Science

Zeroing Out Nuclear Bombs

Both Obama and McCain say that's their goal

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In Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 12, 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev seriously discussed the possibility of the two countries completely eliminating their nuclear weapons. An agreement could not be reached, but the Reykjavik Summit laid the groundwork for treaties aimed at eliminating intermediate range nuclear missiles and making deep cuts in each country's strategic arsenals. The result is that the number of nuclear weapons has been cut in half—down from 65,000 to 26,000 since the height of the Cold War. However, the U.S. retains 10,685 nuclear bombs and Russia is estimated to have around 14,000. In 2002, the U.S. and Russia signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty which commits each side to reducing its number of warheads to between 1700 and 2200 by 2012.

Currently, both countries maintain 2,000 weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready for launching in 15 minutes after an order is given. Just how dangerous the situation remains was made clear in 1995 when the launch of a Norwegian satellite designed to study the northern lights nearly provoked a nuclear response from Russia. Estimates of the stockpiles of other known nuclear powers vary, but the total is probably less than 850 weapons. According to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed elBaradei, some 40 countries could currently build atomic weapons if they chose to. The possibility of a nuclear war would be significantly magnified if there existed that many nuclear-armed countries.

The goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons is embodied in the 40-year old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The treaty's 190 signatories, including the United States, are supposed to pursue "general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." As former ambassadors and nuclear weapons negotiators Max Kampelman and Thomas Graham point out, the NPT was a bargain between the vast majority of countries that agreed not to develop their own nuclear weapons and the then-five nuclear powers that agreed to share peaceful nuclear technology and pursue eventual nuclear disarmament. On the way toward disarmament, the non-nuclear states wanted countries with nuclear weapons to agree to interim measures, including "a comprehensive nuclear weapon test ban, a prohibition on the further production of nuclear explosive material, a significant world-wide reduction in the number of nuclear weapons, and binding obligations not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear NPT parties." So far none of these measures have been adopted.

To its credit, the Bush administration did sign the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, but it has made unilateral decisions that undermine the NPT goal of complete nuclear disarmament. For example, the Bush administration has opposed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which commits parties not to conduct any nuclear test explosions. The U.S. signed the treaty in 1996, but the Senate failed to ratify it in 1999.

Nevertheless, the U.S., Russia, Britain, and France have been observing a de facto nuclear testing moratorium since 1992. China joined the moratorium in 1996 and Pakistan and India have also stopped testing since 1998. However, the U.S. has continued subcritical tests (ones that involve fissile material but do not produce a sustained nuclear chain reaction). In addition, the Bush administration has hinted it may want to test bunker busting nuclear weapons in the future. Furthermore, the Bush administration produced a new draft Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), which would ban the new production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons. The problem is that its new version of the treaty contained no provisions for verifying compliance.

The Bush administration is winding down. So where do the two major party presidential candidates stand? In a 2007 foreign policy speech, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), declared, "Here's what I'll say as President: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons." Obama was careful to add, "We will not pursue unilateral disarmament. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we'll retain a strong nuclear deterrent." Obama also promised to seek a global ban on the production of fissile material that could be used to make bombs. He will also make ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty a priority.

In a May 2008 speech on nuclear policy, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) stated, "A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, 'our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.' That is my dream, too." In addition, McCain wants to "move quickly with other nations to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty to end production of the most dangerous nuclear materials." He would cancel all work on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a.k.a. the bunker buster. Although he voted against the CTBT in 1999, he would "take another look at it" and, in the meantime, McCain pledged to "continue America's current moratorium on testing."

Is the total eradication of nuclear weapons really feasible? Certain unsavory regimes are seeking nuclear weapons as a way to deter assaults from the U.S. and other countries. Had Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons, it is doubtful that the coalition of the willing would have risked attacking Iraq. It is this deterrence calculation that is behind the drive of NPT scofflaws like North Korea, Iran, and Syria to develop nuclear weapons. Frankly, it is difficult to see what incentives would persuade these regimes to put aside their nuclear ambitions. In the case of Iran, Stanford University political scientist Scott Sagan argues, "Relinquishing the threat of regime change by force is a necessary and acceptable price for the United States to pay to stop Tehran from getting the bomb." Just how to make such assurances really credible to suspicious tyrants is not clear.

