The Long View 2002-12-06: Security versus Deterrence

In the run-up to the second Iraq War, John noted the irony of American liberals defending the concept of strategic deterrence, when much of the internal American wrangling during the Cold War involved the Right defending this idea and the Left attacking it. Much, but not all. As John noted, both sides had something going for them. The Left was right that deterrence, especially as it turned into mutually assured destruction, was a dumb, risky way to run the world. On the other hand, the right was correct that the Soviets and the many Communist states they supported often destroyed the economy and oppressed the people where they gained power.

Science fiction author Jerry Pournelle was a Cold Warrior who co-authored the book the Strategy of Technology, in which he and his co-authors sought a way to break the stalemate of MAD, and bring the Cold War to an end. Arguably, they succeeded, since the Citizen's Advisory Council on National Space Policy that Pournelle chaired was influential in promoting Ronald Reagan's SDI, which helped break the Soviet economy and bring an end to the Cold War.

As for stability, I'm pretty sure we could all do with a little more stability in the Maghreb and the Middle East. At the time John wrote this, I thought he was on to something. Now I think the Romans and the British had the right idea.

Security versus Deterrence
Let me add a few debater's points to two theoretical arguments that appeared in The Weekly Standard of December 9, in support of the upcoming war in Iraq.
In an article entitled The Obsolescence of Deterrence, Charles Krauthammer dwells on the hypocrisy of the sudden infatuation of the Left with the doctrine of strategic deterrence. During the Cold War, he points out, the Left argued that deterrence was immoral, psychologically debilitating and ruinously expensive. When faced with the prospect of nations like Iraq acquiring weapons of mass destruction, however, the Left now argues that preemptive action is unnecessary, since the Iraqis and other evil doers will be deterred from using these weapons by the fear of retaliation.
One of the most interesting features of the piece is that the author implies that the Left of the Cold War era was partially right. Mutual deterrence, or at least mutual deterrence through weapons of mass destruction, really is not a good way to run the world. Whenever you have a choice, he says, you should prevent such a relationship from arising. He suggests this:
"Had we had the choice of disarming the Soviets by more palatable means, say, a limited military operation like Israel's destruction of Saddam's Osirak reactor, it might have been a reasonable option."
Let me take that a bit further. Suppose Nazi Germany had been known to have had a serious nuclear weapons program. Would the United States and Great Britain then have been best advised to forego the invasion of Europe, or to have stopped at the Franco-German border, because we knew that a situation of mutual deterrence would soon kick in? It is possible to imagine living with a Nazi Europe for the long term, but this would not have been a good thing.
Mr. Krauthammer also notes the argument that "if everyone has nukes, everyone is deterred, and no one will use them." He rightly points out that this is madness, but mentions only the near certainty that mutual deterrence among dozens of nuclear powers would eventually breakdown. Actually, the argument against universal deterrence is simpler than that. We have to remember that nuclear weapons can be used when the combatants possess only a few. 20th-century governments showed themselves quite willing to lose a few of their own cities in the pursuit of strategic goals. We should exert ourselves to ensure that 21st-century governments do not get the same opportunity.
The other Weekly Standard piece that caught my eye was Max Boot's article, The False Allure of Stability. The author points out that the regimes of the Middle East are among the most stable in the world. Some are monarchies and some are pseudo-democratic republics, but as a rule their leaders can expect to stay in office until death, when they will be succeeded by their sons. Despite the region's political glaciation, however, the region is also characterized by war and ingenious maladministration. Compared to the rest of the world, it actually loses ground economically. If this is stability, Mr. Boot suggests, then we could do with a bit less of it.
It is certainly true that stability is not the alpha and omega of statecraft. Where does that idea come from, anyway? Maybe from the Congress of Vienna: that was when the leaders of the West first began to fear chaos above all else. Be that as it may though, I am not sure that the point applies to Iraq today.
The current strategic situation in the world is not stable, because technological progress is making weapons of mass destruction available to less and less responsible actors. Keeping Iraq "in a box" is not good enough. Fissionable material and missile technology will leak into the box. At no distant date, the Iraqi regime will be able to inflict unacceptable damage on the US or its allies should there be any attempt to remove it. Iraq is only one of a class of middle-sized states with a history of doing very bad things and which seek invulnerability through deterrence. Time is not on our side.
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Writing in the Washington Times, Tony Blankley had this to say about Senator John Kerry's announcement of his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency:
"[In the] 'Meet the Press' transcript, it is hard to find solid, specific policy assertions to comment on. My favorite Kerryism is found in the first few paragraphs when he claims: 'I think there's a deep anxiety in the American people about security, and they put it all under the word "security": job security, income security, retirement security, health security, education security, physical, personal security and, of course, national security.' That's nine times he squeezed the word security into one sentence. You don't suppose his pollsters have told him to use the word security as often as possible?" The JFK Who Would be JFK. December 4)
This attempt to modify the meaning of the word "security" has been popping up all over the media. There is no great conspiracy here: it's just another talking point. Still, efforts like this bring back memories. I can remember being intrigued in high school by the hypothesis that it might be possible to manipulate politics simply by modifying the "semantic field" of a language. The idea was scarcely original with me. On a crude level, this was the idea behind Newspeak in 1984. Robert Heinlein incorporated a science of semantic engineering into some of his future-history stories.
A little later I found out that Orwell's and Heinlein's premises were ill founded. The famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds that people who speak different languages live in different conceptual universes, has not stood up well in experiments, though it might have some validity in narrow contexts. The philosophy of Logical Positivism, which equates thought with language, is apparently just wrong. So, if it's any consolation, Newspeak would not work.
As for Senator Kerry's attempt to define "security" so that war and public safety are only a small part of it, I think that Steve Martin gave the best answer. In the film, The Three Amigos, the title characters defend a Mexican village against a gang of bandits, whose leader is called "El Guapo." Martin encourages the villagers thus (I paraphrase):
"In our lives, we all face our own El Guapo. El Guapo could be a childhood spent in under-privileged circumstances, or a broken home, or inadequate education. Of course, right now we face the actual El Guapo."

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