all those good ones out.

  3. Sorta like Russian Roulette. Hey, last time I pulled the trigger, I didn’t blow my brains all over the wall. Maybe it’ll work again…

  4. Of course to break the stalemate of a Cold War II with NK it may be necessary to get them to invade Japan so that we can semi-clandestinely support the Japanese rebels. Of course, this may come back to haunt us when the radical Shintos (?Shintoes?) blow up the Grand Canyon in 2045. Skipping Vietnam II might be a wise idea.

    As for Iran, well, Afghanistan is right on their border too.

  5. But the balance of terror finally did work–a fact some might want to ponder, if not necessarily reproduce, when considering how to deal with the North Korean and possibly Iranian nuclear weapons programs.

    The story of the consequences of MAD and nuclear deterrence is far from finished, so it’s a bit soon to be affirming that it “finally did work”.

    First of all, we have this:

    By this autumn, the Department of Energy expects to have properly secured 77% of all Russian sites where weapons-usable nuclear material is stored (the job is meant to be completed by 2008). But the bulk of the dangerous stuff is in the remaining sites, including four where weapons work continues and where Russian officials have slammed the door to help from outsiders. (The Economist, June 16 2005)

    Check back in 50 years to see just how safe MAD has made us all.

  6. “Getting into a conflict of nerves with an insane man with nothing to lose sounds… dangerous and useless.”

    Which is, of course, an incentive for all players to try to appear as insane as possible.

    If you want to avoid getting into fistfights, one approach is to convince everyone that you have a knife and are willing to use it, even if it means you’ll go to jail. The problem is that the best way to convince people of this is to do time for stabbing someone.

  7. My favorite three sites for perspectives are here, AntiWar.com and LewRockwell.com.

    As the song from my era advises: “You better shop around.”

    There is more good humor here. Lew Rockwell is so me, it’s like kissing my clone. AntiWar also lacks humor. (Hard to blame it, eh?)

    Here on H&R there are, to my taste, too many Dr. Strangeloves. They want to play chess on this planet-board using existing dictators as pieces. That’s the short-sighted approach to earthly tranquility.

    First thing US citizens need to do is pause and consider the many–let me count the–ways, they are pissing off the world at large.

    One purpose of any government is to make John Q. comfortable with being a member of Hells’ Angels. All you Dr. Strangeloves out there need to admit that, and advise how to get beyond it.

  8. One problem with Iran is that they now have a very good idea of what our limits are, when it comes to ground action. And they can be sure that we’re about at those limits, because of Iraq.

    This wasn’t the case with the Soviets.

  9. Jon:

    Do you honestly think Iran poses any threat whatsoever to the American “homeland”?

    Or do you think that American armies should be deployed to ensure the security of “allies”?

  10. It makes no difference whether you or I think Iran or anybody else poses a threat to the Motherland; it only matters what Reichsmarshals Cheney, Rumsfeld and der Fuhrer Bush perceive. Hell, they were amping up the wattage against Syria a while back, even though Syria is nothing more than a banana (falafel?) republic with local pretensions.

  11. Wow! Didn’t take this thread long before some dork Hitlered-up the proceedings. “reichmarshals”!?

    Anyway, comparisons of Iran/NK to USSR, not really helpful. Observations that stockiples/security/evolution of madman technology make serious nuclear disarmament a real priority welcome.

  12. What is ignored in this discussion is that the USSR had enough bombs to destroy every US town with 50,000 or more people in it (and vice versa). Iran and North Korea might get a couple of cities and then they’ve shot their load.

    It’s not mutual assured distruction, it’s a US pissed about 10 million dead, and two countries converted into hundreds of miles of weird green glass.

    At a similar point in history, in 1946, Truman told the Soviets to get out of Iran within 48 hours or the atom bombing of Russia would begin. The Soviets got out.

    It seems we can’t simply dictate to Iran or NK as we did to the Soviets 60 years ago, although I’m not sure why not.

  13. KKKKKAAAAAAAHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!

  14. Godwin: 3
    cdunlea: 0

  15. KKKKKAAAAAAAHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!

    My favorite post so far.

    Here on H&R there are, to my taste, too many Dr. Strangeloves. They want to play chess on this planet-board using existing dictators as pieces.

    Actually, what I want is to perform heroic sexual service in a mineshaft with women who have been selected for their sexually stimulating qualities.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.