And there is another problem. In the past, negotiations to cut nuclear weapons have chiefly involved the U.S. and Russia. This would change. As the U.S. and Russia draw down their arsenals, the relatively smaller forces of other countries rise in comparative strategic importance. In other words, cutting U.S. and Russian arsenals might actually encourage proliferation because such reductions could tempt some countries to try to seek nuclear parity. Avoiding this outcome will require dramatically strengthening the inspection provisions of the NPT well in advance. Fortunately, there is an NPT review conference scheduled for 2010 at which such measures can be negotiated.

As the cuts mandated by the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty are achieved, the U.S. and Russia should embark on negotiations with smaller nuclear powers to reduce the number of their nuclear weapons. One way such a phased build-down might take place is outlined in a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention being submitted to the NPT review conference in 2010. For example, five years after the model convention is adopted, all nuclear weapons would have to be destroyed except for 1,000 in each of the stockpiles of the U.S. and Russia and 100 each in the stockpiles of China, France, and the United Kingdom. At ten years, the U.S. and Russian stockpiles would contain 50 warheads each, while those of China, France, and the U.K. would fall to 10 weapons each. At fifteen years, all stockpiles of warheads would be demolished.

Nearly 22 years after Reykjavik and 17 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, it is time to revive the goal of completely eliminating nuclear weapons.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. An admirable goal, one I full support, on the condition that we can verify to a high degree of certainty that everyone has eliminated theirs as well.

  2. What RC Dean said. Or, “trust, but verify” is another way to put it.

    Nuclear weapons are pretty damn immoral.

  3. Absent the existence of nuclear weapons, we would most certainly have been involved in a conventional WW III with the Communist block countries – and the casualties would likely have been even higher than WW II.

    There is still a need for that sort of deterrence today.

  4. Nukes will be abandoned only after something considerably more destructive is invented.

  5. Gilbert-

    You have no idea how lucky we were we didn’t have WWIII with nukes.

  6. Anyway I oppose nuclear weapons because they involuntarily enlist civilians into war, which is immoral.

  7. 65,000 nukes? WTF? I understand that there would be a need for extra in case first strikes took out come of them, but 65,000?

    Christ, couldn’t we have used a few of them for Project Orion instead?

  8. Epi, you never heard of the concept of “overkill” in nuclear strategy?

  9. Elimination? Hell, the Bush admin was discussing how to expand their role in war as bunker busters. America in not interested doing away with them. Having them is still a useful way of saying don’t be fooled by the quagmire, we can really kick your country’s ass if we want. We might not be able to throw our weight around and force the world to submit with out nukes hanging over their head.

    Ok, I’m half kidding. If someone could blink their eyes and make them and all knowledge on how to make them disappear, I’d be for it.

    “”””An admirable goal, one I full support, on the condition that we can verify to a high degree of certainty that everyone has eliminated theirs as well.”””

    That’s the deal breaker, you can’t verify with a high degree of certainty what everyone else is doing. Isn’t that part of the problem with Iran?

  10. “”””You have no idea how lucky we were we didn’t have WWIII with nukes.”””

    What makes you think it was luck?

  11. Epi, you never heard of the concept of “overkill” in nuclear strategy?

    I thought nuclear weapons were, by their very nature, “overkill”.

  12. On the “immoratily” what about kiloton yields? They don’t have to be targetted at civilians. In that case, would they be ok?

    Secondly, as much as we do everything we can to not target civilians, it’s not about what we will do, it’s about what we might do. Even Hillary said last year if Iran uses a nuke we will turn their entire country into a sea of glass. Not just take out a few leaders, just their military. That threat, whether real or not, makes an impact, and when dealing with certain people, is effective.

    The problem with “trust but verify” is we can never verify. Ever. There’s just no way. And just because the major powers don’t have one is not a disincentive for smaller powers to create their own.

    We are only beginning to deal with the effects of nuclear proliferation. The danger and power of nukes is only beginning, and the threat is not from the major powers.

  13. A hell of a lot was luck.

    If Kennedy had been drinking the same Kool Aid the crowd in the White House is drinking right now, he would have listened to LeMay who cried APPEASEMENT! in the deal he reached with the USSR, invaded Cuba, and poof! I don’t exist and/or am born into a radioactive wasteland.

  14. I guess the UN could “verify” if it weren’t as toothless as the Continental Congress circa 1785.

  15. I understand that there would be a need for extra in case first strikes took out come of them, but 65,000?

    That’s one of the things about nukes is that you don’t want to move them if you don’t have to. So each of your nuklear subs is loaded with a few dozen, each of your missile bases are loaded down, air bases, etc. And we only had half of those bombs. I’m still not sure how you get to 65k. I mean, these things aren’t like little hand-grenades, these are big.

  16. Strategic, untargeted bombardment with planes is immoral, too. We generally don’t do that anymore, FWIW. Not only because of the moral implications, but because it’s not very effective (see: Vietnam).

  17. Ron, no Human Highway reference? I expect these things now from a dude who watches 12 oz. mouse.

  18. There must be security for all — or no one is secure… This does not mean giving up any freedom except the freedom to act irresponsibly.

    Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves –and hired policemen to enforce them.

    We of the other planets have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets — and for the complete elimination of aggression. A sort of United Nations on the Planetary evel… The test of any such higher authority, of course, is the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots–(indicating Gort) Their function is to patrol the planets — in space ships like this one — and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us.

    At the first sign of violence they act automatically against the aggressor. And the penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk.

    The result is that we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war — free to pursue more profitable enterprises.(after a pause)
    We do not pretend to have achieved perfection — but we do have a system — and it works.

    I came here to give you the facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet — but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.

    Klaatu bariKta niKto

  19. “Klaatu barada nikto.”

    Say it wrong and who knows what will happen.

  20. What makes you think it was luck?

    This dude

    If somebody with less restraint had been on the job that night, we’d all be glow-in-the-dark right now. At least.

  21. “””A hell of a lot was luck.”””

    How do you know?

  22. Say it wrong and who knows what will happen.

    KLAATU… VERATA… N–… [mutters to self] necktie… nectar… nickel… it’s an n-word, definitely an n-word… It’s definitely an n-word.

  23. Nearly 22 years after Reykjavik and 17 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, it is time to revive the goal of completely eliminating nuclear weapons.

    Goo article.
    Nonetheless, I disagree.

    First of all, you can’t. Not without a world government or a willingness to do the ‘regime change’ thing.

    Furthermore, developing basic nuclear weapons is not terribly difficult. Obtaining raw materials is currently the main stumbling block, and delivery systems, are, hem, rocket science. But the techinical ability to slap a ‘primitive’ one together depends on physics knowledge from a half century ago, plus computing power and precision tools which used to be only in the hands of the richest of governments, but now are quite commonplace.

    As an aside, I take the opposite and defintitle idiosyncratic postion on proliferation – seriously, I am *pro-proliferation*. I base it on the same assumptions that some use for the second amendment – “not only should guns not be banned, but maybe *everyone* should have one.”

    My last point is the number of nuclear weapons, whether 50,000, or 50, or 5, doesn’t really matter. International relations is like a high stakes poker game in the old west. There’s no ‘house’ at least not one with any sort of authority. When the cards are dealt, you either have strong hole cards or weak ones. With strong hole cards, you can either play strong or slow play. With weak, you can either bluff or fold. Using a nuclear weapon is looking at your cards, looking at your opponent, then pulling out a gun and shooting him to take the pot. Sure, you could do this, but it’s probably the last thing you will do.

  24. Prohibition doesn’t work.

  25. Nuclear weapons are pretty damn immoral.

    There’s this.

    Whereas the fire-bombing of Tokyo produced a death rate of about 100,000 fatalities among one million casualties (10%), the two atomic bombs produced a death rate of over 50% with the inclusion of deaths due to radiation. By 1950 nearly 350,000 Japanese had died from the effects of Little Boy and Fat Man.

    and this

    Out of a 1970 population of probably near 7,100,0001 Cambodia probably lost slightly less than 4,000,000 people to war, rebellion, man-made famine, genocide, politicide, and mass murder. The vast majority, almost 3,300,000 men, women, and children (including 35,000 foreigners), were murdered within the years 1970 to 1980 by successive governments and guerrilla groups. Most of these, a likely near 2,400,000, were murdered by the communist Khmer Rouge.

    Just sayin’.

  26. Maybe the U.S. should confiscate all of the bombs. We invented them, so it’s just an exercise of our God-given IP rights. Yes, yes, I know any patent would’ve expired, but we can overwhelm the planet with our arsenal of lawyers.

  27. BDB,

    Do you believe that the civilians of London, Dresden, Tokyo, etc voluntarily enlisted into WWII?

    What is your next objection to nuclear weapons?

    It is stupid to eliminate nuclear weapons from US and Russia when we can’t guarantee a nuke-free world.

  28. “Good” article. Anyone want some “d”‘s?

  29. I’m sorry, but this is as pie-in-the-sky as wishing for the elimination of guns–something I would support if it were at all possible. But it isn’t–and neither is this.

  30. Using a nuclear weapon is looking at your cards, looking at your opponent, then pulling out a gun and shooting him to take the pot

    …and probably getting shot yourself.

    There is no way our, or any other, government will actually give up all their nuclear weapons. It just will not happen. Israel, for instance, will never give up that Ace in the hole (to continue the card metaphors). Do you think Russia would? The French? No way.

    Having less would be good but no weapon goes away–ever–until replaced by a more powerful and effective one.

  31. “It is stupid to eliminate nuclear weapons from US and Russia when we can’t guarantee a nuke-free world.”

    Absolutely.

    “Do you believe that the civilians of London, Dresden, Tokyo, etc voluntarily enlisted into WWII?”

    No, and what happened in all those places were crimes against humanity*. Not only that, but there’s an argument as to whether strategic bombardment on that scale really made a difference in WWII.

    Nuclear weapons are a thousand times more immoral than convention aerial bombardment, though, because of radiation.

    *Before anyone goes nuts, the Allies were far, far, far, far, FAR and away the better side, to say the least, despite whatever crimes they committed.

  32. Hey, free markets must include nukes!

  33. The firebombing of Tokyo, it will be noted, didn’t end in the destruction of civilization.

    A global nuclear war would.

  34. Remember, folks, the only solution is not to play.

  35. “””Having less would be good but no weapon goes away–ever–until replaced by a more powerful and effective one.”””

    Correct. One day pushing a button, and in 5 to 30 minutes burning a city will soon be replaced by pressing a button and burning up the city in seconds. With advanced space based laser weapons of course.

  36. With the Cold War over and everything, I haven’t thought about this in a while, but. . .I wonder if anyone has built a doomsday device? I believe that the old concept of a cobalt bomb is theoretically valid, and there may be other salted thermonuclear weapons or other options. Probably only the U.S. or Russia have (or had) the wherewithal to construct one.

    There is an argument against the existence of such a device (other than its utter insanity), as Dr. Strangeglove noted, “Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, EH?”

  37. Using a nuclear weapon is looking at your cards, looking at your opponent, then pulling out a gun and shooting him to take the pot

    …and probably getting shot yourself.

    agree. Which is why I concluded with “Sure, you could do this, but it’s probably the last thing you will do.”

  38. War is cruelty.

  39. Learn, damn you, LEARN!!

  40. I wonder if anyone has built a doomsday device?

    “Doomsday device? Ah, now the ball’s in Farnsworth’s court! I suppose I could part with one and still be feared…”

  41. BDB, the citizenry of an enemy’s country that makes bombs, or war materials, or could be called upon as a resource to make weapons or war goods is a valid target in war. War its self is immoral if one really believes in morals. You can’t remove the enemy’s actions as a part of war. So just because you are on the defending team does not make war its self, moral.

  42. j sub d

    Numbers on Cambodia look a little garbled. Could you check them and put them up again. (Not snark — I’d like to see them.)

    X

  43. Nearly 22 years after Reykjavik and 17 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, it is time to revive the goal of completely eliminating nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear weapons are pretty damn immoral.

    Fuck you. The reality is that people live longer and are less likely to die in war now then before there were nuclear weapons.

    Your shitty math lacks reason and is simply hippy peace shit equivalent to banning guns.

    The simply reality is that mutually insured destruction saved us from an endless world war.

    The firebombing of Tokyo, it will be noted, didn’t end in the destruction of civilization.

    A global nuclear war would.

    That is funny because i seem to remember civilization ending around the year 500….did they have nukes at the start of the dark ages?

  44. I don’t dispute war is cruel.

    World War I was incredibly, immeasurably cruel, but it didn’t involve the destruction of entire cities (outside of the narrow war zone) and mass-murder of civilians.

  45. Unilateral disarmament is being a hippie, Joshua.

    That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not taking a position any different from what Ronald Reagan took, for Christ’s sake.

  46. “Nearly 22 years after Reykjavik and 17 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, it is time to revive the goal of completely eliminating nuclear weapons.”

    I just don’t see that as possible in the next few decades. But it *would* be nice to get to the goal of 1000 in the U.S. and Russia, and 100 for the others.

    That would at least assure that, even if all the nukes were launched, a billion or two people would probably survive. Humanity would probably be set back “only” a hundred years, rather than blowing ourselves all the way back to the stone age.

  47. But I guess you have no problem with Iran having nukes then, Joshua.

  48. Episiarch,

    My comment was serious. Besides, the appropriate quote could only come from The Planet of the Apes, or, perhaps more appropriately, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

  49. “”””Doomsday device? Ah, now the ball’s in Farnsworth’s court! I suppose I could part with one and still be feared…””””

    That was a funny episode.

  50. I had no idea nuclear war was such a hot button issue anymore. I had better start armoring up my Camaro, adding a huge supercharger to it, and rigging my car to explode if anyone tampers with it. Well disciplined dog and leather clothing optional for now.

  51. did they have nukes at the start of the dark ages?

    I think a reasonable case could be made that the Vandals sort of “nuked” Rome.

  52. Besides, the appropriate quote could only come from The Planet of the Apes, or, perhaps more appropriately, Beneath the Planet of the Apes

    So I have to do all the work?!? Maybe some of you slackers could step up to the plate? Damn you, ProL, damn you all to hell!

  53. Note to historically illiterate Ronald Bailey.

    – Read history of Europe before 1945.

    – then read history of Europe after 1945.

    – Compare.

    – Come to reasonable conclusion that Nuclear Weapons stop war.

    – Retract article as complete bullshit.

  54. In principle, I don’t see how MAD differs from a squad of Gorts.

    Also, the “freedom to act irresponsibly” IS freedom. A key reason for government is to have a means for determining who is responsible for the consequences of irresponsible actions, and making them take responsibility. The presumption is that, by and large, people value the results of responsible action and are invested in helping people act responsibly and acting responsibly themselves. But in the few cases where that presumption is in error, the government will step in to “make things right” — as right as they can be after the milk is spilt, at least.

    When the government shifts into PREVENTION mode, however, actively keeping people from doing “irresponsible” things, then true freedom starts to evaporate. At that point, the decision of what is “responsible” and what is “irresponsible” comes down to who is programming the robots — who dictates political and social policy, in other words. And to the extent that there is a difference of opinion between you and the dictator over what is responsible and irresponsible conduct, true freedom is constrained.

    Finally, I believe Gort’s magic control phrase is “Klaatu Barada Nikto!”

  55. I just got here, Epi. I’ve been busy the last few days.

  56. Joshua–

    I’d just like to know if Reagan was a “peace hippie”.

  57. “””World War I was incredibly, immeasurably cruel, but it didn’t involve the destruction of entire cities (outside of the narrow war zone) and mass-murder of civilians.”””

    WWI didn’t have the technology to elimiate city or they might have used them. They used plenty of gas to kill people. So in a way they did deploy the WMD of their time.

  58. “- Come to reasonable conclusion that Nuclear Weapons stop war.”

    I guess we should just GIVE Iran nukes if that’s true. Hell, give everyone a nuke.

  59. TrickyVic-

    The big berthas were more than enough to pulverize a city.

  60. “The only good human… is a DEAD human!”

    That the one Pro Lib?

  61. BDB,

    Nuke, please!!!

    *makes “gimme” gesture with hand*

  62. But I guess you have no problem with Iran having nukes then, Joshua.

    If they acted more like the Soviet Union and the US did rather then like every power in Europe did before 1945 then yes I would.

  63. They used plenty of gas to kill people. So in a way they did deploy the WMD of their time.

    I think the Maxim could be included in that.

  64. But Joshua! Nukes mean peace!

    Seriously, either you’re for eventual (and multi-lateral) nuclear disarmament or for total proliferation. Those are the only two intellectually honest positions to hold.

  65. “like every power in Europe did before 1945”

    Nazi Germany? Fascist Italy?

    They’re pre-1945.

  66. BDB, It’s just poorly written. I accept blame only for citing it.

    The main point is

    Most of these, a likely near 2,400,000, were murdered by the communist Khmer Rouge.

    That versus 350K Japanese from nukes.
    I was just trying to add a little perspective to the evilness of nuclear weapons. Neither nukes nor swords are evil. Users often are.

    But enough quibbling about all that. From a practical standppoint both the US and Russia would lose no/zero/zip point shit security if nuke levels dropped to 500 – 1000 each. There is no rational reason for both sides not getting there.

  67. “””The big berthas were more than enough to pulverize a city.”””

    That was only a delivery device, the type of round that is fired is what matters. If someone could take a nuke arty round of the appropriate diameter back into the past and fire it out of big bertha, then I might agree. But a conventional HE round will never pulverize a city, even if it could fire the mother of all bombs, the GU43B MOAB.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_of_all_bombs

  68. J sub-

    Problem is, 1)the nuclear weapons we have now are much larger than Hiroshima, and 2) I doubt one or two would be used.

  69. Tricky Vic–

    What if thousands of rounds from them were fired on Paris?

  70. Mark Bahner wrote, “…even if all the nukes were launched, a billion or two people would probably survive. Humanity would probably be set back ‘only’ a hundred years, rather than blowing ourselves all the way back to the stone age.”

    I suppose that depends on whether the people with all the knowledge to rebuild and maintain society were evenly distributed around the world, and not concentrated in the target areas.

    This makes me wonder whether someone is discreetly pulling a “reverse unabomber”: figuring out (through social networking software or via other tools) who “holds the keys” to modern society as we know it and making sure that those people are as safe as can be, as well as being distributed evenly and widely, more or less at random, around the globe. Heinlein examined the idea that a foundation might be established to discreetly, over generations, breed a strain of long-lived humans within the context of “normal” society — offering assistance and incentives for people with longevity genes to meet, mate, and raise families. That sounded like a very good and viable idea. Perhaps the discreet society of volunteers approach could be (or even has already been) adapted toward the goal of ensuring the continuity of civilization after apocalyptic destruction. I’d like to think so.

  71. “WWI didn’t have the technology to elimiate city or they might have used them. They used plenty of gas to kill people. So in a way they did deploy the WMD of their time.”

    There is always going to be some kind of WMD around. Nukes are just at the top of the pyramid as being the most powerfull. There are chemical weapons, biological weapons, napalm, fuel air explosives, etc. etc.

  72. Does anyone on here have the balls to make the case for total nuclear proliferation?

  73. What about fuel air explosives? I believe they are called thermobaric, right? Allegedly they can suck the air out of you and pull your lungs and windpipe with them. They have a nice blast radius of about roughly a few square miles.

  74. “But a conventional HE round will never pulverize a city, even if it could fire the mother of all bombs, the GU43B MOAB.”

    I don’t know. I think the Germans did a pretty good job of pulverizing the Russian city of Servastapol with their giant railroad gun in WW 2.

  75. Does anyone on here have the balls to make the case for total nuclear proliferation?

    I alluded to it above in my 5:09

  76. WWI guns could destroy a city. Not by one alone, but if you got them in roughly the same concentration/numbers they were in on the Western Front, and aimed them at Manhattan, and fired one average days worth of rounds at it there’d be little left standing.

  77. Ah, I saw it Kolohe. See, there’s a case to be made for that. But “I can have nukes, but you can’t!” isn’t 1)honest and 2) sustainable for very long.

  78. Nukes don’t bother me. Neither to chem weapons. Radiation decays. Toxins dilute. Millions, even billions would die, but humanity would likely survive.

    Bio on the other hand, is a ‘game changer’

  79. I don’t think anybody has the stones to use bio. Because that means he/she will die, too, gauranteed.

  80. But “I can have nukes, but you can’t!” isn’t 1)honest and 2) sustainable for very long.

    No, but it’s realistic. Which is why it’s more or less worked for the last 60 years.

  81. Nice piece, Ron.

  82. Episiarch/Naga,

    You come close, but you still fail. Although Planet of the Apes is by far the superior film–more Heston–Beneath the Planet of the Apes works better for the doomsday device subthread:

    * “The heavens declare the glory of the Bomb, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.”
    * “may the Blessings of the Bomb Almighty, and the Fellowship of the Holy Fallout, descend upon us all. This day and forever more.”
    * “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”
    * “They will dissect you! And they will kill you! In that order!”

  83. rhywun–

    In the next 60 years, though, we’re either gonna have nukes for everyone who wants them (not just the nations Joshua Corning approves of) or multi-lateral disarmament.

  84. I’m sticking to my guns on this one, Pro Liberate.

  85. I wrote, “…even if all the nukes were launched, a billion or two people would probably survive. Humanity would probably be set back ‘only’ a hundred years, rather than blowing ourselves all the way back to the stone age.”

    James Anderson Merritt responded, “I suppose that depends on whether the people with all the knowledge to rebuild and maintain society were evenly distributed around the world, and not concentrated in the target areas.”

    Well, look at the likely target areas: All major cities in the U.S. All major cities in Russia. Some or all of the major cities in China, perhaps. Perhaps no country that had nuclear weapons would get away without destruction of major cities.

    But why would anyone bomb Montreal, Ottawa, or Mexico City (for example)?

    Or Sydney or Brasilia?

    That’s the thing about reducing the total number of potential bombs to “only” a couple thousand. It changes the picture from worldwide devastation, to complete devastation of a couple of continents or even “only” several countries.

  86. Since destructive power seems to be on the agenda today, let me add one few know about. Wait for it.

    Pink. Golfball.

    “You ever try a pink golf ball, Wally? Why, the wind shear alone on a pink golf ball can take the head off a 90-pound midget at over 300 yards.”

  87. The Southern hemisphere would really luck out in a nuclear war between, say, NATO and Russia or the USA and China.

  88. In the next 60 years, though, we’re either gonna have nukes for everyone who wants them (not just the nations Joshua Corning approves of) or multi-lateral disarmament.

    Not if the US and Russia can ramp up Cold War II…

  89. Eh, that will calm down soon enough. There’s no big ideological struggle to fight over, just petty power politics.

  90. “Does anyone on here have the balls to make the case for total nuclear proliferation?”

    It’s stupid. If the whole world had governments that were ranked by Freedom House as “free”:

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0930918.html

    …there wouldn’t even need to be militaries, let alone nuclear weapons.

  91. I don’t think anybody has the stones to use bio. Because that means he/she will die, too, gauranteed.

    Suicide missions ain’t all that uncommon these days.

  92. “The Southern hemisphere would really luck out in a nuclear war between, say, NATO and Russia or the USA and China.”

    Caution…plot spoiler:

    Robert Heinlein already covered that, in
    “Farnham’s Freehold.”

  93. “Suicide missions ain’t all that uncommon these days.”

    Yeah, but how many take their family along for the ride?

  94. Will SOMEBODY please save me from “Democratic Peace Theory” nonsense?

  95. Robert Heinlein already covered that, in Farnham’s Freehold.

    I read that. Not one of Heinlein’s better books. But you’re right, it did address the likely results of a Northern Hemisphere holocaust.

  96. “Not one of Heinlein’s better books.”

    Yes, I’m trying to think of one I read that was worse. I can’t think of one.

  97. It had some decent bits and pieces, but it was clearly written during Heinlein’s megalomaniac stage.

  98. “Suicide missions ain’t all that uncommon these days.”

    “Yeah, but how many take their family along for the ride?”

    This ignores the possibility of developing a biological weapon and a vaccine.

    This reminds me of a really depressing piece in MIT’s Technology Review a year or two (or three) back. The Soviets basically were developing a biological weapon that made the body’s immune system treat brain cells as “foreign.” The brain essentially turns to jelly. Really nasty stuff.

  99. Only the Soviets could come up with something that fucked up.

  100. “Will SOMEBODY please save me from ‘Democratic Peace Theory’ nonsense?”

    Assuming this was directed to me…there’s a pretty substantial amount of evidence that two democracies* don’t go to war with one another.

    *P.S. By “democracies,” I mean democracies where every adult (male AND female) has a vote.

  101. http://stepinthering.com/nuclear-war/

    After reading that article I am worried about this whole mutually self assured destruction thing

  102. Good one Naga.

    “I can’t come to the phone right now, I’m eating corn chips and masturbating. Please leave a message. “

  103. On the nuke question, 220…221, whatever it takes.

    I operate strictly on the theory that I will, under no circumstances, start a fight. But, I will absolutely finish the motherfucker.

  104. Kant feel Pietzsche, my Balzac is Ietzsche,

    First: Thanks. I was digging deep on that one.

    Second: I’m sick and tired of hearing about WW3. I’m ready to take on the mantle of the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain. Bring on the apocalypse already.

  105. Klaatu, Verata, N-I don’t know, it’s an n-word. I think I know what it is, but I’m not sure if I should say it.

  106. Yes, that’s a brilliant idea, let’s just get rid of all the nukes, so that when the first big comet or meteor comes along with the happy goal of wiping out all life on earth we have no defense.

    Getting rid of nukes isn’t the answer, getting rid of armies is the answer.

  107. MPIAoD,

    Epi already got that one in earlier. Thanks for playing.

  108. “Look, maybe I didn’t say every single little tiny syllable, no. But basically I said them, yeah.”

  109. Tharms,

    I like that idea. As soon as armies are abolished . . . my followers will run amok. My dreams of becoming a warlord will finally come to fruition.

  110. “Hail to the king, baby!”

  111. Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!

  112. Apropos of nukes:

    “Don’t touch that please, your primitive intellect wouldn’t understand alloys and compositions and things with…….molecular structures.”

  113. “Alright you Primitive Screwheads, listen up! You see this? This… is my boomstick! The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right. Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. You got that?”

  114. “*P.S. By “democracies,” I mean democracies where every adult (male AND female) has a vote.”

    That’s only because those kind of democracies have existed for maybe 100 years. Give it time.

  115. By historical standards, 100 years (probably less than that, even) isn’t a “pretty substantial” amount of anything.

  116. World War I was incredibly, immeasurably cruel, but it didn’t involve the destruction of entire cities (outside of the narrow war zone) and mass-murder of civilians.

    See: Troy.

  117. Comment: Naga Sadow “I like that idea. As soon as armies are abolished . . . my followers will run amok. My dreams of becoming a warlord will finally come to fruition.”

    Calld to mind the old adage about libertarians all being closet autocrats.

  118. Another example:

    Before 1914, no industrialized nation fought another industrialized nation.

    Of course, the industrial revolution had only existed for 90 years.

    Boy, that ended quickly, didn’t it?

  119. BDB – “What if thousands of rounds from them were fired on Paris?”

    The big bertha type guns were hugely expensive, had very low rates of fire, and had limited barrel life. They were stunts rather than effective weapons, except in very narrow circumstances, such as digging out deep fortifications. During WW2 the germans built an even bigger gun to use on such fortifications as Sebastopol – I haven’t looke it up, but as I recall the thing had over a 1000 man crew and took several trains to move with it’s ammunition. It’s rate of fire was very low.

  120. BDB – “I don’t think anybody has the stones to use bio. Because that means he/she will die, too, gauranteed.”

    Not if he already has the vaccine in hand, while the other side doesn’t.

    Also, if you think bio isn’t scary consider the implications of a bio weapon designed to affect people differently based on genetic differences.

  121. Mark Bahner – “But why would anyone bomb Montreal, Ottawa, or Mexico City (for example)?”

    Easy question. Because they don’t like Canucks and Mexicans.

  122. “Before 1914, no industrialized nation fought another industrialized nation.

    Of course, the industrial revolution had only existed for 90 years.”

    It’s really pretty simple. Take the Freedom House freedom rankings. See what the odds are of countries that are rated “free” or “mostly free” fighting against each other.

    Then check the odds of countries that are rated “not free” or “mostly unfree” fighting against each other.

    I think any reasonable statististical analysis would show there was a correlation. (That might not mean a causation, because countries that are free also tend to be wealthier.)

    It’s probably not a statistically strong as smoking and lung cancer, but my guess is that it’s pretty strong.

  123. The Trojans had it coming.

  124. The test of any such higher authority, of course, is the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots–(indicating Gort) Their function is to patrol the planets — in space ships like this one — and preserve the peace.

    And nothing can go wrong. After all, we have the Three Laws of Robotics.

    If the whole world had governments that were ranked by Freedom House as “free” there wouldn’t even need to be militaries, let alone nuclear weapons.

    Let me know when that happens. And by the way, disarmament does not lead to peace, it only works the other way.

  125. But why would anyone bomb Montreal, Ottawa, or Mexico City (for example)? ever been to any of these shitholes? nuke em and call it urban renewal

  126. Wow, that was the stupidest ending to an article I’ve ever read. I thought this was a libertarian magazine (or is it a socialist/communist mag. now)? I can’t believe some people are so naive. Yes every country is our friend, and if they say they’ll disarm we can trust them, and Russia will never invade Georgia, lol.

  127. One important thing to consider in favor of nuclear weapons, is that by promising a war with no victors, they thereby discourage war between opposing nuclear powers.

    Certainly there is a convincing case to be made that the reason we refer to the US-Soviet conflict of the latter half of the 20th Century as the “Cold War,” and not as “World War III,” might very well be a direct result of the fact that the promise of nuclear retaliatory response to a conventional strike was certain. Mutually Assured Destruction was not a favorable goal and therefore conflict between the US and the Soviet Union was confined to the “cold” war, to political and diplomatic antagonism, and to several smaller proxy wars and skimishes (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc.)

    The fact that through these smaller proxy battles the two sides were willing to engage in hostilities is evidence that they may well have done so directly, if they weren’t sufficiently deterred from such a course by the nearly unlimited scope of the carnage that might have resulted.

    To make a long story short: the threat of nuclear war probably stops conventional war from happening as well, since there is no way, once direct hostilities between nuclear powers commence, to ensure that it will not result in a nuclear exchange.

    So take care with what you wish for–you just might get it. And the results may be bloodier than the status quo, which for all its imperfection, has served us rather well for over 60 years.

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